Jaguars safety Dwight Lowery hadn't played in more than a month and a half.
When he came back Sunday, he finished his first game since the first week of October with one of the Jaguars' biggest plays of the season.
With the Titans having momentum and needing a field goal to take the lead, Lowery made a diving interception off a deflected pass with 2:40 remaining that all-but sealed the Jaguars' 24-19 victory over the Tennessee Titans at EverBank Field Sunday afternoon.
"Sometimes you really can't stress about those things, you just have to do your job and trust the guy next to you," Lowery said of the play, which came after linebacker Russell Allen deflected a pass intended for Titans tight end Jared Cook.
"Usually ,that's when big plays happen. There's no real magic formula that you can come up with. It's just playing together, understanding your job and when the play is there to be made, make it."
The Titans had faced 2nd-and-10 from their 37, with quarterback Jake Locker having driven Tennessee 78 yards for a touchdown on the previous possession.
Lowery not only made a diving catch on his interception, he returned it 21 yards to the Titans 36, setting up a 41-yard field goal by Josh Scobee with :24 remaining.
Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne not only played efficiently, he did so behind an offensive line that struggled much of the game.
Henne, after throwing for 354 yards and four touchdowns in an overtime loss at Houston last week, completed 17 of 26 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns Sunday after throwing his only interception off a tipped pass on the game's first play.
Henne was sacked seven times, including three times in the second drive of the game.
"There were some communication things and some that we've got to clean up," Jaguars center Brad Meester said. "We can't hurt ourselves. Some of that was just technique. We've just got to be better and not let that happen."
PLAY OF THE GAME
In what has become a pattern, the play of the game for the Jaguars was turned in by second-year veteran Cecil Shorts. This time, it came on a pass from Henne, and this time, it gave the Jaguars a lead it never fully relinquished. The play came with the Jaguars holding on to the same lead they had at halftime, 7-6. On 3rd-and-7 from the Jaguars 41, Henne threw to Shorts between two defenders into what appeared to be the second level of the defense. Shorts caught the pass, made safety Jordan Babineaux miss, and broke into the clear for the final 40 yards of a 59-yard touchdown that made it 14-9, Jaguars, with 8:40 remaining in the third quarter. It was the third 50-plus play for Shorts in the last three games, and his fourth of the season, the latter of which set a Jaguars record for plays of 50 or more yards in one season. Shorts said rookie receiver Justin Blackmon actually was as open as he was on the play, and that wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan suggested the play at halftime against a Cover 2 defense. "Henne threw a good ball between the back and the safety and rest was easy," Shorts said.
The Jaguars took control of the momentum early, stifling the Titans' passing game throughout the first quarter. The Jaguars took a 7-3 lead on a 1-yard run by Rashad Jennings and the Titans' only points came after an interception on the Jaguars' first play from scrimmage. The Jaguars outgained Tennessee 118-15 for the quarter and led, 7-3. It was their first lead at home since leading Cincinnati 7-3 in Week 4.
The Jaguars maintained control in the second quarter, failing to score, but holding the Titans to a 40-yard field goal by Rob Bironas with 11 seconds remaining in the half. The Jaguars held a 166-148 total-yardage advantage at the end of the half.
The game remained tight through the third quarter, but the Jaguars managed to extend the lead because of the Henne-to-Shorts touchdown. That made it 14-6 with 8:40 remaining in the quarter, but Tennessee cut into the lead five minutes later with a 39-yard field goal by Bironas.
The Jaguars never trailed in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't that the Titans didn't make it close. Bironas trimmed the lead to 14-12 with a 33-yard field goal before Henne passed seven yards to Blackmon. Locker than made it 21-19 with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Britt with 4:52 remaining, but after an interception by Lowery, Scobee clinched the victory with a 41-yard field goal with 24 seconds remaining.
"They needed that, a lot of people needed that. It was well earned. They earned it based on the way they come to work every day. We want to see steps, as we talked about a couple of weeks ago, we want to see progress and again we're seeing progress the last couple of weeks. We've got to keep doing that for the next five weeks."
QB CHAD HENNE SAYS
"You look back, and everybody wants to blame the quarterback. That wasn't the case. Blaine (Gabbert) was playing some really good football. It wasn't his fault. There were a lot of things going on around us. It's just going through your reads, making the throws that are out there and when plays present themselves, make that play."
Don't look now, but the Jaguars may be close to feeling very, very good about their wide receiver situation. That would have seemed far-fetched maybe only a month ago ; actually, maybe only a couple of weeks ago. But Shorts in recent weeks has continued to show a knack for the big play – enough that it might be more than a knack, and he may simply be a good wide receiver. Perhaps more importantly, Blackmon – after struggling through the first nine games of the season – has had his two best games the last two weeks. Shorts caught four passes for 105 yards Sunday and a touchdown and Blackmon caught five passes for 62 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback remains the biggest storyline for the Jaguars offensively, but if the Jaguars have found two starting wide receivers on which they can rely, that's a big step from last season.
STAT OF THE GAME
The Jaguars got a touch better against the pass Sunday, and as it turned out, it was enough. A week after allowing 527 yards passing to the Houston Texans, the Jaguars allowed Locker to complete 23-of-40 passes for 261 yards and a touchdown. The Jaguars didn't allow a passing yard in the first quarter, although Locker got progressively better, throwing for 101 yards in the second quarter and 160 in the second half, but Lowery's interception secured the victory with 2:40 remaining.
It's hard to ignore the Shorts touchdown or the interception late in the game by Lowery. But those are being covered elsewhere on jaguars.com, so for the purpose of this entry, we're going with a couple of key defensive stands around halftime. First, the defense held the Titans to a field goal following Mularkey's decision to go for a first down facing 4th-and-3 at the Tennessee 45 with 52 seconds remaining in the first half. After holding the Titans to a 40-yard field goal by Bironas just before halftime, the Jaguars forced a three-and-out on the Titans' first series. The Jaguars led 7-3 when they failed to pick up the first down, and the Titans had two possessions before the Jaguars regained possession. They could have been behind at that point – perhaps by more than a score – and the defense allowed the Jaguars to retain the lead.
Cornerback Derek Cox left the game with a leg injury and did not return. Jaguars running back Jalen Parmele left the game with a leg injury in the first quarter and returned, while cornerback Aaron Ross left with dehydration in the first half and also returned.
*Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis reached 3,000 career receiving yards Sunday, joining Jimmy Smith (12,287) and Keenan McCardell (6,393) as only players in team history with 3,000 or more yards receiving.
*The Jaguars rushed for more than 100 yards for the first time since a Week 3 victory at Indianapolis, with Parmele rushing for 45 yards on eight carries and Jennings rushing for 43 yards on 16 carries. "If we can run the football like we showed today, that only opens up gaps for us in the passing game," Henne said. "Keeping a balanced attack only helps you as an offense."
The Jaguars visit the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y., next Sunday.
The Jaguars needed this one. This team isn't headed to the playoffs, and nothing can make the season a success from a big-picture standpoint, but the team had lost seven consecutive games and five consecutive home games. The players and coaches had continued to believe they were close to playing well, but as cornerback Rashean Mathis said afterward, there are only so many disappointments a team can take. On Sunday, for a change, the Jaguars left EverBank Field smiling, and as far as Mularkey is concerned, this team deserved that feeling.