Mariota, Winston may have cloudy futures with shaky showings
By SCHUYLER DIXON AP Pro Football Writer
Marcus Mariota might be out as the starting quarterback in Tennessee, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers might have to decide how many more interceptions they can afford from Jameis Winston.
For the top two picks in the 2015 draft, the future might not be so bright.
Mariota was pulled in the third quarter of a 16-0 loss to Denver with 63 yards passing, a 9.5 rating, two interceptions and three sacks. Winston made it to the finish of Tampa’s 37-26 loss to Carolina in London, but with a career-worst five interceptions — and an oh-by-the-way fumble for a sixth giveaway.
Winston has an NFL-worst 86 giveaways since entering the league and five games with at least four turnovers while no other player has more than two during that span.
“Throw the damn ball away,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He has a habit of trying to be Superman. That’s been a problem in the past. The fumbles haven’t occurred this year until today. But again, trying to make something out of nothing. It’s just a matter of knowing when to quit on a play.”
Mariota has a better record (29-32 compared to 23-37) and a slightly better ratio of touchdowns to interceptions, while both have similarly mediocre passer ratings in the high 80s.
The problem for Mariota is that Titans are near the bottom in points and total yards and have been shut out twice since the start of 2018. Ryan Tannehill, a former starter in Miami, replaced Mariota and was 13 of 16 for 144 yards and one interception. He was sacked four times.
“We’re not pulling our weight as an offense,” Mariota said. “We have to find a way to improve and change that because our defense is playing lights out.”
Titans coach Mike Vrabel didn’t want to discuss who would be the starter going forward.
Between Mariota and Winston, Mariota has the only playoff appearance. He won a wild-card game during the 2017 season. Neither has signed a second contract, which means both are in the fifth and final years of their rookie deals.
So both teams have decisions to make in the offseason, if not sooner.
“Sometimes I do want to do great things,” Winston said. “But you can do great things but protect the team at the same time.”
FAST START, QUICK FADE
Dallas and the Los Angeles Rams, divisional-round foes last postseason, have matching 3-0 starts followed by three-game losing streaks.
The Cowboys lost to the previously winless New York Jets 24-22 after trailing 21-3 on the road. That was a week after a 34-24 home loss to Green Bay that included a 31-3 deficit.
The slump is a little more surprising from the Rams considering their 24-8 regular-season record the first two years under coach Sean McVay, capped by a Super Bowl appearance last season.
LA’s 20-7 loss to undefeated NFC West leader San Francisco gave the Rams three straight losses under McVay for the first time, while the Cowboys have lost three straight for the first time since the first half of star running back Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension two years ago.
“Was it a humbling day for us? Absolutely,” McVay said. “But it’s something that we’re going to learn from. We’re not going to let it demoralize us. They did a nice job. We didn’t do enough collectively.”
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones was asked about the future of coach Jason Garrett after the stunning loss, brushing it off as something he wasn’t even considering. Despite the slide, the Cowboys are tied with Philadelphia atop the NFC East and hosting the Eagles next Sunday.
“We’re 0-0 right now,” quarterback Dak Prescott said. “We have a huge game next week. It’s for first in our division. We have to figure out a way to turn this page and focus on exactly that and how do we become a better offense. Everything, as crazy as it is, is still ahead of us.”
PERFECT WITHOUT BREES
For the third time in four starts filling in for Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater had modest numbers. The New Orleans Saints don’t care. They’re 4-0 without the NFL’s all-time passing leader, and that much closer to getting him back from a torn thumb ligament.
The initial diagnosis was six weeks for Brees, which means the club probably will face a decision after next week’s visit to Chicago. The Saints (5-1) play Arizona at home on Oct. 27 before their open week.
New Orleans handed Dallas its first loss in Week 4 without scoring a touchdown, then didn’t allow Jacksonville a TD in Sunday’s 13-6 victory. The only touchdown was Bridgewater’s tiebreaking TD toss to Jared Cook early in the fourth quarter.
“Each week we just talk about how do we win that game,” Payton said. “Honestly, in a week or two weeks from now, we’re not going to look specifically to how we win certain games.”
Yeah, because Brees will be back somewhere in there.
HOT UP NORTH
Minnesota’s 38-20 victory over the Eagles gives the NFC North a chance to be the only division with four winning teams through six weeks, while it ended up leaving the NFC East without a team above .500.
If Detroit beats Green Bay on Monday night, the Vikings (4-2) and Packers (currently 3-2) would be tied for the division lead, followed closely by the Lions (currently 2-1-1) and defending NFC North champion Chicago (3-2).
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