More often than not this season Jason Babin has seized an opportunity during the course of a game to get close to an opposing quarterback. It’s called a sack, and the Tennessee Titans’ leader in that regard had at least half of one in eight of the first 11 contests.
Absent any such meeting Sunday, Babin instead chatted up Jacksonville’s David Garrard before each left the playing surface at LP Field.
“He said, ‘Yeah, you guys were calling out what we were running,’” Babin said. “We had no answer for it apparently.”
A regular aspect of the history the Tennessee-Jacksonville rivalry is that one team – as often as possible – tends to kick the other when it’s down.
This time the Titans were mired in the throes of a four-game losing streak, yet the Jaguars never stopped to kick. Instead, they ran right over the home team – again and again and again.
Tennessee surrendered a season-high 258 rushing yards and allowed Jacksonville to hold the ball for 39:54 as a 17-6 defeat extended the string of losses to five.
The contest played out in the manner of the movie Groundhog Day – it was the same thing time after time only with mildly different results – only the vast majority of the crowd, obviously less than announced sellout of 69,143 to begin with, walked out rather than stay to the finish.
“They ran, basically, the same play – similar formation, same blocking scheme – and we didn’t have an answer for it,” Babin said. “I don’t know what the problem was. … It was tough. It was frustrating.”
Jacksonville wasted no time revealing its intent. It ran the ball on its first six offensive plays and 11 of 12 on its opening drive, which concluded with Rashad Jennings’ 11-yard touchdown run on fourth down.
By halftime, three different Jaguars, including Garrard, had more rushing yards than Tennessee’s entire team. By game’s end, Maurice Jones-Drew had a career-high 186 yards on 31 carries, and the Jaguars had more rushing attempts (53) than the Titans had total offensive plays (47).
“In this series, the team that has won the physical battle on both fronts has won the game a large percentage of the time,” Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said. “We knew it was going to take that coming in and we did a solid job on both fronts. Obviously, Maurice Jones-Drew was special and we rode Maurice hard.”
Jacksonville is Tennessee’s longest-standing rival among the teams within the AFC South. The twice-annual battles between the Titans and Jaguars date back to the latter’s inaugural season of 1995 and the former AFC Central.
It includes 1999 when the Jaguars lost just three times, twice to the Titans in the regular season and once more in the AFC championship game.
Coming into this one, the margin of victory in each of the last three meetings was at least 17 points. That included Tennessee’s 30-3 Monday night victory at Jacksonville back on Oct. 18, a game in which Tennessee rushed for 153 yards and held the ball a season-high 32:45.
Jacksonville came into this one as the team to beat, tied with Indianapolis for first in the division and with victories in three of its last four, but instead administered a beating.
“The Jaguars … that’s the type of team they are, they’re going to run the ball,” defensive tackle Jason Jones said. “They have a great running back in Jones-Drew. So why not run the ball?”
That logic was only enhanced by the fact that Jones-Drew had rushed for 100 or more in each of the preceding four games, the first of which came two weeks after the earlier loss to Tennessee.
The Titans’ Chris Johnson, conversely, was limited to 53 yards on 13 carries. His longest gain in the first half was six yards. That came on one of the seven total plays they ran in the second quarter.
“This Jaguar-Titan matchup over the years comes down to who runs it and who doesn’t,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “They ran it and we didn’t. They ran it and we didn’t stop it, and they stopped our run. That was the difference in the ballgame.
“… We split games with them in the division this year in identical ways.”