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Early crossroads game


When the Jaguars and Titans last left each other, they were two teams headed in different directions. The Titans had just scored a 24-17 upset win in Nashville that started a three-game collapse by the Jaguars that dropped the Jags to 8-8 and caused them to miss the playoffs.

That win was the Titans' fifth of six in a row that rallied the Titans to an 8-8 record – their first non-losing season since 2003 – and a second-place finish in the AFC South.

The two teams may be facing a similar crossroads game in Sunday's season-opener in Jacksonville. Which way is it going to be for the Jaguars? Up or down?

Titans quarterback Vince Young will be one of the focuses of attention on Sunday. Young led the Titans' surge last season, for which he was voted the NFL's rookie of the year. What will Young do for an encore?

"He's a great football player. He's been able to win every place he's been. He's proven he can win," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said of Young.

Young was not a great player in his two games against the Jaguars. He struggled in each but was bailed out by a big-play defense that returned three turnovers for touchdowns in the Titans' win over the Jaguars in that week 15 encounter.

David Garrard was the starting quarterback for the Jaguars that day and Garrard was intercepted three times; two were returned for touchdowns. It was a nightmarish afternoon that led to Garrard losing his starting job in February.

Garrard was reinstated as the team's starting quarterback, however, just a week ago, after having completed a red-hot training camp and preseason. Garrard will be in his 11th consecutive start this Sunday.

"I'm going to do everything I can to make sure my team understands what I'm looking for," Del Rio told reporters at the start of this week. "I'm entering my fifth year as coach and I want to be better, as well."

It's widely agreed the Jaguars' attempts at improving on last year's 8-8 record and making it back to the playoffs rests with improving the passing game. It not only ranked a lowly 24th in the league in yards last season, it also developed a penchant for producing big plays for the opponent.

Garrard will have two new starting wide receivers: Dennis Northcutt, who was acquired in free agency, and returning veteran Ernest Wilford, who earned a starting job on the strength of an impressive offseason, training camp and preseason.

Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew nearly became the fifth tandem in NFL history to each rush for 1,000 yards last season, and this season they are joined by powerful Greg Jones, who missed all of last season with a knee injury.

Expected warm temperatures could benefit the Jaguars on Sunday, and Del Rio has decided to dress his team in white, thus forcing the Titans to wear navy blue jerseys.

"The team that plays the best wins the game. If you go to a cold weather site and you're playing well, it doesn't feel as cold. The same thing goes for the heat," Del Rio said.

Hot? You bet, for both teams. This is an AFC South game between long-time rivals. This one includes down-the-road importance.

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