Jared Cook helps Titans stay alive

December, 24, 2011
12/24/11
8:12
PM ET
CookDon McPeak/US PresswireJared Cook had eight catches for a franchise-record 169 receiving yards against the Jaguars.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer polls his quarterbacks on their three favorite plays out of each week’s game plan.

Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker and Rusty Smith all voted this week for a deep crossing route.

It was a play the Titans ran with great success in a 23-17 Christmas Eve win over the Jaguars that kept Tennessee in contention for the sixth and final berth in the AFC playoff field.

The Titans need to finish in a three-way tie at 9-7 with the Bengals and Jets or with the Bengals and Raiders to earn the No. 6 seed.

The trio of signal-callers often votes the same way in separate, secret balloting which influences Palmer’s approach, Hasselbeck said.

“It’s mental telepathy or something,” he said. “We get along really well, we like the same plays. They think we’re cheating off of each other, but we’re not.”

Rarely does the favored play contribute so heavily to a favored result.

Hasselbeck leaned on it heavily and posted strong passing numbers despite two interceptions, with 24 completions in 40 pass attempts, for 350 yards and a touchdown.

Tight end Jared Cook is a big, fast, receiver-like threat. He disappears at times and has not been featured the way many of us expected he would be this season. In Week 15 he lost a deadly fumble in Indianapolis when the Titans were mounting a charge.

But he keyed this Titans win with eight catches for 169 yards and the 55-yard score on a mismatch with Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, who was left in an unreasonably difficult spot by the coverage.

No tight end for the Titans or Oilers ever collected so much receiving yardage in one game. The previous record was 150 by Houston’s Dave Casper in 1980.

While the Jaguars have a strong front seven, they do not have particularly threatening edge pass-rushers. That helped the Titans feel comfortable lining Cook up less often next to a tackle, and more often in a two-by-two set, as if he were a receiver in a four-wide formation.

Nate Washington, also in a slot, typically drew nickelback Drew Coleman in coverage. Hasselbeck said that also helped get Cook into open space more often than usual.

Cook said the Titans talked all week about the opportunities they’d find against an injury-depleted Jaguars defense. The Jaguars are without both their starting corners, Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox, and played Saturday minus starting safety Dwight Lowery. That meant Ashton Youboty and Morgan Trent started at corner and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah was in the lineup at safety.

Youboty suffered a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter, and couldn't finish the game. He was replaced by David Jones, a player Jacksonville decided was not part of its future at the end of training camp.

Combine all that change with a gimpy Chris Johnson, who sprained an ankle last week, and the Titans decided to push it with the pass.

“We kind of looked at the first-15 script and saw there was a little change up from the normal,” Cook said, referring to the preordained 15 plays the Titans wanted to run out of the gate if the situations permitted for them. “We kind of got excited. So kudos to coach Palmer for kind of doing that and catching the defense off guard.”

Not to harp, but… While the Titans are over last week’s loss at previously winless Indianapolis, I can’t help wonder how things might be different for them had they taken this approach a week earlier against the Colts, who rush the passer better but also have a secondary minus three starters.

“It’s just hard to predict games,” Hasselbeck said.

It’s hard, too, to predict what happens in all the games that influence the Titans’ chances next week.

But the Texans are locked into the third seed, and have nothing to gain with a win and nothing to lose with a loss. If the Titans find their way in, their opponent isn’t in question. They’ll go right back to Houston for a wild-card game.

The Titans know they’ve blown a ton of chances that would have left them in a better spot.

“We’re alive,” guard Jake Scott said. “That’s all you can ask for right now. We’ve got to handle our business and hope for the help that we need.”

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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