The Tennessee Titans’ winning formula this season had been spearheaded by the play of a dominating defense.
On Sunday, when that defensive play fell a notch, the Titans tumbled with it, falling 28-13 to the Jacksonville Jaguars at LP Field.
Against the Jaguars, the defense, missing defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, was unable to mask Tennessee’s many offensive woes, and even sprung a few leaks of its own against Jacksonville.
The Titans, who had opened the season with a 282-yard rushing effort in Jacksonville, did a complete about-face Sunday, yielding a season-high 166 yards on the ground to the Jags, while gaining just 62 yards themselves via the rush. To compound the problems, only 10 of those rushing yards came from running backs LenDale White and Chris Henry.
Left to rely on a passing game that had not produced a touchdown pass in five games, the Titans floundered in falling to 6-3.
“It wasn’t good out there. We didn’t play well at all,” guard Benji Olson said. “It’s frustrating, and we just couldn’t get anything going. … We’ve struggled all year, especially down in the red zone getting points. In previous weeks, the defense has kept us in it and caused turnovers and did things to help us out. Again today we just kind of struggled with turnovers, penalties and a missed block here or there, and if you don’t get in any kind of rhythm early in this game, it’s hard to come back and win.”
The Titans were in a hole almost from the get-go as a determined Jaguars offense, guided by backup quarterback Quinn Gray, marched downfield on its opening drive, using the rushing of running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor to push the Tennessee defense back on its heels and grind 7:31 off the clock. Jacksonville, which converted a key fourth-and-1 on the 13-play, 80-yard march, cashed in when Gray found Greg Jones on a 2-yard pass for a quick 7-0 lead.
Another clock-chewing drive in the second quarter of 13 plays, 53 yards and 7:06 in time elapsed pushed the margin to 14-0 in the second period, capped by Jones-Drew’s 8-yard run.
Jones-Drew finished with 101 yards, marking the first time in a full year the Titans had allowed a 100-yard rusher. Taylor added 45 yards, and in the process eclipsed the 10,000-yard barrier in his career on a first-half 15-yard run.
With the Titans in a 14-0 hole, and the running game going nowhere, Tennessee turned to its much-maligned passing game to decidedly mixed results.
Quarterback Vince Young completed 24 of 41 passes for a career-high 257 yards, but the effort was marred by two interceptions, four sacks and one lost fumble on a rush.
“We just didn’t get it done,” tight end Bo Scaife said. “We got ourselves in a bad situation from the jump. We’re not really like a comeback team. We’re supposed to be able to jump on people and finish it off. We just put ourselves in a bad situation.
“It’s something that needs to get fixed. We can’t be getting down like that and going out there not putting up points until late in the third quarter or fourth quarter. We can’t be doing that as an offense. None of the good offenses do that, so we’ve got to find a way to get it done, whether it’s the players or whoever it is.”
The Titans finally mustered a drive late in the first half from their hurry-up set, and drove to the Jaguars’ 19-yard line with 12 seconds to play and two timeouts. Rather than take a shot at the end zone, Tennessee elected to let the clock run down to two seconds and settled for Rob Bironas’ 37-yard field goal.
“When we made the catch with 12 seconds left, I was done,” Fisher said. “We had points … I wanted to go in with momentum. I wanted points.”
The Titans got those points, but it would not be enough, as the Jaguars continued to methodically control the game, tacking on Taylor’s 4-yard TD run in the third quarter, just two plays after Mike Peterson intercepted a Young pass that was jarred away from receiver Roydell Williams.
Down 21-3, the Titans tacked on Bironas’ 49-yard field goal, then crept within striking distance on Justin Gage’s acrobatic 20-yard touchdown catch, the Titans’ first score through the air since Sept. 24.
It cut the lead to 21-13 with 14:54 to play, but the Titans would get no closer, as Jacksonville added a final touchdown on Jones’ 3-yard run with 4:47 to play.
“Guys were getting through holes and there were more missed tackles than there were the last several weeks,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “For as simple as their offense was today, we weren’t too effective on defense.”
Tennessee’s last-gasp chance to cut into the lead on a fumbled punt snap recovered by Rich Scanlon at the 15 ended with a Brian Williams’ interception of Young with 2:38 to play.
When it was over, Young was among the Titans searching for answers.
“I can’t put my hand on it. I don’t know what it is, if the guys don’t trust me, I don’t know,” Young said. “All I know is we’ve just got to keep working, man. Hopefully, the guys still respect me. I just feel like I had a bad game, and I’ve just got to continue to get better. I put it on myself a little bit. I had a couple of mistakes that I had out there.
“It’s just certain different situations I feel like we can do better at, and I feel like I have to keep earning the guys’ trust.”