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  1. Bucs

Marcus Mariota leads Titans past Jameis Winston and Bucs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) is sacked by Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey (99) in the third quarter of the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Tennessee Titans in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015.

TAMPA— History will show that the first pass thrown in the NFL by Bucs rookie quarterback Jameis Winston resulted in a touchdown.

It took Titans rookie Marcus Mariota three pass attempts to reach the end zone.

Both resulted in scores for Tennessee. Mariota hit receiver Kendall Wright on a shallow crossing route for a 52-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Winston followed that with an interception by Titans cornerback Cotey Sensabaugh that he returned for a score.

Mariota, the Oregon quarterback the Bucs didn't want and drafted second overall by the Titans, went 13-of-16 for 204 yards and four touchdowns, all in the first half of a 42-14 rout of the Bucs before 63,945 at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday.

Winston, the No. 1 overall pick by Tampa Bay, was intercepted twice in the first half and put his team in a four-touchdown hole by halftime.

Where's the Hot Tub Time Machine? Who has the keys to Doc Brown's DeLorean? Why isn't there a life mulligan? Those were the questions Bucs fans were wrestling with after watching the performance by Winston. So coach Lovie Smith, did you draft the wrong quarterback?

"I'd say that their quarterback played better," Smith said. "Their football team played better. Their coach did a better job of coaching their football team than I did. But it's today. It's one game. Let's not overreact to a bad performance. … We have the guy that's perfect for us."

Counting his Rose Bowl win with the Ducks over Winston and Florida State in a national playoff semifinal game in January, Mariota is 2-0 against Winston.

Mr. Perfect on Sunday was the cucumber-cool Mariota, who finished with a perfect 158.3 passer efficiency rating in the three quarters he played. He matched Fran Tarkenton's record held since 1961 by throwing four touchdown passes as a rookie on opening day and became the only first-year player to do that in the first half of a season opener.

Winston, who went 16-of-33 for 210 yards with two touchdowns to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and the two interceptions, was drawing comparisons to Brett Favre. Thing is, that's a dubious mark because Favre is the only other quarterback since 1991 whose first NFL pass resulted in a pick-six.

"I can't put us behind the eight ball like that," Winston said. "The first drive, it was a dumb decision. But you've got to find a way to bounce back and keep playing."

Winston's second interception came when he failed to get the ball over the head of Titans linebacker Deiontrez Mount when trying to hit running back Charles Sims in the flat.

For the rest of the game, it was as if the Titans held the Bucs from their ankles and shook them until all their pride fell out. The Bucs' offensive line did a decent job of run blocking, but Winston was sacked four times and flushed out of the pocket on scrambles on six other occasions.

The Bucs' defense got pressure on Mariota just once, when Gerald McCoy recorded a sack in the second quarter. The middle of the field was open all day as Bucs linebackers kept getting sucked in by play-action. The Bucs had 12 accepted penalties for 97 yards.

"We've got to keep this in perspective," Smith said. "We're very disappointed, embarrassed and all of that about (Sunday's) performance. But it is only one game."

It won't get any easier than Sunday against a team that was 2-14 last year and had a rookie quarterback making his debut.

Mariota was the guy who wasn't supposed to be as pro-ready as Winston. He was never under center in the Ducks' spread offense, didn't spit out plays in the huddle and wasn't supposed to be able to read defenses. But Sunday he did the things he did in college and made the Bucs look like San Jose State.

Mariota says he doesn't focus on the rivalry with Winston. "Jameis is probably going to bounce back from this, and I'm sure he'll be ready next week," he said.

After the game, Winston knew some fans would say Mariota is better.

"Of course when somebody plays as great as he did, you're always going to say that," he said. "But it's not about how you start. It's how you finish."

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