RECAP: Fueled by defense and Mariota, Tennessee Titans beat Jaguars 9-6

JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 23: Wesley Woodyard #59 of the Tennessee Titans waits with his defence during their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on September 23, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
JACKSONVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 23: Wesley Woodyard #59 of the Tennessee Titans waits with his defence during their game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on September 23, 2018 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images) /

A substitute appearance from Marcus Mariota and a stellar defensive performance lifted the Tennessee Titans to a second-consecutive, gutsy division win on Sunday in Jacksonville.

Yesterday afternoon, the Tennessee Titans strolled into Duval County as a 6.5 point underdog. Blaine Gabbert started at QB, Jack Conklin still wasn’t back at RT and rising pass-rusher Kamalei Correa was sidelined. Despite dealing with important injuries for the third week in a row, the Titans pulled out a 9-6 win over the Jaguars, collecting their second division win in as many weeks. They did it with a little help from a limited Marcus Mariota and a defense that was flying all over the field.

After a swapping of offensive drives that were derailed by sacks from Wesley Woodyard and Calais Campbell, the Jaguars inexplicably decided to get tricky, running a fake punt that failed miserably from their own 46-yard line. The botched play gave the Titans great field position, which they used to get a Ryan Succop 39-yard field goal and take a 3-0 lead early in the game. On that same drive, Gabbert got knocked out of the game by a blindside hit that concussed the QB and earned Malik Jackson a 15-yard penalty. Mariota came on in relief of Gabbert and threw a good ball to a wide open Rishard Matthews on 3rd and 1, but Matthews blatantly dropped the pass and the Titans had to settle for three points.

The Jaguars finally got on the board with under nine minutes left in the second quarter on an 11-play drive that spanned just 34 yards and featured a bunch of short runs and completions that never threatened the Titans’ defense — a common theme throughout this game. A Josh Lambo 46-yard kick tied the game at 3-3.

The Titans and Jaguars combined for a measly 20 yards on 12 plays over the following four drives before the Titans set themselves up for a long field goal right before halftime. The Titans could’ve been more aggressive as there was 2:25 on the game clock when the drive started, but Mike Vrabel decided to go into halftime with a potential three-point lead and reassess the offense. Unfortunately, Succop missed the 49-yarder and the Titans were back at square one.

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Getting the ball first to start the second half, the Titans came out firing. Mariota threw an unexpected deep ball to Corey Davis that drew a defensive pass interference call, Tajae Sharpe took an end-around for 16 yards and — following a Taylor Lewan hold that put the Titans in a 1st and 20 — Davis grabbed a short Mariota pass on an out-and-in route, made a nifty move that caused two Jaguars defenders to collide into each other and jolted past the first down marker for a gain of 22. Mariota looked comfortable and in rhythm, but a questionable call to run Derrick Henry up the middle on 2nd and 5 and a sack on 3rd down stalled the drive, and the Titans had to settle for a chip shot field goal.

Jaguars QB Blake Bortles “engineered” a 13-play, 68-yard field goal drive that once again equalized the score early in the fourth quarter. Bortles completed six of seven passes on the drive, but a brutal holding call on 1st and 10 at the Tennessee 25 was a death knell to a potential touchdown, as Bortles was simply unwilling to even test the Titans deep down the field throughout the entire game.

The Titans responded with a lengthy drive of their own, going 65 yards on 12 plays and chewing up 6:42 of game clock. Henry came alive during the drive, carrying seven times for 33 yards, while Mariota earned three first downs through the air, finding Davis and TEs Jonnu Smith and Luke Stocker on separate occasions. An accurate Succop field goal put the Titans up 9-6, and Bortles was simply unable to move the ball past the first down marker and give the Jaguars a chance at a tie over their last two drives.

While two of their second-half drives ended with punts, Mariota and the Titans offense ran 35 plays, gained 180 yards and melted 19:30 off of the game clock. It was a masterful and efficient performance considering Mariota’s limited arm and the elite defense they were facing on the road. Mariota’s efficiency, paired with one of the best defensive performances we’ve seen from the Titans in a while, resulted in another imperative victory for the Two-Tone Blue.

The Titans now return home for Week 4, where they will host the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, who have gotten QB Carson Wentz back in the fold.