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Jaguars lower goals in disappointing season
The reality of the NFL is there are no breathers from one week to the next. Just ask the Green Bay Packers, double-digit favorites at home against a struggling Arizona team that had won just two of its first 11 games, yet posted a 20-17 win over the Packers last Sunday.
Or ask the Indianapolis Colts, one of the hottest teams in the NFL last week with a five-game winning streak that came to Jacksonville last Sunday to take on a Jaguars team that was deflated and frustrated with a seven-game losing streak. Yet the Jaguars pulled off a 6-0 win. It's an indication that no team can take another team for granted. It's also a reason that almost to a man among the nearly 1,700 players on one of the 32 rosters in the league, their claim of taking things one game at a time is indeed an accurate statement.
That's why there won't be any Tennessee Titans players taking Jacksonville lightly this week in an abbreviated work week with the teams playing on national TV Thursday night. The Titans are in the hunt for the sixth and final AFC playoff spot, currently tied with three other teams all sporting 6-6 records and a game behind Baltimore (7-5) who is in that final playoff spot, at least for this week.
But the Titans would currently fall behind Miami, Indianapolis and Denver in a tie-breaker if they were to finish in a tie for that sixth spot. That puts Tennessee 10th in the playoff hunt, which doesn't sound good unless you compare it to Jacksonville which sits 14th in the playoff race, ahead of only the New York Jets (3-9) and Oakland (2-10).
While there is still a mathematical chance that the Jaguars could make the playoffs at 8-8, there is no longer talk about the playoffs in their locker room. Even with the win over Indianapolis last week, it turned playoff talk into "finish strong" talk.
"We're all professionals and we take pride in our game," defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "We want to finish as strong as we can and put together a winning streak. There's no reason we can't win these final five games and at least get to 8-8. That's not the record we wanted, but right now that's the goal we're striving to get."
The first of the five is behind them with the win over the Colts. But now comes the Titans, a team that has had Jacksonville's number in recent years (winning five of the last six meetings). This is Jacksonville's most-despised team, dating back to the Titans' AFC Championship Game win over the Jaguars in 2000 that cost Jacksonville its best chance of appearing in the Super Bowl until last year's fiasco against New England in the AFC title game. The Tennessee loss came on Jacksonville's home turf, was the third straight win by the Titans over the Jaguars that season, and strengthened former Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher's claim as Jacksonville being the Titans' "home away from home."
Fisher has long since departed from Tennessee but the memories of Tennessee's dominance over the Jaguars in the early 2000s (10 wins in a 12-game span from 1998 to 2003) still haunts many Jaguars fans. But with the recent Titans success in the series, it's rekindled some bitter memories.
With Tennessee playing at home on national TV in prime time and still in the playoff hunt, winning on the Titans field won't be an easy task on Thursday.
"Tennessee has an excellent defense. The front seven is outstanding: big, strong, powerful," Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone said. "Linebackers are downhill, hit. Secondary plays well. We're going to have to do a good job up front. It'll be a great challenge for those guys on the (offensive) line."
Among those challenged will be two players who were starters with the lowly New York Giants (also 4-8) but who were released because they weren't getting the job done. Now, tackle Ereck Flowers and guard Patrick Omameh line up next to each other in the Jaguars starting lineup. Add in backup center Tyler Shatley and that makes a trio of players who are only starting because of injuries to others.
Flowers and Omameh will have a major task on hand in Thursday's game as both will likely take on the Titans' talented defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. At 305 pounds, Casey is a load to contain. His strength is his ability to stuff runners at the line, not a good mix for the Jaguars who like to run Leonard Fournette off the left side of the line, right where Casey will be stationed.
"He's tough. We probably don't have enough guys to put on him at a time," Marrone said about Casey. "He has always played well. He's one of the better inside players in the league. He's up there when you mention Aaron Donald and players like that that play inside; he's right up there with them. I have a lot of respect for him.
"Their whole defense, all of those guys play extremely hard. They really do. Their effort is outstanding. We have not played well against them, that's a fact."
SERIES HISTORY: 48th regular-season meeting. Titans lead series, 27-20. Jacksonville has played more games against Tennessee and has more wins and more losses against the Titans than any other NFL team. The two teams have played a home-and-home series every year since the Jaguars joined the NFL in 1995. The Titans have opened up a seven-game lead in the series after winning five of the last six meetings, including a 9-6 win in Week 3, Jacksonville's only loss in its first four games this year. The last Jaguars win came on Christmas Eve of 2016 when they posted a 38-17 win at home.