NASHVILLE — In terms of the best four-day stretch of your life, it may be a long time before anyone gets the better of Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander.
After all, can you top marrying supermodel Kate Upton inside a medieval church in Italy's Tuscany region three days after winning the World Series this past Wednesday?
Didn't think so.
But in terms of a game-clinching touchdown drive that may have been as important as any in his young career, third-year Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota turned in a five-minute gem down the stretch of Sunday's 23-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
Having just thrown an interception that directly led to a touchdown to pull the Ravens within 16-13 with 8:56 to go, Mariota reached into his bag of motivational speeches and told his teammates, um, well, "Just one play at a time. Let's take it down the field and score."
What? You were expecting, "Let's win one for Bubba Watson and Bill Walton," the pro golfer and NBA legend whose birthdays were Sunday?
But words tend to ultimately matter far less than deeds in the sports world, and what happened next was why the Titans selected Mariota out of the University of Oregon with the second overall pick of the 2015 NFL draft after Tampa Bay took Florida State's Jameis Winston.
After throwing an incompletion on the first play of the drive, Mariota completed his next five passes for 64 yards, including a scrambling touchdown toss to Eric Decker from 11 yards out that moved the margin to 23-13 with 3:58 to go.
The biggest of those was a 25-yard strike down the middle to tight end Delanie Walker that moved the ball to the Ravens 35. Then he checked into a swing pass to running back DeMarco Murray at the last second, and that picked up 17 yards.facebook
"The pass to Delanie was huge that last drive," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. "If (Mariota) throws a pick, he's not flustered. He's always responded to a pick with positive plays afterward."
Added Walker — who gutted this one out despite suffering from a painful bone bruise in his ankle — with a smile, "My job is to make No. 8 (Mariota) look good. But that whole drive shows a lot. He's the head of the offense. He made every play he had to make down the stretch to get us the win."
It hasn't always been like this for Mariota, who won the 2014 Heisman Trophy, the first player from his native Hawaii so honored.
There were nagging injuries his rookie season and a broken leg near the end of last year. The line didn't always block well, and Mariota sometimes tried too hard to make something out of nothing, which usually left the Titans with nothing to show for his efforts.
But the wins started arriving with more frequency last year before the broken leg, and the Titans now stand 5-3 overall in 2017 after their third straight victory, a record that has them tied atop the AFC South with Jacksonville, the team Tennessee hosts the final game of the regular season.
"I think we can play a whole lot better, especially myself," said Mariota, who finished Sunday 19-for-28 passing for 218 yards with two touchdowns and that one interception. "We can be really good. We'll find a way to improve and get ready for the next one."
The next one is another home game, too, next Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. Halfway through the regular season and with their open date behind them, the Titans will have to remain healthy and happy over the next two months if they expect to reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season.
But as this season continues, the team's ability to win close games — the past two victories have both come by three points — hints of a mature squad built for high-pressure contests late in the season, much as last year's team won an icy, wind-whipped game at Kansas City in December before Mariota was injured.
Or as Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley said of the victors: "They made the right plays at the right time, and we messed up at the wrong time."
If nothing else, it's hard to see things going wrong because of the difficulty of the remaining schedule. Four of the final eight opponents currently have losing records, and one of those teams with a winning mark — Jacksonville — was battered 37-16 by the Titans in September.
"If we continue to take it one game at a time, continue to play for each other, we'll find a way to be where we want to be in December," Mariota said with words only a coach would love.
Then again, he's not paid to pontificate.
"Marcus is not a talker. He just took control of it," Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said in reference to Sunday's game.
And because of that, the Titans now seemed poised to take control of the AFC South for the first time in almost a decade.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.