The Jaguars, a solid 7-point favorite over the Titans, failed to produce a touchdown and eventually lost the field-goal battle with Tennessee, dropping a 9-6 decision to the Titans in front of 64,015 fans at TIAA Bank Field Sunday afternoon.
It was a bitter loss for the Jaguars to endure. They were looking for their first 3-0 start since the 2004 season and were coming off a big win over defending AFC champion New England the week before. With the struggling New York Jets coming to town the following week, many envisioned just the second-ever 4-0 start by this franchise.
A year ago, the Titans won both games in the series. They came to Jacksonville the second week of the season and put a 37-16 licking on the Jaguars. Then, in the last game of the regular season, the host Titans won another defensive struggle, holding the Jaguars offense to no touchdowns in a 15-10 win.
The Jaguars offense that performed with precision last week in posting a 31-20 win over New England, could do little against the Titans defense. Jacksonville finished with just 232 total yards, one more than Tennessee accumulated, in a game dominated by the two defenses. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, one week removed from a 377-yard, four-TD passing effort, was not sharp in this outing. He completed 21 of 34 throws but for just 155 yards and no TDs. He was sacked three times and hurried on many others.
On one third-quarter series, Bortles had three passes deflected at the line of scrimmage by an opposing lineman. Too many other times he missed wide open receivers.
"Offensively we didn't play good. We killed ourselves," Bortles said. "We made stupid penalties, drops, missing throws. We have to not hurt ourselves. I think especially the way our defense is and the way they play, we have to score one touchdown and win the game. To score six points in four quarters, that's bad as an offense. You have to find a way to get the ball in the end zone. Find a way to win. You have to give them credit defensively. They played good."
Bortles said it wasn't that the Titans sprung a new look at the Jaguars. They basically were doing the same things as he had seen before.
"We just didn't execute. We have to make plays," he said. "We can't be first and 20, second and 20. We get the opportunity, we need to make the play. Do what we do all week in practice. Just translate that to the field. We have to move the ball. Continue to get first downs and put up points. We just didn't do that today."
How bad did the Jaguars offense struggle? They only crossed midfield into Tennessee territory twice, both times resulting in field goals. They reached the 20 once but never got inside the red zone. The Jaguars other eight drives all ended on their side of the 50.
Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone bemoaned the couple opportunities that the Jaguars had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns.
"I think it does a lot of things. One, you miss those opportunities to give yourself a chance to score a touchdown," he said. "It puts you in some tough situations from a manageable standpoint and what you can do down there. Obviously the field starts to shrink. The other thing it does is it throws you off base, throws you out of rhythm.
"That's the one thing you can't do. You get down there, you feel good about the plays that are in there. Then all of a sudden those plays are taken out of the game plan. Now you're backed up in long-yardage situations like that where now all of a sudden you want to take shots, but then they take the shots away and you have to try to get as much as you can to make it a higher percentage field goal."
As bad and sputtering the Jaguars offense was, Tennessee's attack was equally inept. The Titans lost starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert -- the former first-round draft pick of the Jaguars who played three seasons with the club -- in the first quarter with a concussion. Marcus Mariota came in and while he didn't put up impressive numbers (12-of-18 for 100 yards, no TDs or INTs), he directed the Titans on three scoring marches, albeit they too ended up in field goals.
He drew rave reviews from Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel.
"He was fantastic," Vrabel said about his fourth-year quarterback who was on this week's injury report with an ailing elbow. "He cares about this team immensely. He wants what's best for the team. You saw him come in there, get us some first downs and give us a spark, and make some huge third-down conversions."
Tennessee jumped on the scoreboard first with a 39-yard Ryan Succop field goal. The Jaguars' Josh Lambo matched that with a 46-yard effort in the second quarter. The Titans were in position to take the lead at halftime, but Succop pushed a 48-yard try wide right on the last play of the first half.
Succop's 36-yarder put Tennessee back on top in the third quarter, but with 10:48 remaining in the fourth quarter, Lambo tied it again, converting from 38 yards out. It was the 16th consecutive field goal that Lambo had made for the Jaguars dating back to the middle of the 2017 season.
But Tennessee had an answer to that kick as well. The Titans started from their own 25 and went 65 yards in 11 plays to the 10-yard line. But a third down Mariota pass to Corey Davis was incomplete, bringing Succop on one more time. He easily hit from 28 yards out with 4:06 left in the game.
Jacksonville had two more opportunities to try and win the game or at least get in position for a tying field goal and send the game to overtime. But they only gained 7 yards on their first series and had to punt.
They still had a chance to get the ball back with enough time remaining, but Mariota came up with his biggest play of the game, a 15-yard quarterback keeper on 3rd-and-1, giving the Titans a first down with 2:31 remaining and the Jaguars with only one timeout remaining.
By the time the Jaguars got the ball for the final time, there was just 19 seconds remaining and two pass attempts went nowhere.
"We wanted to make it a four-quarter game," Vrabel said. "This team (Jags) has jumped out and been ahead early and it was important for us to weather the storm which we did. Our defense played great there in the first half to give us a chance. We know we have a difficult division like a lot of other teams. So any time you can win a divisional game on the road is big, real big."
The Jaguars even tried some trickery in the first quarter in hopes of jump-starting the offense. On a fourth-and-4 from their own 46, Corey Grant went in motion and took a pitch from up man Cody Davis. But Grant couldn't turn the corner and was dropped for no gain. The Titans then marched to the Jaguars 20 where they kicked their first field goal.
"Obviously we put a lot of effort on division games and we went out there today and obviously didn't perform well, including myself," Marrone said. "We tried to be aggressive early with the fake punt. We had the look we wanted; we didn't execute it. That's totally on me.
"Give credit to Tennessee. They beat us. We know we've got to score points against them and we didn't score, and that's something we've got to work on and do a better job of. We all know we can execute when we do it the right way, but today we didn't execute."