JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton look back at the Jaguars' loss to the Tennessee Titans and forward to Sunday's AFC Wild Card Playoff game against the Buffalo Bills
1.Reviewing the preview.When previewing Jaguars-Titans, the thought here was the Jaguars needed to run, bother Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota and stay poised. This preview missed because it didn't anticipate the Jaguars would commit three turnovers that proved costly – or that wide receiver Dede Westbrook would drop a key third-quarter, would-be touchdown pass. The Jaguars' recent struggles in the run game continued and they finished with 83 yards rushing on 24 carries – and while the Jaguars pressured Mariota, he also hurt them with his mobility. The Jaguars avoided the penalties that hurt a week before against San Francisco, finishing with six against Tennessee for 41 yards. Punt returner Jaydon Mickens did have a costly unnecessary roughness while muffing a first-half punt, but overall missed opportunities, turnovers and a lack of big plays offensively hurt the Jaguars more than anything else Sunday.
2.As I saw it. A victory for the Jaguars Sunday would have been a feel-good moment for the team and its fan base against an opponent in a rivalry that feels on the verge being reheated. But the big-picture reality is Sunday's game meant nothing to the Jaguars in terms of playoff positioning – and it's difficult in the NFL to win on the road in that circumstance against a team playing with the playoffs at stake. The bad news for the Jaguars from the Titans loss is they continue to struggle to run; it appears quarterback Blake Bortles and the passing game must hit big plays for this offense to be potent in the postseason. The good news? A defense that has been the team strength and one of the NFL's best throughout the season held the Titans to 232 yards and looks very much ready for the postseason.
3.Looking ahead, briefly. Up next for the Jaguars: the Bills in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m. This was a matchup few expected because few expected Baltimore to lose to Cincinnati Sunday and allow the Bills into the postseason. But that's what happened and now the Jaguars enter a postseason game packed with storylines. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone versus his former team. Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus versus their first NFL team. On the field, this could be about the Jaguars' ability to run and stop the run. The Bills have struggled against the run and the Jaguars' – despite their top-ranked rushing offense – have been sporadic running in recent weeks. The Bills – with or without injured running back LeSean McCoy – will want to run. Can the Jaguars run? Can they stop it? This one could turn on those questions.
1.Reviewing the preview.I thought the Jaguars would play to reestablish their core identity entering the playoffs. In other words, I believed they would go to Tennessee to run the ball and play great defense. With the exception of two plays they did play great defense, holding the Titans to three field goals on three drives that began in Jaguars territory. They didn't run the ball, though – which put more pressure on a rookie receiving corps that didn't deliver for a second consecutive game. The inability to run has the Jaguars out of sorts offensively and looking for another way to get the job done. The problem: they're not built to win consistently unless they can run. The surprise was return man Jaydon Mickens, who earlier in the season went from "Who's that guy?" to someone the Jaguars were excited to send on the field to return punts. On Sunday in Tennessee he went back to "Who's that guy?" – as in, "What happened to No. 85?"
2.As I saw it. The Jaguars wanted to win to fully claim the AFC South title, which the Titans will now say is theirs because they swept the season series. They also wanted to win to build momentum for the Wild Card Playoff game Sunday. They didn't accomplish the first but let's be candid: that doesn't matter in the least. They did, however, build some momentum on defense by holding the Titans to a single touchdown, forcing field goals after turnovers, registering sacks and scoring their NFL-leading seventh defensive touchdown of the season. That matters, especially heading home with a chance to feed off the energy and adrenaline EverBank Field is sure to offer Sunday. They didn't win and they have a major issue to address this week, but to stay in Candid Mode – that pretty much has been the norm around here all season.
3.Looking ahead, briefly. The Bills might be the best possible match-up for Jaguars for a Wild Card game. They run well, but how well they can do so with an injured LeSean McCoy Sunday will be interesting to watch. They're also the second-worst passing team in the league. The Jaguars should be able to scheme more help for the run against quarterback Tyrod Taylor, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and tight Charles Clay than they would otherwise. On the flip side, the Bills' defense is 29th against the run and only slightly better against the pass, so it seems as if the Jaguars should be able to use the run to set up play action and get the passing game back in rhythm. The Jaguars are the more talented team and they're playing at home in a stadium that sold out in mere minutes for the first playoff game in Jacksonville since 1999. If they "do what they do" – as defensive end Calais Campbell and defensive tackle Malik Jackson talked about earlier this week – they should get back to winning.