NASHVILLE—From the moment the schedule was announced, the first four games caught the Jaguars' attention. Three division games and all four within the conference; they knew what those games meant. You better start fast.
Well, that won't happen for the second consecutive year. Just as the Jaguars lost to the Tennessee Titans in last year's season-opener, they lost to the Titans again in this year's lid-lifter. Last year it was 13-10. This time it was 17-10.
Essentially it was the same game. The Jaguars were unable to do much on offense because they were overmatched at the line of scrimmage, and the Titans won the game because they scored a significant advantage in rushing yards. Yeah, the Titans out-rushed the Jaguars, 137-33.
What? How could that be? How could a team that lived by the run the last two seasons go completely run-dead against the Titans again? Wasn't this the same team that flattened the Steelers with the running game in Pittsburgh last December?
No, it wasn't. The team that plowed through the Steelers last season had a dominating offensive line. Sunday, at LP Field, the Jaguars' offensive line could best be described as a MASH unit.
Mo Williams went down in pregame warm-ups, marking the second consecutive year a key Jaguars player sustained a pregame injury that forced them to the bench. Williams' replacement at guard, Uche Nwaneri then injured his knee, but the third blow may be the most difficult to overcome. Guard Vince Manuwai sustained what coach Jack Del Rio described as a "good sprain" of the knee.
The result of all of this, combined with the tragic loss of tackle Richard Collier early in the week, caused Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew to combine for just 31 yards rushing, and for quarterback David Garrard to be sacked seven times.
How many times were you hit?
"I don't know; way too many times," Garrard said. "This is the sorest I've been in a long time. I don't like being this sore."
The analysis of this one won't require deep study. The stats tell the story: The Jaguars got whipped up front. That's it.
That's also an admission Del Rio doesn't like to make. He prides himself in having a team that usually wins the battle of hitting. It did not win that battle on Sunday but, of course, it's understandable.
"They did a better job of controlling our running game than we did of controlling theirs," Del Rio said. "That position was hit hard and it made it tough," he added of his offensive line.
"I thought he made some nice plays in the game," Del Rio said of Garrard, who threw for a touchdown and 215 yards but also two interceptions, which leaves him just one interception shy of the three interceptions he threw all of last season.
"We never got hot and part of that was the way they were able to rush him. Their rush was able to harass our quarterback. It starts with protection. A strong rush like that can take you out of it," Del Rio said.
Attempts at recovery this week will certainly start with protection, too. Somehow, some way the Jaguars have to find enough healthy and able bodies to quiet the voice in the back of Garrard's head that is saying, "run, run, run."
"Anybody who gets hit that many times is going to be taken out of their comfort zone. David battled," Del Rio said.
Already, in just week two, the Jaguars are facing one of those "must win" games. They faced it in week two last season against Atlanta and responded.
"The only good thing about this loss is that we've been here before so we know what it takes. Don't let outsiders pull us apart; just take it on the chin," linebacker Mike Peterson said.
Garrard very definitely took it on the chin; all day.