NASHVILLE—Fred Taylor's wife was on hand. This was the day. There was no doubting it.
When Taylor burst up the middle for 15 yards on the fifth play of the game, he joined the most elite club of running backs in NFL history, but the day wasn't complete until Taylor helped lead the Jaguars to a 28-13 victory that has the team tied with the Titans for the top spot in the AFC wild-card race.
"Look at the smile on my face," Taylor said when asked how it felt to join the ranks of Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton. Against the Titans on Sunday, Taylor became the 21st and most recent member of the 10,000-yard rushing club.
"I'm thankful. It's been a roller coaster ride. I've questioned myself a couple of times due to the injuries I've had. It'll hit me in the offseason. I just want to help the team win and get to the playoffs," Taylor added.
He could've reached 10,000 a week ago in a lopsided loss. His position coach, Kennedy Pola, wanted to put Taylor back in the game but Taylor declined.
"Nobody would've been able to enjoy it with me. It's a lot more special to be able to get it during a win," Taylor said.
He got it in what most would see as a symbolic win. The Titans have been the Jaguars' constant tormentors. Jaguars fans will remember how Taylor refused to concede that the Titans were the better team in 1999, even after the Titans had beaten the Jaguars three times that year.
The Titans have always been an edge opponent for Taylor. He's the only member of this year's Jaguars who was on the team for those three losses in the '99 season. Yeah, this was the right game for Taylor to reach 10,000.
Taylor is now committed to another goal. He wants to lead this team to a championship.
"I understand my role. I try to lead the guys the best I can. I love football. Until I fall out of love with it, I'll continue to do my job. I always wanted to be a Jaguar," Taylor said.
Sunday was a good day to be a Jaguar because it was a bad day to be Vince Young. The Titans quarterback was so ineffective through the first three quarters of the game that his coach seemed to elect to not attempt one more play from scrimmage at the end of the first half, electing instead to kick a field goal and get off the field trailing 14-3 before something bad happened.
Young piled up some gimme yards in the fourth quarter as the Jaguars protected a two-touchdown lead, but he was intercepted twice and his anemic 64.8 passer rating has to have the Titans wondering today if Young can lead them to the playoffs. The Titans and Jaguars, of course, are each 6-3.
Quinn Gray, who made his third consecutive start in place of the injured David Garrard, was efficient and made big plays at big times, though he threw for only 101 yards and one touchdown. Gray's fourth-and-two pass to Dennis Northcutt for a first down preceded a 15-yard naked bootleg by Gray that led to a short touchdown plunge by Greg Jones that sealed the win.
"Quinn did a nice job; made some timely throws," Del Rio said.
Gray had the option of handing off to the running back or keeping the ball himself on the bootleg play. He elected to keep it because defensive end Kyle "Vanden Bosch wasn't respecting anything backside, so we took advantage of it," Gray said.
The Jaguars defense was the star of the game, a week after a collapse in New Orleans that is the worst defensive performance in Jaguars history.
"Stop the run and contain the mobile quarterback," middle linebacker Mike Peterson said of the Jaguars' defensive game plan.
"We knew what they were going to do," Gray said of the Titans defense, which was playing without star defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. "That might've hurt their game plan," Gray said of not having Haynesworth. "When we heard that, our ears perked up."
The Jaguars used what they refer to as "22 personnel" – two running backs, two tight ends – for much of the game. They ran the ball 44 times and threw 23 passes. That's the same run-heavy balance that won for them in Tampa two weeks ago.
"We were 5-3 in the first half and we're looking to be better than that in the second half. We started off right," cornerback Rashean Mathis said.
Taylor has been put into the position of leading the Jaguars in their playoffs charge.
"He's the one guy I put a 'C' on his jersey. Fred is the one guy deserving of that captain's status," Del Rio said.