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Where EAST meets the Northwest

CAREFUL COMEBACK. Quarterback Marcus Mariota (#1) of the Atlanta Falcons carries the ball during an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals on October 23, 2022. Under Atlanta coach Arthur Smith, Mariota has been given a second chance as a starter. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)

From The Asian Reporter, V32, #11 (November 7, 2022), pages 10 & 12.

Marcus Mariota making the most of his second chance in Atlanta

By Paul Newberry

The Associated Press

ATLANTA ó For Marcus Mariota, the loss of confidence was the biggest blow.

Heíd experienced so much success, from winning the Heisman Trophy to being the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft.

Then, for one of the rare times in his life, he wasnít good enough.

"You go through a process of kind of looking within and reflecting," Mariota remembered. "Throughout that journey for me, I kind of knew that I had to find my confidence to be able to play at a high level. When you get your confidence taken away from you, itís tough as an athlete because I think thatís truly the only mental weapon you have."

No journey of this type is ever complete, but Mariota feels heís heading in the right direction again.

In mid-October, he completed 13 of 14 passes, two of them for touchdowns, and ran for a score as the Atlanta Falcons surprised the San Francisco 49ers 28-14.

The Falcons, who were supposed to be in a massive rebuilding job, are surprisingly tied atop the NFC South.

And Mariota, who was supposed to merely mind the gap between longtime Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and whatever prospect the team could land in next yearís draft, is showing flashes of the form that was supposed to carry him to NFL stardom.

He was even picked as the NFC offensive player of the week, an honor that was out of reach the past 2 1/2 years as he rode the bench for two teams.

Mariota knows how fortunate he is to even get a shot at starting again in the NFL.

"Iím forever grateful to this organization for allowing me to have that chance," he said. "Across the league, a lot of guys in my situation donít really get a second chance."

Coming off a brilliant career at Oregon, Mariota was taken by the Tennessee Titans with the second pick of the 2015 draft. He was immediately handed the starting job and only heightened expectations by throwing four touchdowns passes in his very first game.

Yet, even as he guided Tennessee to three straight winning seasons and a playoff victory during the 2017 campaign, his passing numbers were downright ordinary.

Mariotaís running ability gave the offense a bit of an extra weapon, but the grumbling among Titans fans only grew as their heralded quarterback was unable to push the team to the next level.

Then, during a dismal performance in Week 6 of the 2019 season, when he completed just 7 of 18 passes for 63 yards with two interceptions in a 16-0 loss at Denver, Titans coach Mike Vrabel decided he had seen enough.

Mariota was yanked. Ryan Tannehill took over, guiding Tennessee from a 2-4 start to a surprising run to the AFC championship game.

Mariotaís career as a Titan was over. He wouldnít start another game in the NFL for 1,064 days.

"I felt like I was part of a good team, part of a good organization," Mariota says now. "I thought if we could get the ball rolling, I could be there for a long time."

Instead, he moved on to Las Vegas, where he spent two years backing up Derek Carr and getting scant playing time with the Raiders.

Just when it looked as if Mariotaís career might be on its last legs, he hooked up with his former offensive coordinator in Tennessee, Arthur Smith.

Heading into his second year as Atlantaís coach, Smith needed a quarterback. The Falcons decided to trade long- time starter Ryan to ease their salary cap woes, and they didnít have anyone ready to step into the job immediately.

Smith remembered Mariotaís potential and thought he could be just what his rebuilding team needed, at least in the short term.

Mariota got off to a rocky start, with four touchdown passes and four interceptions through his first five games, not to mention some major issues hanging on to the ball. He fumbled seven times, losing three of them.

Through it all, though, his steady demeanor was winning over his teammates. A quarterbackís job goes beyond the numbers. He also must be a leader, and Mariota fits that bill perfectly.

"Thatís probably one of the coolest dudes Iíve ever met in my life," safety Jaylinn Hawkins said. "Heís a very, very humble individual and sharp at what he does. Heís always poised. Thereís no panic in his game. He has everybodyís back."

Smith saw Mariotaís confidence growing with each start, especially when the Falcons won a couple of games and kept things close in their losses. The coach saw Mariotaís demeanor having an impact on those around him.

"These guys believe in him. Those are things you canít put in a stat sheet," Smith said. "He didnít play for 2 1/2 years, so it took a couple of games. He was a little rusty here and there. But I feel like every game, heís getting more comfortable."

Thereís still a long way to go in the season. If Mariota stumbles again, he could be one-and-done in Atlanta. If that happens, this could be his final chance to prove heís capable of starting for an NFL team.

Mariota isnít looking too far ahead.

After all, it took so long just to get back here.

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