NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Marcus Mariota showed he can take a beating, holding up under pressure. While the Tennessee Titans are not surprised by the quarterback's toughness, their immediate goal is protecting him better.
They better. A healthy Mariota gives them the best chance of winning.
Mariota was sacked seven times and hit another four times, including one lick that sent his helmet and a shoe flying off. The rookie stayed in the game and nearly rallied Tennessee in a 28-14 loss at Cleveland while limping from a sore left ankle. Mariota remains the NFL's top-rated passer at 129.9, and he's the only quarterback with six touchdown passes in his first two career games.
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Yet no quarterback survives in this league very long if consistently pounded the way he was on Sunday.
''Some of those sacks, no matter what your clock was, he didn't have a chance,'' Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday. ''We've got to do a better job of protection.''
Mariota took so many shots that tight end Delanie Walker said he was praying the quarterback wasn't done.
''There were some big hits, ... things that just can't happen,'' Walker said. ''Thank God he got up and he was able to finish the game.''
A day later, Whisenhunt said Mariota was in good spirits, though sore and banged up. The coach said Mariota needed no tests on his sore ankle, just treatment.
Improving pass protection sounds easy enough. Whisenhunt said the Titans have to get to the line faster to adjust to what they see from the defense, and he said that involves all of the offense, not just the rookie quarterback. The Titans were flagged twice for delay of game.
Mariota also lost two of three fumbles. Keeping two hands on the ball when the Heisman Trophy winner starts running will be a start.
''He believes he can extend the play and make the play,'' Whisenhunt said. ''To be quite honest with you, he's done that a couple times. We've just got to play smarter in certain situations. ... That won't be an issue.''
The Titans also made it easier for the Browns to tee off on Mariota with too many penalties that forced Tennessee into passing situations. The Titans were flagged eight times for 80 yards by halftime alone with two illegal hands to the face penalties on left tackle Taylor Lewan on the opening drive alone.
The second ended even worse when Terrance West, the running back Tennessee traded for on Sept. 6 from Cleveland, fumbled away the ball.
The Titans cleaned up their mistakes enough that they were penalized only once in the second half. They also finished dominating Cleveland everywhere but the scoreboard by outgaining the Browns on offense (385-274) and holding the ball for more than 35 minutes.
But they couldn't recover from falling behind 21-0 before halftime.
''The offense from last year to this year is night and day, and I feel like nobody stopped us but ourselves,'' linebacker Avery Williamson said.
Now the Titans are preparing for their home opener after being one of five teams to open the season with their first two games on the road. Of those five, only the Titans and Miami (1-1) managed to split those games.
Tennessee hosts the defending AFC South champ Indianapolis on Sunday, and Whisenhunt is focused on fixing their mistakes.
''Let's get those cleaned up so we can become the team we have the potential to become,'' Whisenhunt said.
Notes: Whisenhunt said right guard Chance Warmack, who shared after the Browns' loss that he has a sprained right MCL, hopefully will be back after the Titans bye. The Titans get their bye Oct. 4 and then host Buffalo on Oct. 10. ... CB Jason McCourty, who had groin surgery Aug. 24, could return to practice Wednesday as the next step in his recovery.
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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker