Titans coach won’t risk playing Mariota Sunday

Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. (Steven Senne/AP)

NASHVILLE — Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota’s inaugural NFL season has ended two games early. Titans interim head coach Mike Mularkey said Wednesday it’s "not worth the risk" of playing Mariota in the season finale Sunday at Indianapolis.

So Mariota’s rookie campaign is done.

He missed two games earlier this season with a sprained MCL in his left knee, and now he’ll finish the year sitting out the final two games because of a sprained right knee. Mariota tested his knee Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

But Mularkey said Mariota is not as far along as they thought he might be. So the Titans (3-12) have decided to play it safe and bench him for the final game.

"It's doing it the right way and being smart about it," Mularkey said of the decision. "We were hoping. We knew it was slim. He's a pretty quick healer, but not the case for this one."

Mularkey said his quarterback didn't take the news well. Mariota, who had expressed a desire last week to play in the finale, did not speak with reporters Wednesday.

"He'd play if he could," Mularkey said of Mariota.

Declaring Mariota out against the Colts (7-8) protects last year's No. 2 draft pick overall out of Oregon for the future, and for the coach the Titans decide to hire for the quarterback's second season.

With Mariota out, the Titans will get the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016 if they finish the season with their fourth straight loss.

Mariota finishes his rookie season with a 3-9 record having missed a quarter of this season. He threw for 2,818 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions despite being sacked 38 times. He completed 62.2 per cent of his passes and posted a 91.5 passer rating.

Mularkey said Mariota might've played even better if not for the initial knee injury Oct. 18 in a 38-10 loss to Miami.

"He was slowed with the injury," Mularkey said. "But I think as far as his progress, I thought he made great strides. Learned a lot, went through a lot, saw a lot. A lot of these teams are playoff-calibre teams here at the end. The defences we faced, the fronts, the blitzes, the things we saw, he saw, will benefit him for this next year easily."

Zach Mettenberger will start his second straight game and fourth this season. He is 0-9 as a starter, yet Mettenberger remaining winless as a starter would help the Titans clinch the top overall draft pick for the first time since 1973 when the then-Houston Oilers drafted defensive end John Matuszak.

Mettenberger just wants his first career victory.

"That's my sole focus every week is to get the win," Mettenberger said, "and hopefully we play good enough football this week to get that."