The Tennessee Titans are now six wins away from becoming the second team in as many years to be perfect. The Jaguars are one game closer to a merciful conclusion to a season of hurts.
Kerry Collins delivered hurt number six to the Jaguars by throwing three second-half touchdown passes and rallying the Titans from a 14-3 halftime deficit and to a 24-14 win at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on Sunday.
Collins came to life following a dreadful first-half performance that left him with a 31.7 passer rating. In the second quarter, Collins was outplayed by Jaguars quarterback David Garrard, who led the Jaguars on two touchdown drives, while Collins and the Titans could manage only three three-and-out possessions; not so much as a first down.
"I can't put a finger on it. Coming out of the locker room, I thought we had all the energy we needed. They switched the momentum on us very easily," Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis said.
Mathis wasn't the target of Collins' passes. It was the other side on which Collins focused his attention. He went after Drayton Florence and Brian Williams on deep balls to wide receiver Justin Gage, who caught bombs of 47, 56 and 38 yards, the last two for touchdowns that sent the Titans into the lead and sealed the win.
"I don't know if we were banking on the offense putting them away or what. We played great and terrible and they don't go together," Mathis said.
"We're halfway there," coach Jack Del Rio said somewhat sarcastically. "We played a good half of football. A half isn't good enough to win in this league. Kerry Collins did a good job of hitting chunks."
The Jaguars out-rushed the Titans, 140-114, and most expected that the rushing totals would be indicative of the final score, but they weren't. Collins outplayed Garrard in the second half and that's why the Titans are still undefeated.
"All three plays were three different coverages," Del Rio said of the long completions to Gage. "None of those were without a centerfielder."
After decidedly outplaying Collins in the second quarter, Garrard fell on hard times in the second half. He finished the game with just 13 completions in 30 attempts for a meager 135 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and a 43.1 passer rating. The interception was the result of his arm being hit as he threw. Garrard spent another day on his back, as he was sacked four times and knocked down a dozen more times. The interception resulted in Collins' second touchdown pass to Gage.
"It's OK to get knocked down as long as you get rid of the ball. I think I have to do a better job of getting the ball out of my hand faster," Garrard said. It has become a noble and oft-repeated remark.
"There were a couple of instances when there was very little to slow down the (rush)," Del Rio said.
The Titans dominated the line of scrimmage in the second half, after the Jaguars had done the same in the second quarter. The reversal of fortunes was stunning.
"They were definitely turning their dials up," Garrard said.
"We settled down. They were on an emotional high and we came out and just wanted to play our game. Once we cut out the nonsense and stopped giving them things, they couldn't move the ball," Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said.
The Jaguars had four three-and-out possessions in the fourth quarter, as the Titans clung to a 17-14 lead.
Del Rio had referred to the Titans as "Goliath" during the days leading up to the game. The Titans claimed to have drawn motivation from the reference.
"We're not Goliath. We're not getting talked about that much. We're just a bunch of hard-working guys that come to work every day," Gage said.
"Hopefully, with this win we can knock Jacksonville out of this. That was the whole key with this game, to put the nail in the coffin with Jacksonville and get them out of the playoffs and for us just to keep moving," Haynesworth said.
"It's absolutely as dismal an outlook as you can have without being out," Del Rio said of the Jaguars' playoff prospects.