JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars have always struggled against the Tennessee Titans, even when they were the Houston Oilers.
Something about that franchise has always bedeviled the Jaguars. The Oilers cost them their first win in their first game in 1995 and the Titans cost them their first Super Bowl appearance in 1999. The Jaguars have always seemed to be playing from behind against the boys in blue.
But the Jaguars in 2004 were off to a good start in Jack Del Rio's second season as head coach. Buoyed by a dramatic Week 1 win in Buffalo, they were 2-0 when they arrived in Nashville in Week 3. The Jaguars were 2-5 in Tennessee, but those wins came at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis in 1997 and Vanderbilt Stadium in 1998 Nashville when the Titans were still the Oilers.
The Jaguars hadn't won at Nissan Stadium and hadn't beaten the Titans.
Ugly isn't the right word to describe the first half of their first matchup in 2004. The Jaguars had 72 yards and punted on all four possessions. The Titans weren't much better with 140 yards and a pair of field goals by Gary Anderson.
The Jaguars did nothing to make anyone feel as if the Titans were in trouble early in the second half with two quick three-and-out series. Midway through the third quarter, the Titans' 6-0 lead felt safe despite Titans quarterback Steve McNair not being his usual self and the Jaguars' defense doing a pretty good job against running back Chris Brown.
The Jaguars' seventh drive of the game proved to be the possession that got their engine going. Quarterback Byron Leftwich found wide receiver Jimmy Smith running down the sideline and hit him with a line drive spiral for 18 yards. Then running back Fred Taylor got on track with a nifty nine-yard run to get the Jaguars to midfield and followed it with a 25-yard burst to the Titans 26-yard line. Even running back LaBrandon Toefield started feeling it with a 15-yard run into the heart of the Titans defense. Wide receiver Reggie Williams made a clutch catch to get the Jaguars to the tight red zone, where Leftwich connected with tight end George Wrighster for a seven-yard scoring strike to give the Jaguars a 7-6 lead.
Suddenly, a game that seemed ugly for so long had the feel of a dramatic "who-had-the-ball-last" kind of game.
McNair put together a fourth-quarter drive that looked like a vintage version of himself with tough runs and beautiful spirals to wide receiver Derrick Mason and tight end Erron Kinney. Brown's 26-yard touchdown run gave the Titans a 12-7 lead after the Titans' two-point conversion attempt failed.
Still, their lead felt safe against an offense that punted seven times in eight possessions.
Leftwich took over with 5:33 remaining at the Jaguars 31, but quickly faced third-and-nine. The Titans came screaming off the line with defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, defensive end Kevin Carter and safety Tank Williams but Leftwich stood calm and hit Smith for a 15-yard gain and a first down. Then Taylor beat linebacker Keith Bullock in the middle of the defense and picked up a hard-fought 13-yard gain to give the Jaguars a first down at their 47. The game became a battle for every inch, with the Jaguars getting four yards from Wrighster, three more from fullback Greg Jones and five yards from Toefield. Yard by yard, minute by minute the Jags pushed back against the Titans and fought their way to the Tennessee 17 with :46 remaining. Trailing by five points, Leftwich's pass into the end zone intended for Smith was broken up by safety LaMont Thompson, who was called for interference to give the Jaguars possession at the one-yard line.
The Jaguars were one yard from their first 3-0 start to a season since 1998, and one yard from their first ever win at Nissan Stadium.
Taylor took it in and the two-point conversion made it 15-12, and the Jaguars left with a win that seemed dramatic to those who didn't witness an otherwise ugly offensive afternoon.