Whatever plans the Jaguars have of beating the Tennessee Titans this week, they would seem to begin with denying the Titans a fast start.
The Titans have outscored their opponents 77-18 in the first quarters of games this season. Meanwhile, the Jaguars have been outscored 55-17 in the first quarters of games this season. The combination of the two differential provides for an 87-point, first-quarter advantage for the Titans.
Be ready to play, Jaguars, the moment you leave the locker room.
That may not have been the case on Oct. 26, when the Titans went out to a 10-0 lead over the Jaguars after the Titans had run just 15 offensive plays. The Titans won that game at Alltel Stadium by a 30-17 score that was not indicative of the Titans' domination.
"We like to go out and put pressure on the other team to match our scoring," Titans quarterback Steve McNair said. "Of course, you want to stay consistent all the way through, but a good start is always key."
The Titans used that same early-start formula to take the then-undefeated Carolina Panthers out of their gameplan by holding a 14-0 lead after the Titans had run just 12 offensive plays. In swamping the Panthers, the Titans did it with opportunistic and aggressive special teams plays.
"We haven't made any early mistakes. I think that is the big thing," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "We haven't shot ourselves in the foot, dropped passes or made turnovers. We have been able to stick with the gameplan. That's helped us sustain drives in the first series."
The Titans sustained drives in their first two series against the Jaguars three weeks ago. The Titans went 52 yards in six plays for a 43-yard Gary Anderson field goal on the opening drive of the game, then 71 yards in nine plays for a touchdown that staked the visitors to a 10-0 lead. And that took the Jaguars out of their gameplan and also seemed to deflate their spirits.
Most recently, the Titans crushed the Dolphins with a 14-0, first-quarter lead en route to a 31-7 win.
So, here we go again. This will be the Jaguars' second and final chance this season to strike a blow against their most intense rival. The Titans will host the Jaguars in a game at The Coliseum this Sunday that means everything in the Titans' quest to win the AFC South Division title, but nothing more than pride to the Jaguars.
Nothing more than pride? Well, here's how damaged the Jaguars' pride is: A win over the Titans would make the Jaguars' season. A win over the Titans would erase the stigma of the lowest point in what is the lowest season in Jaguars history.
In the previous meeting between the Jaguars and Titans, who've won eight of the last 10 games between the two teams, the Jaguars surrendered an 11-minute and 14-second, fourth-quarter drive that covered 65 yards in 17 plays. It came at a time when the Titans were merely attempting to take time off the clock.
Jaguars rookie head coach Jack Del Rio sharply reprimanded his team in the postgame locker room, then blasted them to the media. It would be a dramatic moment that would either establish Del Rio's respect among his players, or cause them to quit on what was left in the season. To date, it would seem to have done the former.
But that will be at the test most prominently this Sunday. To what degree has this team grown since that embarrassing afternoon three Sundays ago? Those who've watched the Jaguars since their inaugural season have referred to that game as one of the most disappointing home losses in Jaguars history.
Armed with a top 10 run-defense, the Jaguars will try to do what all of the Titans' other opponents have been able to do but the Jaguars couldn't. Three Sundays ago, on turn-the-clock-back weekend, George turned the clock back on his career and flattened the Jaguars. Will the Jaguars stop that from happening again?
Three Sundays ago, the Jaguars weren't able to sack McNair once. Can the Jaguars change that?
And in that previous meeting, rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. That has to change.
We'll see. Last call.