NASHVILLE—The Jaguars face an uphill battle to win their first-ever AFC South title, following an opening day, 17-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on Sunday. They may face an even greater challenge to assemble an offensive line that can protect quarterback David Garrard against the Buffalo Bills in Sunday's home opener.
Garrard was sacked seven times, the Jaguars rushed for 33 yards and the team may have lost starting guards Mo Williams and Vince Manuwai for a period of time. How long? That remains to be determined.
Williams sustained a biceps injury in pregame warm-ups. That's how the Jags' day started. He gave it a go in the first series of the game but gave way to Uche Nwaneri in the Jaguars' second offensive possession. Manuwai sustained a knee injury in the second half.
"In no way is this team looking for any kind of an alibi. We're going to go back to work and come out ready to roll next weekend," coach Jack Del Rio said.
Sunday's loss marked the second consecutive opening-day defeat to the Titans. Last year, of course, the Jaguars rallied to earn a wild-card playoff berth and score the team's first-ever postseason win in eight years. The Jaguars went into this year's opener as one of the AFC's postseason favorites.
"With our losing two starters on our offensive line, it allowed a good defensive line to look great," cornerback Rashean Mathis said.
Bullseye! The Titans defensive line dominated from the outset and widened their edge as the game wore on.
Garrard suffered through one of his worst days since winning the starting quarterback job a year ago. He completed 23 of 35 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown, but was intercepted twice and that caused his passer rating to fall to 68.2.
Fortunately for the Jaguars, Garrard's quarterback counterpart was Vince Young, who gift-wrapped the Jaguars' only touchdown by throwing an interception that left the Jaguars point-blank at the Titans' five-yard line. Before leaving the game with a knee sprain in the Titans' game-clinching touchdown drive, Young was able to trump Garrard's 68.2 with a 45.6.
Young's knee injury was the final blow for the Jaguars. Into the game came veteran quarterback Kerry Collins on third-and-15 at the Titans' 30-yard line, and into Jaguars middle linebacker Mike Peterson's helmet came the instruction to order an all-out blitz. The result was a 44-yard gain on a dump pass to tight end Bo Scaife. Four plays later, LenDale White scored on a one-yard run.
Collins to Scaife was the play of the game; no doubt about it.
"Third and 15, we're aggressive and took our eye off the receiver. It was a pressure situation and they checked it down. They did a nice job," Del Rio said. The Titans had executed the same play just three plays previous, on second and eight.
The Jaguars certainly had their opportunities to outscore the Titans. Nine times the Jaguars were on the Titans' side of the 50 and only once did the Jaguars score a touchdown, that as a result of Sensabaugh's interception.
"There were 3-4 possessions I can think of; in the scoring zone, where you need to be coming out of there with points and didn't. It let them play the game they wanted to," Del Rio said. "We just weren't able to get on top and make them play chase."
That's the style with which the Titans play and it worked to perfection against the Jaguars. Rookie running back Chris Johnson rushed for 93 yards and a 6.2 yards-per-carry average, and that allowed the Titans to hide Young in their offense.
The Jaguars' best chance to take control of the game came late in the first half, with the Jaguars at the Titans' 15-yard line and trailing 10-7. On second and 10, Garrard dropped back to pass. From his blindside, defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch eluded tackle Khalif Barnes, put his helmet on the football and forced and recovered a fumble. It was one of the few bad plays in an otherwise positive performance by Barnes.
"I didn't know we were in five-step drop," Barnes said. "I tried to cut the guy. I should know that. I just wanted to change it up on Vanden Bosch. I was doing a pretty good job. It was just that one play. I wanted to get him on the ground and tire him out."
The Jaguars are now 12-19 in AFC South games since 2003. It is the Jaguars' greatest regret during the Del Rio era.
Sunday's home-opener against Buffalo isn't a division game but it's an AFC game of critical importance. The Jaguars must avoid falling to 0-2 heading into their week three showdown with the Colts in Indianapolis. That's why fixing the problems on their offensive line is so important.
"The group that is here is going to have to have a call to arms," Barnes said.
How many healthy "arms" will they have?