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Second-half collapse inexplicable


The resemblance was eerie. The Tennessee Titans scored 21 unanswered points in the second half on Sunday to erase a 14-3 halftime deficit en route to a 24-14 win, the Titans' 10th win of the season without defeat.

Does Sunday's game remind you of anything? How about the 1999 AFC title game when the visiting Titans scored 23 unanswered points to erase a 14-10 halftime deficit en route to a 33-14 win over the Jaguars?

Same teams, same Titans coach, same stadium, same heartache for Jaguars fans. It was as though the Titans planned the whole thing; as though they allowed the Jaguars to dominate the second quarter and go to the halftime locker room with the feeling that this was their day, only to cruelly snatch it back.

At halftime, who thought the Titans were going to win this game? Come on, be honest. They went dead in the second quarter on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Titans managed three three-and-outs and defensively they allowed two touchdown drives and committed more penalties than a Wall Street investment banker.

As Jack Del Rio prepared his troops for the second half, the prevailing opinion was that the Jaguars were 30 minutes away from spoiling their rival's thoughts of an undefeated season and, in the process, scoring a win that would even the Jaguars' record and allow the team's fans to dream of a late-season charge to the playoffs.

"We wanted to be able to put our stamp on this game," Del Rio said of the attitude as the Jags left the locker room for the start of the second half. In other words, the Jaguars wanted to put the Titans away and spend the fourth quarter in celebration of a win that would be the high point of a down season.

"The crowd has been fantastic all year and it's been disappointing not being able to deliver a better product," Del Rio said in apology to fans for the team's 1-4 record at "The Jack."

In time, they'll forgive. That's what fans do. That's why they're fans.

What's more important is to understand why this happened. It was the question on everybody's lips. What happened? How did the Jaguars lose control of this game as quickly as they did?

"They were the more physical team in the second half. They stuffed our offense," Del Rio said. "You could certainly feel it change. They took the game when they needed to in the second half."

Yeah, but why?

"They definitely took their energy level up and we didn't match it," quarterback David Garrard said.

Yeah, but why didn't the Jaguars match it?

"We had the same intensity," linebacker Clint Ingram said. "You could hear it in the locker room, but they got a couple of balls behind us and it was a different game."

Yeah, that's why the Jaguars lost. They lost because a receiver named Justin Gage, who came into Sunday's game with a pedestrian 17 catches, torched the left side of the Jaguars defense from the first play of the game through the Titans' final score.

Gage was the difference; yeah, Gage. He beat the Jaguars for 47 yards on the first play of the game, then scored on 56-yard and 38-yard touchdown receptions to seal the victory.

How could it happen three times? It was the same play. Drayton Florence got beat the first two times and Brian Williams bit on an inside fake on the game-clincher, but Florence and Williams had help over the top from safety Reggie Nelson in all three instances. On the game-winner in the third quarter, Gage dragged Nelson 10-15 yards and into the end zone.

That's what beat the Jaguars; that one play. They couldn't stop that one play, even though they were in defensive coverages that should by no means be considered exotic or risky.

It is the inexplicable, which is symbolic of this season. A season that began with high expectations is sliding toward winter without hope of reward and nobody can explain why.

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