The Tennessee Titans manhandled the Jaguars on Sunday afternoon.
December 23, 2013 was the date when the Tennessee Titans last defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars at Everbank Field. One thousand, three-hundred sixty-four days later, the men in two-tone blue accomplished the feat again.
The 2017 Titans are in a much different state than the 2013 team. That Week 16 victory against the Jaguars brought their record to a dreary 6-9. Team leaders in the game included names such as Ryan Fitzpatrick (passing), Shonn Greene (rushing), Nate Washington (receiving), and Moise Fokou (tackling).
Two weeks later, Mike Munchak was fired from his job as head coach. The team had no direction, no leadership, and a roster with a massive talent drought.
Now, the Titans find themselves as the team to beat in the AFC South. They rebounded from a disappointing Week 1 loss to Oakland, bullying the Jaguars and asserting themselves as the current king of the division.
Division wins like these are key to earning playoff spots. The Titans learned this the hard way last season. Despite finishing with the same overall record as the Houston Texans, the Titans’ poor intra-division record cost them a chance to play in January.
Head coach Mike Mularkey spoke with reporters after the game today and emphasized the importance of getting off to a good start within the AFC South. “We want to win the division. You’ve got to beat division teams. We learned our lesson last year.”
It was a tale of two halves for the Titans on Sunday, as the team struggled to get anything going against the Jaguars’ stout defense early on. Defensively, rookie RB Leonard Fournette gave them fits.
The second half was a different story. The Titans scored 24 unanswered points thanks to a dominating run game and a defense that forced Jaguars QB Blake Bortles to make mistakes.
Historically, Bortles has been prone to turnovers. Over his four-year career (46 starts), he has averaged 1.1 interceptions per game. Against the Titans, he threw two. He also lost a fumble on a Brian Orakpo strip sack.
The Titans were able to capitalize on those turnovers in the second half, employing a merciless dose of Derrick Henry runs that the talented Jacksonville front seven was unable to stop. In what was a career game for the second-year back from Alabama, Henry rushed for 92 yards and a TD on 14 carries, a dominating average of 6.6 yards per rush.
Henry’s quarterback, Marcus Mariota, had nothing but positive things to say after the game. “I thought Derrick did a great job coming in and making plays. Towards the end of the game when you’re running out the clock like that, it’s huge. We’ll continue to find ways to get him the football, and we’ll expect those things out of him.”
The coaching staff’s commitment to running the football really opened up the offense and allowed Mariota to use play-action to his advantage. His first passing TD of the year came on a play fake that allowed TE Jonnu Smith to score untouched on a screen pass from 32 yards out.
Mularkey jokingly noted that thanks to the incredible blocking Smith had in front of him, even reporter Paul Kuharsky might have been able to score on the play.
For the first time in a long while, the Titans found success in all three phases of the game. The special teams unit was a lot better this week than last, giving the offense short fields and forcing the Jaguars to play from deep in their own territory.
Rookie CB Adoree’ Jackson had a lot to do with the team’s success on special teams. His 46-yard punt return in the third quarter led to a two-play touchdown drive by the offense, which gave the Titans a 16-3 lead.
Jackson also fared well on defense. He recorded four solo tackles, displayed great coverage ability, and made multiple impressive plays in the run game.
A lot has changed for the Titans in the four years that have passed since the last time they won in Jacksonville. The dysfunctional joke of a franchise has become stable, well-managed, and competitive.
As for Mularkey, he isn’t ready to jump to any conclusions after just two games. “It’s only two weeks. It’s a good win for us. It shows us what we’re capable of doing when we can do what we did today with the turnovers and running the ball. Those are things we have to do every week.”
It has indeed only been two weeks. But, with the quarterback situations that have plagued the other three teams in the AFC South, the Titans find themselves in the division’s driver’s seat. They’ll try to keep their foot on the gas when the Seattle Seahawks come to Nashville next week.