The Tennessee Titans are headed for the playoffs; the Jaguars are not, and that combination is another bitter pill for Jaguars fans to swallow. However, the Jaguars can exact a measure of revenge this Sunday against their tormentor, when the two teams play at Alltel Stadium.
This was expected to be one of the high-profile games of the NFL season; a rematch of last year's AFC title game. Same teams, same place, but the circumstances have certainly changed.
The Titans (9-2) are playing for the AFC Central Division title and AFC homefield advantage for the playoffs. The Jaguars (4-7) have only one motivation: Revenge.
Along those lines, the Jaguars may be catching the Titans at a good time. Though they have the NFL's best record, they haven't been nearly as dominant or impressive since defeating the Jaguars on Monday Night Football on Oct. 16. The Titans struggled to beat the visiting Steelers, 9-7, on Nov. 5, then lost for the first time ever at Adelphia Coliseum on Nov. 12, 24-23 at the hands of the Ravens, and had to overcome seven turnovers to turn away visiting Cleveland this past Sunday.
"We've got a number of games left and we've got a team on our heels right now that probably will win out and we can't afford to slip," head coach Jeff Fisher said following the loss to Baltimore.
Fisher also said his team's eight-game winning streak masked a lot of deficiencies, and that the loss to Baltimore would provide him the opportunity to emphasize the need for improvement.
"There's a lot of little things that took place, not that you overlook, but that you don't really dwell on probably as much as you should after a win. After a loss, you drive the point home, because every one of these … can ultimately lead to the loss. There's a lot to be taken from this," Fisher said.
However, the Titans are also troubled by a toe injury star running back Eddie George can't seem to shake, and he had been roughed up on successive Sundays by the rugged Steelers and Ravens defenses. George's condition has put the ball more decidedly in quarterback Steve McNair's court, and there's still doubt as to whether or not McNair can carry the Titans offense.
"He needs to practice and he hasn't practiced because of the injuries," Fisher said of George, who has also battled a sore knee. "He needs to practice the timing of his reads and his courses and those kinds of things, and hopefully we can get him back on the field."
What is George's importance to the Titans? Well, when he rushes for 100 yards or more, the Titans are 22-5, 4-0 this season. And when he rushes 27 times or more, the Titans are 21-1, 6-0 this season.
Defensively, the Titans got their first big performance of the season out of defensive end Jevon Kearse in the loss to Baltimore. Kearse had three sacks and forced two fumbles, after a disappointing first half of the season that resulted in Fisher "calling out" last season's rookie of the year.
"It made me mad," Kearse said. "But now that I look back, I don't think I was playing with a chip on my shoulder like I did last year and maybe I needed that. Last season, I kept thinking I should have been picked earlier in the draft and I used that to get me going. Now I am going to use what coach Fisher said as motivation."
The Titans' defensive rankings are lofty, but they're certainly aided by playing in a division that is not known for high-powered offenses. To be successful in the postseason, they'll need Kearse to be the play-maker he was last year.
They'll also need for kicker Al Del Greco to become the sure bet he's always been in his career. Recently, Del Greco missed an extra point and a late-game field goal attempt in the loss to Baltimore, and had missed a chip shot against the Steelers, too. Fisher even went so far as to suggest that if Del Greco doesn't get his act together, his job security would be at risk.
"The race is on. We've got to regroup and go on," Fisher said.
In a season of disappointment for the Jaguars, striking a blow against the Titans' division title and homefield advantage hopes would be a satisfying measure of revenge.