The Titans got a critical win over a division rival for a second straight week as the Tennessee defense out-dueled the vaunted Jacksonville defense and turned Blake Bortles in to... well... Blake Bortles. Ugly or not, it was a huge win for a team that has proven resilient early in this 2018 NFL season. Here are the winners and losers from the game.
It’s rare that the quarterback of a game that finished 9-6 can be considered a winner, but Mariota certainly deserves to be listed here. He finished 12 of 18 for 100 yards passing and added 7 carries for 51 yards on the ground, but the stat line does little to describe how well Mariota played despite being less than 100% and facing one of the best defenses in the NFL. He also had a couple critical drops by receivers on good throws that could have extended drives.
Most importantly, his throws were on target and appeared to have plenty of zip. The Titans didn’t ask him to do much with regards to attacking deep down field, but he capably executed the plays that were called. Regardless of Gabbert’s status with the concussion, I’d suspect that Mariota is back under center when the Titans take on the defending champs next week.
The respect for Mariota’s gutsy performance was evident in his teammates post game comments. Taylor Lewan called his quarterback a wolf and said he’d follow him anywhere while Ben Jones called Mariota one of the toughest guys that he knows. Getting a healthy — or at least healthy enough — Mariota moving forward is crucial and it sure looks like things moved in the right direction today.
It’s hard to single out just one guy from what was an outstanding group effort from the defense. Wesley Woodyard certainly stood out, racking up 12 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 pass defensed. Jurrell Casey was active once again, picking up his 3rd sack of the season. Harold Landry’s outstanding pass rush on 3rd down of the Jags second to last drive ultimately got the defense off the field and gave the offense a chance to nearly run the clock out.
The Jaguars helped out with a few unforced errors, but the Titans defense was outstanding throughout the game. The secondary completely took away the deep passing game that torched the Patriots a week earlier, limiting Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, and Donte Moncrief to just 10 catches and 74 yards combined.
The Titans defense has carried the team the last two weeks while the offense has been banged up. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a defense capable of this kind of shut down performance in Tennessee.
The Titans rookie head coach is pressing all the right buttons right now. Getting back to back division wins despite the extreme injury circumstances is an impressive start. There is no doubt that they will need the offense to start picking up steam, but the Titans coaching staff has put together winning game plans with the hands they’ve been dealt.
Vrabel has talked about a team’s culture being measured by how they respond to adversity and after two weeks it’s clear that the culture surrounding this team is in a good spot. If you listen to quotes from his players it’s pretty clear that this team loves playing for this guy and it is showing on the field.
Cruikshank has been the star of the Titans excellent special teams unit so far this season. Last week he caught a fake punt pass and took it the distance for a touchdown. This week he thwarted the Jags fake punt attempt when he recognized the play, got up field, and forced Jaguars back Corey Grant wide. He didn’t get the tackle, but his play gave LeShaun Sims and Jayon Brown the time they needed to rally to the ball and make the stop short of the first down. His work as a gunner on punt coverage has been excellent as well.
The Titans have brought Rashaan Evans along slowly after the rookie linebacker missed much of training camp with a hamstring injury, but the training wheels came off today. Evans got the start inside next to Wesley Woodyard and even though he was only credited with 1 tackle, I thought he was frequently around the ball. The only downside was Evans leaving the game during the second half with an injury. Hopefully it’s just a minor issue and he gets a chance to build on this start next week.
Tajae Sharpe and Rishard Matthews
Sharpe and Matthews had two bad drops on big 3rd down plays during the first quarter that could have extended drives. Matthews finished with just 1 catch for 3 yards while Sharpe was held without a catch.
Sharpe has made a few plays this season, including a massive 3rd down catch against the Texans in Week 2, but Matthews has been the invisible man in this passing game. Some of his struggles are almost certainly due to the time he missed in camp with a torn meniscus, but the Titans could really use another threat in the passing game to complement Corey Davis.
Jags fans were pretty cocky heading in to this game. They were coming off a beatdown of the Patriots and hosting a Titans team starting Blaine Gabbert and missing two of their top three tackles. The national media had just spent the entire week gushing over the “new Blake Bortles” and calling the Jags one of the AFC’s elite. A home loss to a team starting Blaine Gabbert was the last thing they expected to see today, but that’s what they got.
Furthermore, I was disappointed with the crowd at TIAA Bank Field (or as I call it “Jeff Fisher’s Beach Bungalow”). There were a TON of empty seats today despite it being a big rivalry game with their team coming off an impressive home win. Maybe they should bring the tarps back?
The Rest of the AFC South
This one is literal. Every team in the division lost this week except for the Titans. The Colts dropped to 1-2 with a close 20-16 road loss to the Eagles. The more interesting loss was the Texans losing their home opener by a score of 27-22 against the previously 0-2 Giants. Houston remains winless on the season and I after to wonder if Bill O’Brien’s seat might be getting a little toasty. It was a great set of results for the Titans who jump in to first place in the division after three weeks of play.