AFC South: Fortland Finnegan
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Look at the stars of the Titans' 10th win of the season -- one-time Chicago castoff receiver Justin Gage and third-string cornerback Chris Carr, whom the Raiders had no interest in retaining last offseason -- and it's hard to say the difference in Tennessee's win over Jacksonville was talent.
It was more about execution and resolve.
|Steve Mitchell/US Presswire|
|Tennessee Titans wide receiver Justin Gage (12) celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver Brandon Jones (81) during the fourth quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars.|
Here's a sampling of evidence:
Looking to build on a 14-3 halftime lead on the opening possession of the third quarter and facing a third-and-11 from their 28-yard line, David Garrard threw to tight end Marcedes Lewis on the left sideline. The charging Titan in coverage was more than five yards off as the ball arrived, and Lewis was going to have to make quite a move to even get close to a first down. But even with such space and time, Lewis did a poor job of realizing where he was and had a foot touching the boundary. Incomplete.
As contrast, in the middle of the fourth quarter, when the Titans had seized control of the game and were looking to put it away, Jevon Kearse and Albert Haynesworth closed on quarterback Garrard as he let a pass go for Dennis Northcutt up the right side. The ball came out fluttery, and Carr found his way in front of Northcutt, leaping to grab the errant pass and getting precisely one foot down, then the next as he fell out of bounds. Interception.
It's too easy to say those two plays encompass the difference in these teams, but they certainly were illustrative on a day when the Titans proved capable, yet again, of simply finding a way to win.
Baltimore and Indianapolis had slowed Tennessee's running game this year, forcing the Titans to throw to win. Both times the Titans did. A week ago, Chicago took it to extremes at Soldier Field, allowing the Titans only 20 yards on the ground and losing, like the Ravens and Colts before them, because quarterback Kerry Collins made enough plays.
But even at 9-0, one clear ingredient was missing, the same one that has been a hole in the Titans' repertoire through good times and bad in the 12 years since they moved to Tennessee from Houston. The deep ball.
And so, fittingly, as they did repair work on their worst half of the season, they did it with long throws.
Twice Gage hinted he was going toward the middle of the field, twice his defender (Drayton Florence and Brian Williams each had a turn) went too hard with the move, and twice he veered back and caught a ball close to the sideline that turned into a score. The first time safety Reggie Nelson arrived in time to prevent a TD and Gage simply muscled through him. The second time Nelson couldn't get there in time.
"Gage needed a breakout game like that and his confidence is sky-high right now," tight end Bo Scaife said. "I just hope him and Brandon [Jones] and the other wide receivers carry that confidence the rest of the season."
Coming into the game, Tennessee's three longest pass plays of the season were 44, 37 and 32 yards.
Gage caught a 47-yard pass on the Titans' first offensive play and then had the second-half touchdowns of 56 and 38.
"Two of them were zone, one of them was man, but none of them was without a centerfielder at least," Jags coach Jack Del Rio said.
Del Rio's team blew an 11-point lead, the biggest deficit the Titans have faced this season. It was only the second time Del Rio's Jags have lost after leading by double digits. The first time was his first game at the helm, Sept. 17, 2003 at Carolina.
Other things I noticed, saw, heard or asked about after this one:
- Brandon Jones drew an unsportsmanlike conduct flag after his 13-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. He didn't deserve it for excessive celebration. He may have deserved it for not fully thinking things through.
He knelt and put his hands behind his back, as if he's been arrested and was about to get handcuffed.
"I did it, I got in the end zone, you know they want to take you to jail after I scored on the Jaguars," he said, when I asked what it was all about.
He said he was surprised by the penalty. I was surprised by his theme.
Maybe I am over-thinking it. Jones was charged with a misdemeanor in June for having a gun in a carry-on bag while going through security at the Nashville airport. He said he'd last used the bag on a trip to the shooting range and simply forgotten to remove the gun. (In August, he paid a $500 fine, forfeited his .32 caliber gun and agreed to serve six months of probation. If he completes probation without further incident, the charge could be expunged from his record.)
Between that and the knowledge that the league isn't actually too big on arrests in general, is pretending you're being told to put your hands behind you back to be cuffed and taken to jail really a good way to celebrate a score?
Probably not. Still, it was as mild and unworthy of a flag as Uche Nwaneri's penalty in the first half for celebration after the first of two short TD runs by Maurice Jones-Drew. Nwaneri said he simply swiped Jones-Drew's leg and patted him on the head.
"I've just got to go to the sideline after we score," he said. "You never want to cost your team like that, luckily it didn't come back to bite us."
- Last year, when nickelback Vincent Fuller was unavailable because of a late-season shoulder injury, Eric King stepped in and promptly suffered a season-ending broke
Sunday, he was at left cornerback filling in for Nick Harper (ankle) and said he broke the same arm in the same spot again.
"I broke my forearm again, but it doesn't feel as painful as it did the last time so hopefully my recovery won't be as long," King said. Titans coach Jeff Fisher said recovery would be around six weeks.
King is hopeful it's not the end of his season and said he will be getting a couple opinions on it starting Monday.
The injury allowed for Carr to get his first real work of the season on defense. The return man played a bit on defense at the end of the Titans' blowout in Kansas City on Oct. 19.
Carr finished with the pick, a game-high three passes defensed, three tackles and a special-teams tackle.
"I feel like I am just as good a defensive player as I am a special-teams player," said Carr, who was signed away from Oakland as a restricted free agent. "In Oakland [at one point] I was behind Charles Woodson and Nnamdi Asomugha, those are probably the two best corners in the league and I come over here and they have two established starters [in Cortland Finnegan and Harper]. So I think, 'Hey, special teams are going to be my niche in the team.' ... But I knew if I got in a game it wasn't going to be a surprise. Me and Reynaldo Hill talk all the time. I'm like, 'If I get in a game, I'm going to make some plays.' "
- Garrard was without his top receiver and his offensive line is hardly what the team imagined before the season.
Still, the Jaguars got the ball back several times in the second half with a chance to reestablish control of the game and the quarterback is the guy who needs to lead that.
He failed to do so with a terrible second-half line: 5-of-14 passing, three sacks, a pick and a 15.5 passer rating.
"They definitely turned their energy level up and I just don't think we matched it," he said. "They started doing a great job of not being in the defenses that we had scouted and so some of our plays were geared toward a particular coverage or a particular look and they weren't getting into it like we expected them to. So it made it tough on us ... We have to do a whole lot better than that, especially when the game is on the line."
Garrard wasn't going to match last season this season. People cite how well he generally protects the ball, but he has hardly lived up to the expectations that come with the $60 million contract extension he signed with $18 million guaranteed.
They need to surround him with better people, but it's more than fair to expect him to carry the team at a tough time rather than seeming like a key piece of the problem.
- Titans defensive tackle Tony Brown had a miserable second quarter, at least in the eyes of the game officials. He drew a defensive holding call, a neutral zone infraction and a roughing the passer.
"I calmed myself down and got it going," said Brown, who disputed a couple of the calls but said he was at fault anyway. "I ain't going to say I was helping dig a hole, but I know I definitely wasn't helping the cause either."
- Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (groin) never really had a chance to play. He went through a full rehab workout before the game, but it wasn't a test to see if he could go.
"Hopefully I am a full-go next week," said KVB, who has seen only limited action in two of the team's last five games. "This is enough waiting around. I think I've had adequate rest. It's not perfect, it's something I've now got to go out and deal with. That's the plan, then be full-go next week."
- Give Del Rio credit for this: He didn't spend his postgame press conference pretending that his team is going to find a path to the postseason.
"I told the team in terms of postseason mode, it's absolutely as dismal an outlook as you can have and not be out," he said. "We've got six games left. We'd have to win every one to have a chance to qualify. It's a very remote possibility. What we are going to do is focus one game at a time and try to have a little more fun playing football."