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Column: Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota once again linked in NFL opener

Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston

Rookie quarterbacks Marcus Mariota, left, and Jameis Winston will face off in an NFL season opener on Sunday.

(Associated Press photos)

It’s the best worst NFL game of the weekend.

Tampa Bay will host Tennessee on Sunday, an opener that pits last season’s cellar dwellers, both of whom finished 2-14.

But there’s historic significance to the matchup. The Buccaneers have No. 1 pick Jameis Winston at quarterback, and the Titans have No. 2 pick Marcus Mariota. Of the six times quarterbacks have been selected 1-2 in the draft, this is the first time they have opened their careers against each other.

Like Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf, or Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, Winston and Mariota will be forever linked and compared because of their back-to-back draft positions.

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“Do I get it? Yeah, I get it,” Titans Coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “They’re both very successful college quarterbacks, both won the Heisman [Trophy], both performed at a high level in big games. Regardless of where they were drafted, there’s a lot of attention that comes with that and then when you go one and two, that even creates more attention.”

What’s more, these two faced each other nine months ago in the Rose Bowl, when Mariota’s Oregon Ducks routed Winston’s Florida State Seminoles, 59-20. It was Winston’s lone collegiate defeat.

“We lost a game in preseason, so I’ve been over that loss in college,” Winston told reporters this week. “We won our last preseason game, so that’s on my mind right now. I don’t stay on losses very long.”

Mariota shrugged off comparisons this week.

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“That’s for you guys, that’s your opinion,” he told reporters in Tennessee. “I learned a long time ago not to compare myself to anyone else. My dad always said just to focus on what you’re doing, find ways that you can get better, and the rest will take care of itself.”

At least one informed resident of Tampa — a coach who directed the Buccaneers to their only Super Bowl appearance and victory — thinks Mariota will wind up as the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year.

“I’ll take Marcus,” said Jon Gruden, now color analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. “I’ll stand by my guy. I’ve been wrong several times, but I think this time Marcus has a chance of proving me right.”

Gruden, who had both quarterbacks in for his QB camp show, said he’s been particularly impressed with Mariota’s patience in the pocket.

“He is seeing the field,” Gruden said. “I think he’s impressed a lot of people with the way he’s thrown the football, and a lot of people are shocked that he hasn’t taken off in the run yet. I think that’s when you’re going to see the greatness of Marcus Mariota. He is a double-edged sword.”

Head games

In the first half of the kickoff opener Thursday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers encountered headset problems at Gillette Stadium. Instead of having clean airwaves, the Steelers were picking up the Patriots’ radio broadcast. The Patriots, who posted a 28-21 victory, said they were having headset problems too.

This was not the first time suspicions have swirled around the Patriots in regard to strange happenings with the headsets and the like. According to ProFootballTalk, there have been at least four other such instances with visiting teams in recent years.

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It’s the NFL’s responsibility to set up the sideline communication equipment, and the league said the issue was a power infrastructure problem at the stadium, coupled with problems caused by the rainy weather.

Granted the equipment is constantly being improved, but radio problems are nothing new in the NFL.

In a 2003 story, The Times chronicled some of the more humorous such malfunctions over the years. One of the problematic places for that was the since-mothballed Silverdome, old home of the Detroit Lions.

In the early 2000s, late Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger was trying to suggest a play in a game, but instead of connecting with then-coach Jeff Fisher, Heimerdinger heard the urgent voice of a woman.

“Suite 305 needs more hors d’oeuvres right away!” she said.

Two weeks earlier, at the same stadium, St. Louis running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery had trouble communicating with fellow coaches because his radio frequency crackled with uninvited guests.

“We kept getting a lot of truckers talking out on the highway,” Montgomery recalled of that 2001 game. “They were cutting in and out when we were trying to get people out on the field. It gets a little wacky and crazy.”

Detroit wasn’t unique in that regard. During an exhibition game in Philadelphia in the early 2000s, Baltimore coaches shared the airwaves with a pizza-delivery service. And George Ratterman, the Cleveland Brown quarterback best remembered as the first player to wear an in-helmet radio, got half of his instructions from legendary Coach Paul Brown, half from the police cruisers patrolling the area.

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I’m with the banned

Tom Brady’s four-game suspension — the most talked-about punishment of the off-season — was wiped out by a federal judge who ruled against the NFL. But there are plenty of other suspensions in effect for Week 1.

San Diego will be without star tight end Antonio Gates for the first four weeks because he violated the league’s policy against performance-enhancing substances. Gates said in July he didn’t know what caused the positive test.

“In my 12 years in the NFL, I have taken tremendous pride in upholding the integrity of the NFL shield and all that it entails,” he said. “I have always believed that ignorance is no excuse when it comes to these issues, and I take full responsibility for my actions.”

Pittsburgh played Thursday without running back Le’Veon Bell and receiver Martavis Bryant.

Three of the NFL’s best defensive lineman won’t be playing, either. Buffalo’s Marcell Dareus, Dallas’ Greg Hardy, and Sheldon Richardson of the New York Jets are serving suspensions of various lengths.

Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon, Miami defensive end Dion Jordan, and Arizona linebacker Daryl Washington, all of whom have gotten in trouble with the league before, are all serving either season-long or indefinite suspensions after testing positive for drugs.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesfarmer


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