Initially, Maurice Jones-Drew wasn't real thrilled Sunday.
That was one storyline during the 2011 regular-season opener at EverBank Field Sunday, but the Jaguars' two-time Pro Bowl running back said while he very much wanted to play more, it wasn't the primary storyline. Not even close.
Because to Jones-Drew, the story that mattered was that the Jaguars beat Tennessee.
And that means they're 1-0.
"We won – I'm happy," Jones-Drew said.
With Jones-Drew rushing for 97 yards on 24 carries, and with a revamped, free-agent heavy defense controlling much of the game, the Jaguars took a 13-point lead and never trailed, holding off a late rally to beat their AFC South rival, 16-14, at EverBank Field Sunday.
"It's real nice to start the year 1-0 and give our home crowd—which was terrific today—a nice victory," Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio said after a game that began with an emotional tribute commemorating and remembering the 10-year anniversary of September 11, 2001.
"I thought it was really classy and a privilege to be part of that tribute to start the game. I talked to the team about it and said, 'let's play with half the courage that the first-responders had charging into those buildings to try and save lives with many of them losing their own.' I thought our guys did and played tough.
"We have a lot of work to do and a lot of things to clean up, but it was a nice victory for our home crowd."
The Jaguars, with the defense shutting out Tennessee through the first half, outrushed the Titans, 163-43, and outgained them for the game, 323-292.
"The score doesn't dictate how we felt we played," Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis said. "Those are the games that we have to find a way to make the scoreboard be the results how they play us. The big thing is we moved it out.
"We pulled out the opener and that was our main focus, and we got a 'W' in the win column."
Jaguars quarterback Luke McCown, who moved into the starting lineup after Tuesday's release of David Garrard, completed 17 of 24 passes for 175 yards and no touchdowns with no interceptions for a passer rating of 91.5.
"At the end of the day, it was about winning," McCown said. "All I wanted to do was have more points than the other team."
The Jaguars took control early, and Jones-Drew – a Pro Bowl selection the past two seasons – was key. He rushed for 65 yards on 13 first-half carries, and his 21-yard run capped an impressive early drive that defined how the Jaguars wanted to play Sunday.
The thought was the game would be an in-the-trenches, hand-to-hand battle typical of many games in this series, and on the first drive, the Jaguars moved 63 yards on 11 plays. Jones-Drew's touchdown came on a play on which center Brad Meester and guard Uche Nwaneri opened up a large hole on the right side and Jones-Drew scored easily.
The Jaguars took a 10-0 lead at halftime, and pushed the lead to 13-0 with field goals of 48 and 21 yards by Josh Scobee before a broken-play touchdown rallied the Titans. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck scrambled and, averting a sack, he pitched a wobbly pass to wide receiver Kenny Britt, who broke clear of the defense for an 80-yard touchdown pass that made it 13-7, Jaguars.
Jones-Drew at that point had rushed 21 times for 90 yards, and Del Rio said at that point he opted to use backup Deji Karim more in the fourth quarter – not because of a specific injury to Jones-Drew, but in the interest of not wearing the dynamic player down.
"He wasn't happy," Del Rio said of Jones-Drew. "We got up early in the second half and he already had 21 carries, I'm not wild about the prospect of him taking it 35 times in the opener. So that was my call. We had talked about a play-count for him.
"That's going to happen as we monitor and try to keep him to a certain number of reps as we go throughout this season. That can happen from time-to-time. Hopefully he can channel that energy in a positive way for us. It's not about any one person here. We want to utilize our best players. It's about the Jacksonville Jaguars winning football games."
Said Jones-Drew, "You can't worry about the future if you don't take care of the present. There were a couple of decisions, but that's in the past. We won. I'm happy. Deji did a great job toting the ball. . . ."
Jones-Drew also emphasized that while he wanted the ball more, he didn't believe it was the overriding theme of the afternoon, asking the media, "Don't write a story about that, please."
"It's not that serious," he said. "I mean, we won a game. Obviously, I was unhappy, but we won. At the end of the day, we won, which a lot of you guys didn't think we were going to do, right? Let's be realistic. We did something no one in this world thought we were going to do."
Until the end, that remained in doubt.
Hasselbeck's 80-yard touchdown pass to Britt gave the Titans momentum they never fully lost, and after a 45-yard field goal by Scobee early in the fourth quarter pushed the Jaguars lead to nine, Tennessee gained momentum thereafter.
First, the Titans drove 80 yards in 12 plays, with Hasselbeck (21 of 34, 263 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) throwing a two-yard touchdown pass to Britt. The point after made it 16-14 with 3:24 remaining.
The Jaguars converted a first down with a 25-yard pass from McCown to Mike Thomas, but after a punt, Tennessee regained possession on its three with 1:45 remaining.
The Titans drove to their 46 with 23 seconds remaining, and on 2nd-and-10, Hasselbeck said the Titans called a play he believed "could end the game." The long pass to Britt instead became an interception by Jaguars safety Dwight Lowery.
"We played a great game," Jones-Drew said. "But we still have to improve. We know that. We're happy with this win. We're going to celebrate and get back to work tomorrow."
- Jaguars Pro Bowl tight end Marcedes Lewis left in the second half with what originally was thought to be a cramp, but which Del Rio said later may be a calf strain. He did not return. "He went in for an IV and didn't come back out," Del Rio said. "Obviously, we hope it's not anything significant. He's a major player for us."
*Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox left in the second half with a rib injury. Del Rio said he doesn't believe either Lewis or Cox will be long-term issues.