This is a team that hasn’t traveled well in the cold after Thanksgiving and that was 7-5 a year ago before a four-game losing streak ended its season short of .500.
Even so, this win on the road in the cold after Thanksgiving felt distinctly different. The Jaguars ran the ball 53 times for 258 yards while controlling the ball for nearly 40 minutes.
“They came to our place on a Monday night and handed it to us,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said, remembering the Titans’ 30-3 Oct. 18 win. “This was payback. We knew we needed to get this game, to dominate this game. It felt good to come in and control the game the way we controlled it on both sides of the ball.
“We’re in first place now. To get a win like this after the Thanksgiving holiday in the cold weather with it snowing a little bit, it feels great. It’s good to break the mold, especially with a division opponent. It just shows the growth of this team. We’re getting better, still. And there aren’t too many teams in the league that are doing that at this point. It shows progress. It can be slow, but it’s good when it gets here.”
Also helpful: The Colts' 38-35 overtime home loss to Dallas that dropped Indianapolis to 6-6. The Colts are a game off the pace of Jacksonville, which won the first head-to-head game. The Jags visit the Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium in two weeks.
The Titans now own a 5-7 record and a five-game losing streak. While the Jags can point to slow progress, some Titans fans would have to be pleased at this point if their team simply faded less slowly.
Besides win-loss records and mindset, here’s a look at the Jaguars and Titans in a few other categories.
Run defense: Jacksonville’s young tackles Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu are becoming a force that simply won’t allow interior runs. The Titans want to be a run-stuffing defense too, but Maurice Jones-Drew regularly found space anywhere on the field he aimed on 31 runs that averaged 6 yards.
“We’re starting to jell, we have the same guys in there, we’re starting to develop a rotation and that’s the message that we’re starting to send to teams: ‘Running the ball is not going to work,’ ” Knighton said.
The same Titans who held Jacksonville to 76 rushing yards in the first game, meanwhile, have now given up consecutive rushing totals of 156, 88, 107, 188 and 258.
“They really didn’t do so much,” said Titans defensive tackle Jovan Haye. “The game plan was real simple. They just beat us with a simple game plan. It’s not like they came in here doing crazy plays. They just lined up and did what they wanted to do.”
Jones-Drew and Chris Johnson: They both hit the 1,000-yard mark during the game. But Jones-Drew found giant holes, broke tackles and ran over defenders, embarrassing Michael Griffin with a stiff arm late in the fourth quarter.
Johnson went a half with 9 yards before finding some footing with his team behind 17-0 and finishing with 53 yards.
“The O-line tight ends and fullback did a great job making those kinds of holes for Maurice to run though,” left guard Vince Manuwai said. “We know they’re banged up. That doesn’t change the mind frame of running the ball. Healthy or not your whole objective is just to run the ball.”
The Titans missed way too many tackles, which safety Chris Hope said he believed often resulted from aggression.
“Sometimes being too aggressive causes you to miss tackles and I think that was one of the biggest problems,” he said. “… I feel like we played a part in a lot of the chains moving being that you’re trying to make a powering tackle instead of a safe, secure tackle. Sometimes you knock yourself off of a guy, sometimes your teammates knock you off of a guy. Then Jones-Drew is a hard tackle by himself anyway.”
Fourth down: Jags coach Jack Del Rio is a fourth-down riverboat gambler on some fourth downs. He can be a little reckless about going for it.
Against the Titans, his offense converted two of three chances: Running back Rashad Jennings took a fourth-and-1 for that 11-yard TD run up the middle and David Garrard snuck to convert a fourth-and-1 early in the third quarter.
“I would go for it too [on fourth-and-short],” Haye said. “We didn’t do a good job on first and second down keeping them behind the chains.”
Jeff Fisher also went for it three times, with the lone conversion coming on a Kerry Collins-to-Jared Cook connection.
I’m all for going for it on fourth down so long as a team makes it. The Jaguars were aggressive when they needed 1, 1, and 2 yards. The Titans were desperate when they needed 7, 6 and 3.
Freshness: From the start, the Jaguars seemed to have hop and the Titans seemed tired. Over the course of the game, the way the Jaguars played fed both sides of that.
Jones-Drew is peaking at the right time, but it wasn’t just him. No 2. running back Jennings did some good work, taking 10 carries 44 yards and scoring an 11-yard touchdown on a fourth down. Greg Jones took a short pass and ran physically for 11 yards up the sideline.
The Titans came into the game way more banged up and it showed, I thought.