JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars were looking for their first win against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville when they arrived in the Music City in Week 3 of the 2004 season.
They were 2-0 on the season, but 0-4 in what is now Nissan Stadium.
No one expected much passing that afternoon. The Titans were built to run, with running back Chris Brown running to let quarterback Steve McNair use play action.
As for the Jaguars, second-year quarterback Byron Leftwich had running back Fred Taylor behind him and Jimmy Smith at wide receiver – but through two weeks, the Jaguars hadn't found a groove offensively.
Few were surprised when the Titans led 6-0 after an ugly first half, with both teams struggling to hold onto the ball on a warm sunny day.
Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis ended the Titans' opening drive when he intercepted McNair's pass to Titans wide receiver Derrick Mason. Leftwich fumbled a third-down snap later in the quarter, with the ball then batted and kicked 18 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Leftwich recovered and the Jaguars punted.
A few plays later, Mathis forced Titans wide receiver Drew Bennett to fumble after a reception – and the Jaguars recovered for another takeaway.
The third quarter was more of the same before the visitors got something going.
First, Leftwich found Smith for 18 yards. Taylor ran for 36 yards two plays later and reserve running back LaBrandon Toefield rushed 15 more yards to move the Jaguars into scoring position. Leftwich found tight end George Wrighster for a seven-yard touchdown and a 7-6 lead.
A run by Taylor took the Jaguars to the Tennessee 28-yard line in the fourth quarter, but a holding penalty led to a punt, after which an interference penalty on the Jaguars gave the Titans momentum.
On third and long, McNair sailed a beautiful pass over the arms of Jaguars cornerback Dwayne Washington into the arms of Mason at the Jaguars 43.
The Titans were now in position to re-take the lead with just over nine minutes to play.
McNair escaped pressure to run for 14 yards. McNair and Brown kept pounding away, with Brown's 26-yard touchdown run giving the Titans a 12-7 lead.
This felt all too familiar to the Jaguars. Titans Head Coach Jeff Fisher's team wasn't beating the Jaguars, but the Jaguars were beating themselves and giving the home team room to escape with a win. That had been the story of the series between the two teams dating back to the Houston Oilers and 1995.
Jack Del Rio didn't know about all that history. He was on the sidelines at the beginning of his second season as the Jaguars' head coach and wanted to change the narrative. With a 2-0 team, he believed he was doing just that. The next 5:37 would decide if he was on the right course.
On third-and-9, Leftwich threaded a pass between the safety and cornerback to Smith for 15 yards. Two plays, Taylor rushed for 13 yards. As the clock neared the two-minute warning, Leftwich found Wrighster for four yards on third-and-5.
Del Rio and his team huddled tight on the sidelines at the two-minute warning. The head coach passionately implored his offensive line to give the Jaguars the yard they needed, promising that would seal their fate. Fullback Greg Jones pounded the fourth-down carry behind right guard Chris Naeole, who moved Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynsworth far enough for Jones to pick up the necessary yard.
The Jaguars' sidelines erupted.
Facing first-and-10 at the Titans 28, Leftwich calmly overcame incomplete passes and short runs to maneuver the offense to the red zone. A pass interference call against safety Lamont Thompson gave the Jaguars first-and-goal at the one.
Taylor's one yard touchdown run with :13 remaining gave the Jaguars the lead, and a Leftwich's two-point pass to wide receiver Reggie Williams made it 15-12.
The Jaguars moved to 3-0 on the season, finally singing a happy tune on their way to the charter flight home with their first win in five tries at the former Coliseum in Nashville.