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Jameis Winston vs. Marcus Mariota: Advantage Mariota

Quarterback Marcus Mariota #8 of the Tennessee Titans high-fives fans after the Titans defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 22-21 to win the AFC Wild Card playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 6, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Published Jan. 8, 2018

If they held a draft today for NFL playoff quarterbacks, I'm trading down and taking Marcus Mariota.

Sorry, Jameis.

Must be present to collect prize.

Last Saturday, Mariota threw a pass that he caught himself to make a touchdown. Yeah, there was that. And he threw the winning score. He even risked his skeletal structure to throw a block that helped seal the victory. He and his team won a playoff game.

Say, wasn't this supposed to be Jameis Winston?

Well, it wasn't. It was Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, the man selected behind Winston in the 2015 NFL draft, which some of you are conducting all over again. No. 2 did very well for himself in Kansas City Saturday.

Yes, it was against the Chiefs, who never win playoff games. And the officiating was atrocious. And Mariota's next playoff start is Saturday at New England, where will be sacrificed to the football gods, or at least Belichick and Brady.

Like that matters.

Mariota is on the board.

He's a playoff quarterback.

Good draft pick.

The Bucs quarterback isn't.

Bad draft pick.

If only life was that simple.

Here's simple: Marcus Mariota won a playoff game. He won a playoff game and he made the kind of plays Winston will be expected make when he makes the playoffs, if he ever does. Jameis can go and lick his fingers. Marcus got the W. He passed the taste test.

At the moment, in simple NFL terms, Mariota is the better quarterback, even with more interceptions than touchdowns in 2017. True, he gets bonus points for not being under NFL investigation.

I'm not going back to that fateful draft, though I could. What's done is done. Winston has thrown for 11,636 yards with 69 touchdown passes and 44 interceptions in three NFL seasons. Mariota has thrown for 9,476 yards, 58 TDs and 34 picks. Winston's career record as a starter is 18-27. Mariota is 20-22 — and 1-0 at playoffs.

No. 2 has haunted No. 1 since their very first game, in the 2015 season-opener in Tampa. Jameis threw a Pick Six on his first NFL throw. Mariota threw for four touchdowns and Tennessee rubbed out Lovie Smith's Bucs.

2017 was supposed to be different. It was supposed to be a big year for the Bucs and Winston's first turn at the postseason. Think playoff experience doesn't matter? Think the Bucs wouldn't want Winston to have that first crack, along with his teammates?

He sat.

Mariota starred. While he completed only 19 passes, he threw the winning touchdown. And there was that catch and dive for the pylon and the TD when that pass was deflected. It was a dynamic play.

"Right place, right time," Mariota said after the game.

Jameis would have given a better answer.

Mariota is subdued, boring even. But what's boring about a playoff win?

Comparisons are tough. The Bucs and Titans are so different. The Titans have a good offensive line and running backs. The Bucs have better receivers. Forced to choose based on skill sets, I'd take Jameis. I want my QB to beat you from the pocket. Mariota has speed to get around a corner, but no real down-field accuracy.

Only he had plenty of accuracy on that winning TD pass. And he showed plenty of Jameis when he threw that block on a KC linebacker and third-and-long to open it up for teammate Derrick Henry to seal the win. In the glare of playoff light, Mariota had his moment. He made dynamic plays. I thought that was Jameis' job.

What's important to know in the development of Mariota and Winston is that Tennessee brought Mariota along more patiently than the Bucs did with Winston.

Tennessee gave Mariota big offensive line, talented tight ends and a slew of running backs. It never asked him to do more than he could. The Bucs handed Jameis the keys. And he was Mr. Hit-and-Miss, as a QB and a leader. He tried to do too much. He still tries to do too much.

Winston might turn out to be the better quarterback. But Mariota is 1-0 in the playoffs and that's just about everything in the NFL. He'll get a crack at the greatest, at Brady and the Patriots.

That will probably be ugly. But Jameis' season is over. He'd do anything to be in Mariota's position — playing, learning.

There's only one way to do that in the playoffs.

Must be present.

Edge: Mariota.

Right place, right time.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly

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