For all the talk about what the Jaguars may do with their key personnel in a meaningless game, Jacksonville played this one at full strength. Blake Bortles, Leonard Fournette and the rest of the crew played this game in full, seeing brutally low 23 degree temperatures.
It was a predictably ugly punting battle early on. Each side struggled to string first downs together. Tennessee was without DeMarco Murray, which meant Derrick Henry was set for a full load. It didn’t start well.
Henry didn’t have any space to operate, ending the first quarter with negative rushing yards. Luckily for the Titans, the Jaguars couldn’t do much of anything offensively either.
To open the second quarter, Terry Robiskie dialed up a screen for Henry. The result was a 66 yard burst for a score. We’ve seen Henry excel in space and he did it again here. That was a much needed first strike to get the momentum flowing. Ryan Succop had his extra point blocked though, leaving the Tennessee lead at 6-0.
The Henry screen seemed to wake up Jacksonville, too. They were able to get going offensively with a couple of big plays to Allen Hurns and Fournette to get into scoring position. The Jaguars put three on the board, bring the game to 6-3.
After trading punts again, Jaydon Mickens made a critical error. After signaling for a fair catch, Mickens launched into a Titans’ defender. The punt hit off of Mickens in the process. The Titans recovered, but were only able to add a field goal. Adoree’ Jackson forced a fumble on the next Jacksonville possession, giving Tennessee another shot at points before halftime.
Succop drilled another one after a three and out to end the half. All of the sudden the Titans held a 12-3 lead.
After another stop from the defense, the Titans took over in Jacksonville territory with a chance to really distance themselves. A couple of nice Derrick Henry runs moved the chains, but once again — the drive stalled. Succop was called on once more, making it a 15-3 ballgame.
Tennessee dodged a bullet on the next drive as Dede Westbrook dropped an easy touchdown as he streaked down the sideline. Jacksonville was forced to punt after Bortles took a sack.
After a key drop from Eric Decker ended the Titans’ following drive, Bortles threw an interception. Kevin Byard put the Titans in scoring position with the return.
The Titans failed to get a first down on the first three downs, but went for it on 4th and 1 with a sneak from Mariota. The game felt over, but a miscommunication between Mariota and Henry caused a fumble, which was returned by the Jaguars for a touchdown. Hindsight is 20-20, but kicking that field goal on 4th and 1 probably ices the game there.
Just like that, it was a 15-10 game.
Another drop from Decker on a key 3rd down forced the Titans to punt, opening the door for the Jaguars to take the lead.
They opened with a screen to Fournette, who got the ball out to the 50 yard line. That’s all they would be able to do though. Tennessee’s defense stood tall, forcing another punt.
The Titans picked up a first down right off the bat with a Mariota scramble, but couldn’t muster anything else. Derrick Henry was stuffed on a 3rd down and 1, handing Jacksonville yet another opportunity.
Brian Orakpo ended that chance though. A huge sack on second down wrecked the drive, forcing yet another punt.
Robiskie dialed up Derrick Henry once more, then Mariota kept one on a read option for a big first down. Two more Henry runs set up a massive 3rd and 5, which Mariota kept himself — delivering a stiff arm and converting for a fresh set of downs at the two minute warning.
Tennessee chewed the clock down to 25 seconds before punting the ball away one last time. Jacksonville got it back, only to throw another interception to Kevin Byard.
It was a strange game that the Titans controlled all day for the most part. It wasn’t pretty — but the Titans don’t win pretty. However, it’ll work. The Titans are playoff bound for the first time since 2008.
Now we wait to see who they play.