Marcus Mariota

When Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota sprained the MCL in his right knee last Sunday against the New England Patriots, he was ruled out for the final two games of the regular season.

Yesterday, the rookie quarterback and former Heisman Trophy winner told Jason Wolf of The Tennessean that he wants to return for the Titans’ final regular season game against the Indianapolis Colts Jan. 3.

“The frustration of not being able to be out there with the guys bothers me more than what’s going on with my knee,” Mariota said.

It’s been a season of ups and downs for the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s NFL draft. He tied a league record with four touchdown passes in a pro debut, sprained the MCL in his left knee that caused him to miss two games and saw head coach Ken Whisenhunt get fired after a 1-6 start.

Through it all, Mariota had a solid rookie season, passing for 2,818 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions for a 91.5 passer rating in his 12 games. He’s experienced the inevitable rough spots, having been sacked 38 times (most in the league) and fumbling 10 times. Mariota believes he’s grown through the process of his rookie season, and the experience made him a better player and leader.

It’s hard to blame him for being frustrated and wanting to be out there leading his guys. Despite the Titans’ 3-11 record and the possibility they may clean house at season’s end, hopes for their franchise quarterback are high.

But attempting to play in the final regular season game is a bad idea.

The Titans aren’t headed to the postseason, so the game is meaningless. Mariota has already suffered through one knee injury, so coming back too soon from this one could risk further damage to his future. (Just ask fellow Heisman winner Robert Griffin III how that turned out). Playing behind an offensive line that’s already allowed more sacks than any team in the NFL with a knee not fully healed is a recipe for disaster.

The final decision, of course, is up to the team doctors and interim coach Mike Mularkey — not Mariota.

Let’s hope they have the foresight to let backup Zach Mettenberger finish out the rest of their disappointing season, and not put the future of their prize quarterback in jeopardy.