by Julian Spivey
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are currently trying to procure a time machine. After today’s game against the Tennessee Titans, where they were lit up by Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota for a 42-14 loss, you can’t help but wonder if they’d like to go back in time a few months and select Mariota first overall in the NFL Draft over Jameis Winston.
You don’t expect much out of rookie quarterbacks in their NFL debuts. You expect them to be sacked, throw picks, fumble the ball and lose the game. In fact, you pretty much expect what Jameis Winston did in his debut game on Sunday when he struggled mightily going 16-for-33 with two interceptions, the first of which was returned for a pick-six on his first pass of the game, and getting sacked four times. He did throw his first two touchdown passes in the game, though.
What Winston did was pretty much in line with what the majority of quarterbacks in their first NFL start do … but it looked even worse, because Marcus Mariota put forth what was quite possibly the best debut performance for a rookie QB in the long history of the NFL.
Mariota was so good in fact that he only had to play three quarters. I’ve said that Mariota was good, when in fact I should’ve said he was perfect. Because he put forth a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in his very first game going 13-for-16 with four touchdown passes and no interceptions. That’s right, Mariota threw one more touchdown pass than he did incompletions in his more-than-impressive debut and became the first rookie QB with a four touchdown game in his debut since Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton did so with the Minnesota Vikings way back in 1961. Mariota’s performance, in fact, drew raves from Tarkenton himself on Twitter who said:
“Great day by Marcus Mariota!” - Fran Tarkenton
The NFL’s schedule gave us fans the incredible opportunity to witness something that almost never happens (it might have never happened before, I don’t know) the first two draft picks of the season – both quarterbacks – making their NFL debuts against one another.
It might sound ludicrous to say what I did in my lede that the Buccaneers might already be regretting selecting Winston over Mariota with the first overall pick in this past spring’s draft, but I thought from the very beginning that Mariota should’ve been that selection. The two former Heisman trophy winners were incredibly impressive on the field in college, but Mariota is a shining figure off the field, where Winston has been almost nothing but trouble. Trouble seems to follow players more often than not into the NFL and I figured Mariota would be the safer pick regardless of what Winston might do on the field.
Mariota was also much more impressive than Winston in last season’s college football playoff in which Mariota and the University of Oregon embarrassed Winston and Florida State as badly as Mariota and the Titans did to Winston and the Buccaneers in the NFL’s opening weekend. That’s right, Winston’s last two losses have both come at the hands of Mariota led offenses and he looked absolutely horrible in both compared to Mariota’s stunning box scores.
It may turn out that Mariota doesn’t even have a better rookie season than Winston. He could easily have an inferior career than him – it’s way too early to be forecasting that kind of stuff. However, for the first weekend of the NFL season Mariota looked like a guy completely in control of his position and team and Winston looked like your typical rookie starting quarterback. That’s why you can’t help but wonder if for just one split second the Buccaneers front office on Sunday afternoon thought, “did we make the wrong choice?”