The storyline around the Jaguars this week is squarely focused on quarterback, and when quarterback is in the discussion, there's always a buzz.
Chad Henne, a 31-game starter for the Miami Dolphins from 2009-2011, will make his first start with the Jaguars on Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, Head Coach Mike Mularkey said Monday.
Henne, who signed with the Jaguars as a free agent this past offseason, earned the position with a 354-yard, four-touchdown performance this past Sunday in relief of Blaine Gabbert, the starter in the last 24 Jaguars games. Gabbert left a loss to the Houston Texans Sunday with an elbow contusion that prevented him from gripping the ball well enough to throw.
Mularkey said Monday Gabbert is questionable entering the week, but said the decision to start Henne was based on performance, and that he will start Sunday whatever Gabbert's status.
Henne on Sunday threw touchdown passes of 81 yards to Justin Blackmon, 67 yards to Cecil Shorts and 1 and 13 yards to tight end Marcedes Lewis. The four touchdowns were a career high, and he became the first NFL player since 1987 to throw four touchdown passes with no interceptions after entering the game as a backup.
The Jaguars entered the game No. 32 in the NFL in total offense, No. 31 in passing, and hadn't scored 30 points in a game this season.
The Titans (4-6) have won three of five games, keeping alive outside hopes of an AFC wild-card spot after a 1-4 start. Jake Locker started the season at quarterback, but missed five games with a shoulder injury. Veteran Matt Hasselbeck played in his place, with the Titans losing three of five during that span. The team was on pace through nine games to set an NFL record for points allowed in a season, and allowed 30 points in seven of the first nine games. Owner Bud Adams told the Nashville Tennessean that the entire football operation was being evaluated following a one-sided home loss to the Bears on November 4. The Titans responded with a 37-3 victory two weeks ago over Miami, a game in which Locker returned to the lineup and threw two touchdowns. Tennessee was off this past week.
The Jaguars-Titans game at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m. will be broadcast regionally on CBS and locally on WETV CBS 47 (Channel 6). Spero Dedes will be on play-by-play with Steve Beuerlein on analysis.
Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak says
"We have to win a lot of football games, but if we do, we're right in the middle of this thing. We have to win. You need the right teams to lose along the trail. But ultimately, we have to find a way to win two games in a row, three games in a row, and so on. We haven't won a division game yet, and we have three here in a row, so we have to start winning them."
Early matchup to watch
Titans running back Chris Johnson versus middle linebacker Paul Posluszny. After allowing 527 yards passing against the Houston Texans, pass defense is a major issue for the Jaguars this week, but Johnson is the most dangerous player on the Titans' offense – and one of the NFL's most explosive backs. The fifth-year veteran never has rushed for less than 1,000 yards in a season, but since a 2,000-yard season in 2009, his production had dipped to 1,364 yards in 2010 and a career-low 1,047 last season. This season, he's averaging 5.1 yards per carry – his best since his 2,000-yard season – and he enters the Jaguars game on pace for a 1,376-yard season. He has at least 90 yards rushing in six of the last seven games, and has two touchdown runs of more than 80 yards in his last four games.
Player to watch
Justin Blackmon, wide receiver. Blackmon, the No. 5 overall selection by the Jaguars in the 2012 NFL Draft, struggled through the first nine games of the season, catching 26 passes for 259 yards. With Henne throwing downfield more, Blackmon took advantage, catching seven passes for 236 yards Sunday – the second-highest single-game receiving yardage total in franchise history and the most since Jimmy Smith's 291 yards against Baltimore in 2000. Blackmon, who averaged a franchise-record 33.7 yards per reception, had been practicing and preparing well in recent weeks, according to Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey.
What to watch
*Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, the NFL's leading rusher last season, is expected to miss a fifth consecutive game with a sprained foot after sustaining the injury on the first play of a loss to Oakland in Week 7. Jalen Parmele is expected to start for Jones-Drew after replacing Rashad Jennings as the Jaguars' top back in Jones-Drew's absence last week. Parmele rushed for 80 yards on 24 carries against Houston last week.
*Safety Dwight Lowery is expected to work some in team drills this week after missing five games with an ankle injury, but Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said Monday his status for Sunday remains uncertain. Cornerback Rashean Mathis is expected to begin the week working with strength coach Tom Mylskinski on the side. Chris Prosinski has started in Lowery's place, and veteran Aaron Ross has started for Mathis in a secondary that struggled last week.
*Cornerback Will Middleton sustained a blow to the head Sunday and was in the concussion program as of Monday, Mularkey said.