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All has changed with Jags' win over Titans

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They bent but didn't break, the heat eventually wore down the Titans and, in the end, we were presented with the most startling of sights: Tom Coughlin and Jeff Fisher hugging each other at midfield.

As planned, the Jaguars are off to the fast start they absolutely had to have. Today, they find themselves tied with, no, not the Baltimore Ravens, but with the Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC Central Division lead.

What does it all mean for the Jaguars? The answer is simple: The Jaguars officially became division title and playoff contenders with today's 13-6 win over their most bitter rival.

Beyond that, the Jaguars may have done to the Titans what the Titans did to the Jaguars two seasons ago. Is there anyone who doesn't believe the Titans' Super Bowl hopes, heck, their playoff hopes, are now in doubt. At 0-2, the Titans face a four-game stretch of schedule that will see them play at home only once before November, and that will be against NFC title favorite Tampa Bay. The Titans will also travel to Baltimore, Detroit and Pittsburgh. They could find themselves out of the division title chase before Halloween. That's what today's loss means to the Titans.

"Guys are playing hard. That's what we're getting now," an emotionally-charged Coughlin told reporters following the game.

His defense had just pitched its second touchdown-shutout in as many games. Just as the Steelers had in the opener, the Titans moved the ball early, but could manage nothing more than two field goals. Then, the Titans were confronted by a second opponent, fatigue.

Star running back Eddie George left the field before the Titans' final drive of the first half. George left to begin intravenous intake of fluid. At the time, he had rushed for 76 yards and a 6.3 yards-per-carry average.

What does it say about the heat and humidity at Alltel Stadium today that George gained just three yards rushing in the second half? What does it say that, on a fourth-and-one play at the Jaguars 15-yard line with 5:40 to play in the game, George was stopped for no gain?

"I think they showed a little fatigue. We practice in it every day. We're accustomed to the heat," Jaguars wide receiver Jimmy Smith said.

Effects of the heat became obvious during the Jaguars' nine-play, 78-yard, game-winning touchdown drive in the second quarter. Substitutions increased. Defensive end Jevon Kearse began battling cramps that ultimately left him almost unable to walk from the field in the second half.

"We won because our defense played great and because we played hard. If you play like that, you're going to win a lot of games," offensive tackle Tony Boselli said.

Just as they had in the win over Pittsburgh, the Jaguars appeared to gain in strength and energy as the game wore on. The Titans' energy sagged; the Jaguars' peaked, especially on defense, where the Jaguars made two spirited stops on their 15 and nine-yard lines in the fourth quarter. Each stand was a testament to new defensive coordinator Gary Moeller's bend-but-don't-break defensive philosophy; the same philosophy that had been the subject of so much criticism during the preseason.

"I'm talking about extremely physical, hard-nosed, tough football. The AFC Central; it's hard to make a first down in these games," Coughlin said.

It may have been the most emotionally-charged win of Coughlin's career. He is a patriotic man whose son's life was spared when he escaped from the 60th floor of the World Trace Center on Sept. 11. On this day, the NFL's greatest-ever expression of patriotism, Coughlin was a fountain of emotion.

Fisher, who donned a black hat when he sniped at the Jaguars following the Titans' AFC title-game win in Jacksonville two seasons ago, was nothing but sportsmanlike today. He made a point to engage Coughlin with a hearty hug following the game.

"Jeff is a gentlemen and a class guy. He knew I'd be emotional about my son, and that's what he expressed," Coughlin said.

It concluded a day of dramatic change. All of the demons have been exorcised.

Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.

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