An offseason of hype and heightened expectations comes face to face with the reality of a season-opener in Nashville on Sunday, against a team that has made a habit of making life miserable for the Jaguars.
The 2008 season has finally arrived. It's a season a lot of pundits have predicted will take the Jaguars to unexplored heights. Against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on Sunday, the Jaguars can make a strong positive statement about what's ahead.
"It's a clean slate. It's a book that's yet to be written. Chapters have not been written, so we get to write it down. After Sunday night, you'll be able to write down what that first chapter looked like," coach Jack Del Rio said earlier this week.
So what will be written of Sunday's game? The Jaguars got off to a fast start with a win on the road against an AFC South Division rival? Or will it be said that the Jaguars face a rebound game against Buffalo in their home opener on Sept. 14?
The answer, of course, will come Sunday afternoon in Nashville. The game is set for a one p.m. kickoff.
"We understand there are huge challenges out there we've got to face, and we've done the preparation leading up to this point in time. We'll go compete and we'll see. I'm not a big forecast guy," Del Rio said.
Each team has issues without answers. The Jaguars lost reserve left tackle Richard Collier for the season following an incident at the start of this week that resulted in Collier being shot, which left him fighting for his life this week in a Jacksonville hospital. It has left the Jaguars with two obstacles to overcome: the emotional trauma it has caused his teammates and the loss of a player at a critical position. Starter Khalif Barnes is the only true left tackle the Jaguars have on their roster.
The Titans have come out of a preseason that did little more than confirm what we already knew about them: They can run the ball with the best of them, but passing it continues to be a struggle.
"I'm not concerned," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said when reminded that quarterback Vince Young did not score a touchdown in the preseason. "I thought he had a really good camp. He had a great offseason. He and (offensive coordinator) Mike (Heimerdinger) are working very well together and I've seen improvements in all aspects of (Young's) play."
The Titans are coming off a playoff season and have their own division title hopes. They will no doubt be at peak performance for Sunday's opener, just as they were a year ago when they upset the Jaguars in Jacksonville on opening day.
"I think the preference is to open against somebody there is some familiarity with. There are no secrets about this game. I don't think anybody is setting out to trick anybody here. We know what this game is going to be all about. It's going to be a physical battle and these are the kind of games you like to gear up for throughout camp," Fisher said.
With a full summer to prepare for last year's season-opener, Fisher's team spread the field and ran the ball for an astonishing 282 yards. He's not likely to use that tactic with the same success this year, but he is likely to have something up his sleeve for Sunday's game.
Del Rio will counter with a new defensive coordinator who is likely to show the Titans some new wrinkles, even though Gregg Williams was formerly Fisher's defensive coordinator in Tennessee.
The game is critical to both teams' pursuit of a division title. The Jaguars will play all three AFC South foes in the first month of the season. The Titans have to go on the road in week two.
"I think that's the reason we've been playing a little bit more in the preseason; to get ready for those first four games and come of the gate rolling," linebacker Mike Peterson said.
Time to roll.