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Soft talk, hard feelings


Previously, Jeff Fisher always seemed to have a little dig in store for the Jaguars during the days leading up to his team's games against the Jaguars. There have been no such digs, however, this year.

The Jaguars and Titans will complete their two-game series this Sunday, and as kickoff nears it would seem this season will pass without any sharp remarks being made or controversies surfacing. What has happened to this rivalry? Has it gone soft?

"I think there is a mutual respect. You can call it a rivalry if you want, but if you look at the division and the standings, most of the rivalries spin off the top two teams. Right now, we're not in the top two, so I guess you'll have to ask them. But we're going to come down there and play the same type of game we've played every time we've come down there, with the intention of playing hard and trying to give ourselves the best chance to win it," Fisher said.

There is certainly no edge in those remarks, and for good reason. These are tough times for Fisher and the Titans. They are 3-6 and out of playoff contention in the second half of the season for the first time since before the team moved to Nashville, and they will limp into Jacksonville this weekend with an injury report that is only slightly healthier than the team's salary cap.

These are not the Titans we remember but, oh, how they'd love to torment the Jaguars one more time.

"We are just going to try to concentrate on one game at a time and that's against Jacksonville. We're not looking at making a run at the playoffs. We're just going to take one game at a time, go out and play hard and whatever happens, happens," quarterback Steve McNair said.

Those remarks could almost be interpreted to be a surrender, of sorts. The traditional digs have been replaced by words of submission. Is this a new strategy, or are the Titans truly a beaten lot?

"They've still got a lot of good football players," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said of the Titans.

What will this Sunday's game be? The final act in what has been an intense six-year rivalry? Or a preview of what this rivalry is expected to become?

The Titans have finally come front and center with the effects of their salary cap abuse. McNair is scheduled to be a $12.6 million salary cap hit next season and it's possible the Titans will be forced to release him next spring. This could be McNair's final appearance as a Titan in Jacksonville. With that in mind, it would only be fitting for McNair to come off the injury report and step back under center after missing three games with a sternum injury he originally sustained on Sept. 26 when Marcus Stroud tackled McNair during the Jaguars' 15-12 win in Nashville.

Is this it? Will this be McNair's Jacksonville farewell?

"That's up to the front office. If they want to trade me or do whatever they want to do, I can't control that, but I want to be a Titan for life," McNair said.

So much about the Titans is going to change before these two teams meet again next year. Now, it would seem, it is the Titans' turn to be the Jaguars.

Since the Titans' AFC title game win in Jacksonville on Jan. 23, 2000, the Jaguars have suffered through four consecutive losing seasons and a massive salary-cap repair project. But now the Jaguars would seem to be headed toward a winning record, and the future looks even brighter.

In some ways, these new Jaguars are the Titans who tormented the old Jaguars. Under Del Rio, the Jaguars have embraced a more physical style of play, similar to the smash-mouth game for which the Titans were famous.

"There is a big difference between being finesse and physical and right now they are a very physical football team," McNair said. "Different coaches have different mentalities."

Maybe Sunday's game would be better billed as "changing places." Maybe the Jaguars are about to become the smash-mouth Titans who dominated the Jaguars from 1999-2003, and maybe the Titans are about to become the Jaguars who suffered through four seasons of salary cap misery to get to where they are today.

Don't be lulled to sleep, however, by the soft words coming out of Nashville this week. The Titans would love nothing more than to ruin another Jaguars season. This rivalry isn't over until the Jaguars say it's over.

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