ATLANTA >> Tennessee rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota quickly learned NFL games are different from practice.
Mariota’s first two series ended with an interception and a fumble before he recovered to lead a touchdown drive in the Titans’ 31-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in a preseason opener Friday night.
One play after he was sacked early in his first drive, Mariota’s screen pass was intercepted by linebacker Justin Durant, whose 20-yard return set up a field goal. On Tennessee’s next drive, the ball was knocked out of Mariota’s hand as he was preparing to pass. Linebacker Paul Worrilow scooped up the loose ball and raced 14 yards for a touchdown.
“I just kind of shrugged it off,” Mariota said. “I figured we needed a good drive, and we finished with a good one.”
Mariota regrouped on his third possession. He had two 17-yard completions to former Falcons receiver Harry Douglas and a 26-yard pass to running back Antonio Andrews to set up Dexter McCluster’s 6-yard scoring run.
“We obviously had a tough start,” said Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt. “We can’t turn the ball over. … It was disappointing, but I like the way they responded.”
Mariota, the No. 2 overall draft pick, went 7-for-8 for 94 yards. He entered the preseason opener with an impressive streak of 186 passes without an interception in seven-on-seven and team drills at training camp.
The Falcons led 17-0 behind new coach Dan Quinn before the Titans pulled even at 24. Michael Ford’s 1-yard score in the fourth quarter snapped the tie.
Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan completed all six passes for 86 yards on his only possession, including a 13-yard touchdown to Julio Jones. Jones had four catches for 61 yards — all in the opening drive.
“He’s a beast and I’m lucky to call him a teammate,” said Ryan of Jones.
Titans backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger was 8-for-11 for 129 yards with a touchdown and an interception.