NFL Nation: Titans-Jaguars

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

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:

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Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

 
 AP Photo
 Tennessee's Chris Johnson reacts to making a play in the Titan's 17-10 win over the the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday.
NASHVILLE -- In 1999, the Tennessee Titans felt like they were one piece away from being a serious contender. They danced in the draft room when Jevon Kearse fell to them at No. 16. It turned out a rookie-record 14.5 sacks provided just the boost the defense needed and catapulted the franchise to its one and only Super Bowl appearance.

In 2008, the Tennessee Titans felt like they were one piece away from being a serious contender. The offensive playmaker they landed did not come in the form of a wide receiver as so many craved, but instead in the shape of a versatile running back with the sort of speed the franchise hasn't seen since it has been in Tennessee.

Might Chris Johnson in '08 be akin to Kearse in '99?

"I don't think you can go there at this point in time," general manager Mike Reinfeldt said. "But you can kind of see he energizes our whole offense, doing so many different things. There was a play at the end where [a receiver] catches it, and they're double-teaming [Johnson] on an out-and-up. He changes the dynamics out there, which is huge."

We'll need a lot more evidence to anoint Johnson the second-coming of The Freak, and we'll need a new name for it too since Kearse is back in Nashville. But the first sampling of Johnson in the Titans' offense sure suggests that the production he can provide can make up for a multitude of deficiencies, and that he's like Kearse in meeting this criteria: He's unlike anything they've had before him.

"He's got the supporting cast, it's not like he's got to come in and carry all the weight on his shoulders," Kearse said of Johnson, drafted with the 24th pick in the first round. "Just like when I came in my first year, I didn't feel like all the stress was on me to do everything, I was able to just be comfortable, just go out and make plays, be that missing piece. So far that's what it's looking like...

"We've got somebody who can break that big one and get us six. On the defense, it's incentive for us to get the ball back so we can watch this young boy use those fresh legs. He's the fastest guy I've seen on the field in a minute. I watched the Olympics. This guy, it seems like he's got a lot of track speed. I want to see No. 28 go, go, go."

The comparison isn't completely parallel, of course.

Kearse's rookie season was the team's first in its new building, came after three straight 8-8s and arrived with the fate of his coach and general manager hanging in the balance. That team needed one top-flight pass rusher to complete the picture.

This team is celebrating its 10th season here now, is coming off a playoff season and appeared to need more than one skill player with speed and moves to round out the roster.

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