NASHVILLE, Tenn. – This was a familiar story. Too familiar.
It wasn't a good story for the Jaguars, either, because a big part of Sunday's story once again was about Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry having a very good day.
And that was a big reason the Jaguars aren't the AFC South champions.
"It's unacceptable," Jaguars safety Andre Cisco said.
Cisco, speaking after the Jaguars’ 28-20 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the 2023 regular-season finale at Nissan Stadium Sunday, was discussing a Jaguars run defense that began the season as a team strength and struggled at times late in the season. Those struggles continued in a big way Sunday, with Henry rushing for 153 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
"That's the whole game plan, right?" Pederson said of stopping Henry, "That's what you have to do, and you know that coming in. That's the frustrating part, that's the disappointing part. You know what's coming and you still can't stop it.
"Great player. He's a great player and he is a load. Give him credit. He had a good game today."
Outside linebacker Josh Allen said he was surprised at Henry's performance considering the Jaguars often stacked the line of scrimmage with multiple defenses to stop him. Cisco agreed.
"That's not who we are," Cisco said. "It hasn't been who we were all year, so to see it happen, especially to start the game, it was tough, and we were hoping guys would bounce back. I think we started to pick it up a little bit, but it was too late."
Henry during his eight-year NFL career has seven 100-yard games against the Jaguars, and he has rushed for 1,564 yards and 16 touchdowns in 15 career games in the series.
He rushed for runs of 12 and 16 yards on the Titans' first two series Sunday, then scored his lone touchdown of the game on an 18-yard run for a 14-10 Titans lead in the second quarter.
With the Jaguars trailing 21-13, Henry rushed for a 69-yard gain on the first series of the second half. The Titans pushed the lead to 28-13 two plays later when quarterback Ryan Tannehill passed six yards to wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins with 12:45 remaining in the third quarter.
"If you don't stop the run or at least slow a run team down," Pederson said. "You just can't gain the consistency you want. It always puts you behind."
Pederson added that he didn't know until reviewing the game precisely what led to Henry's production.
"Obviously, we had missed tackles again, and some of the same self-inflicted gap integrity, rules, things like that," he said. "I would venture to say it would show up today. But until we really dive into the tape, it's hard to fully comment on that."
- The disappointment in the Jaguars' locker room was palpable, with players trying to express what it meant to lose five of their last six games to miss the postseason. The Jaguars entered Sunday needing a victory to clinch their second consecutive AFC South title.
- "The words now don't really mean much," quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. "It's fresh and everyone's going to deal with this in their own way. You should, everybody does, but you should feel sick, you should feel disappointed and frustrated in yourself, in the offensive, the team. Everything. You put in so much work. Coming in here, (if) we win, we make the playoffs. We have a home playoff game. And we are leaving here, we're going home, and we're done. We all understand where we're at and how disappointing it is, the finish we had this year. We have to be better." Added Lawrence, "It hurts to not be able to finish and you look at where we were at one point in the season and just finished really, really poorly. We kind of gave it away."
- The Jaguars 1-5 finish this season was a stark contrast to last season, when they won their last five regular-season games to win the AFC South title. "Ultimately, we have to play together and find a spark," outside linebacker Josh Allen said. "I feel like last year we had a spark and we lived, and we just followed that and rode that wave. This year, we were looking for it too much, hoping that it was going to come, and it never came. We had a determination. We had a want. This year, we were looking for that spark. And we never got that lit." Added wide receiver Zay Jones, "My heart hurts. This suck. Losing sucks."