NASHVILLE, Tenn. >> Marcus Mariota thinks the Tennessee Titans gave a glimpse of just how they can play this season in their second preseason game.
Run hard, throw the ball efficiently and take the ball away from the opponent as much as possible.
The Titans did all three, with some big plays on special teams thrown in Saturday, as they beat the Carolina Panthers 34-27 on a steamy day, and Mariota said that absolutely set the path for Tennessee.
“I think that was the blueprint for how we can be successful this year,” said Mariota, who was 6-for-8 for 61 yards and a touchdown. “All three phases played really well. We just got to kind of follow that course and continue forward.”
The Titans (1-1) managed only a field goal to open the preseason with a 7-3 loss to the Jets on Aug. 12. Against the Panthers, they scored 17 points in the first quarter and never trailed, taking advantage of the first of three turnovers forced. Tennessee also held the ball for more than 34 minutes.
Carolina played without quarterback Cam Newton, the 2015 NFL MVP, tight end Greg Olsen and center Ryan Kalil.
The Titans sat Pro Bowl running back DeMarco Murray as a precaution as he recovers from a hamstring injury that occurred the first week of training camp, along with wide receivers Eric Decker (ankle) and rookie Corey Davis, the fifth pick overall in April. Wide receiver Rishard Matthews was not at the game for personal reasons.
Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Orakpo called it a confidence-boosting win.
“To know that we can compete with the high-level teams, go out there and make plays and do the best we can, and like I said, compete in the league,” Orakpo said. “There’s a lot of great teams out here, and we want to be one of them.”
Coach Mike Mularkey still has plenty to target in practice. The Titans were flagged 11 times for 93 yards but converted all three fourth downs, including a fourth-and-2 in the first quarter where Derrick Henry picked up 4 yards. Mariota capped the drive with a pass to a wide-open Delanie Walker for the touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
Mularkey said he didn’t want to kick a field goal at that point.
“I trust our guys to make it happen,” Mularkey said.
The Panthers tied it up at 27 with 3:51 left and outgained the Titans 386-360 in total offense. Aaron Wallace forced the final turnover with a sack and strip of the ball that Jimmy Staten recovered. That set up the winning touchdown.
“As long as they keep on doing that and building on their own, we can be looking to a bright future, hopefully,” Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said of the Titans’ backups.
Several younger Titans gave proof of what they can offer to earn roster spots.
David Fluellen, fighting for the No. 3 running back spot, made a key special teams tackle and broke off a run for 53 yards. Rookie tight end Jonnu Smith had a team-high five catches for 47 yards. Adoree Jackson, the 18th pick overall, returned a punt for a would-be touchdown only to have it wiped out by two penalties to make himself the leading candidate for punt returner.
“I know we had penalties on the play, but we haven’t had a punt return for a touchdown with penalties since I’ve been here,” Mularkey said. “That was good to see. I saw that we had the ability to be explosive in that area.”
With training camp over, the Titans will host Chicago on Aug. 27 before wrapping up the preseason Aug. 31 at Kansas City.