When Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota stepped on the field in relief of an injured Derek Carr during Thursday Night Football, it was his first outing since Week 6 of the 2019 NFL season.
That season, the former Oregon product was benched for Ryan Tannehill, who went 7-3 in the Titans’ last 10 games to help lead them to the playoffs. Mariota finished his Titans career with 76 touchdown passes, 44 interceptions, 155 sacks and 29 wins in 61 starts.
After signing a two-year, $17.6 million contract with the Raiders over the summer to become the NFL's highest-paid backup, Mariota thought he had finally found a new NFL home with a fresh slate, but the injury bug struck.
The sixth-year QB opened the season with a strained pectoral muscle and was placed on Injured Reserve on Sept. 7. But after returning to the active roster on Oct. 20 and being activated for his second game Thursday vs. the Chargers, Mariota got his moment to shine.
“You know to be truthful, it’s been a long journey,” Mariota said. “I’ve been through kind of everything, from injuries to surgeries, to mental lapses, and the confidence thing. I just really appreciate the Raiders and the entire organization for kind of helping me through that. I was trying to kind of find my way again and they gave me an opportunity to take some time, were patient with me and I just appreciate the fact that they were willing to do that.
“Again, it’s just kind of part of being an athlete. You’re going to go some ups and downs, and I think the staff did a great job of kind of keeping me level-headed and kind of fighting through it. When it comes down to it, it’s still ball. I just love being out there again. It was fun to play. Unfortunately, we just didn’t make enough plays.”
Mariota didn’t lead his Raiders to victory over the Herbert led Chargers, but he did prove to the world, and himself, that he’s still got what it takes to be a starting quarterback in the NFL.
The Heisman Trophy winner put up a valiant effort in the 30-27 overtime loss, ending the night 17 of 28 with 226 yards passing with one touchdown through the air and one interception. He also added 88 yards rushing on nine carries to lead the Raiders with one touchdown.
"It just shows the kind of player, the kind of football character he has. I mean, our offensive coordinator isn't here, either," coach Jon Gruden said of Mariota. "You lose Derek and then we changed gears offensively and Marcus came in and did a great job. Really proud of him, I think that this kinda puts an exclamation point on why we signed him. Just wish we could've won the game for him."
Gruden said after the game that he didn’t think Carr had suffered a torn groin, but he did say the injury was “significant.” That could mean Mariota is in the driver’s seat once again next week as the Raiders attempt to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Las Vegas dropped to 7-7 following Thursday Night Football, falling further behind the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens in the chase for the third and final Wild Card spot in the AFC.
Nobody expected Mariota to take field on Thursday, let alone against another former Duck, but Mariota was ready when his name was called. Count on him to be ready in Week 16 when the Raiders host the Tua Tagovailoa and the Dolphins on Dec. 26.