NASHVILLE--One team was desperate; at the brink of falling out of the division title race before Halloween. The other team was riding high; on a three-game winning streak and feeling good about itself.
Circumstances change very quickly in the NFL. The desperate Tennessee Titans are now enjoying their bye week, fully expecting to get back into the AFC South title chase by midseason. Meanwhile, the Jaguars aren't feeling nearly as good about themselves following a 23-14 loss to the Titans at The Coliseum, with a trip to Baltimore just ahead.
The Jaguars' situation was worsened by two injuries in Tennessee. Quarterback Mark Brunell left the game in the first quarter with a concussion and did not return. Offensive right tackle Maurice Williams suffered a broken right fibula, a non-weight-bearing bone injury that will put him on the shelf for at least a couple of weeks.
Brunell gave reporters every indication he would be healed and ready to play this Sunday in Baltimore, but coach Tom Coughlin was playing it by the book. Coughlin said Brunell's condition would be monitored and re-evaluated during the week. Of course, Brunell suffered a concussion last season when he was hit viciously by Browns defensive tackle Gerard Warren. Brunell played the following Sunday in Seattle but was ineffective.
"My head was pounding pretty hard. Getting the plays called; it seemed to be getting difficult," Brunell said of his physical condition following a sideline hit from Titans cornerback Samari Rolle. Coughlin thought Brunell was out of bounds when he was hit by Rolle, but the officials did not flag Rolle on the play.
"We're 3-2. We've got an opportunity next week. I'm sure we'll bounce back," Brunell said.
Rookie David Garrard replaced Brunell and Garrard scored on touchdown runs of four and 41 yards. He was the Jaguars' leading rusher with 71 yards in seven scrambles, and his rushing performance far exceeded his passing effort; four of seven for 53 yards, two interceptions and a 41.7 passer rating.
What if Garrard has to play in Baltimore against Ray Lewis and company? What if Brunell lines up against Lewis and the Ravens?
"The medical people pulled him out and that was it. He had a headache immediately," Coughlin said of Brunell. Coughlin would not speculate on who his quarterback would be in Baltimore.
Coughlin's greatest concern was the performance of his team against the Titans. It was the Jaguars' worst effort of the year and seemed to come out of nowhere, a week after they had scored one of the most impressive wins in their history.
True to previous form, the Titans beat the Jaguars with a mix of short passes to the tight ends and underneath receivers, a healthy dose of running back Eddie George between the tackles, and a dash of quarterback Steve McNair in the open field. The Jaguars were, really, easy prey.
But somehow they managed to keep the game close. Despite the loss of Brunell and the success of George, the breaks seemed to be going the Jaguars' way and Garrard was posing as much or more of a running problem for the Titans as McNair traditionally presents to the Jaguars.
After Garrard's 41-yard dash, the Jaguars had cut the Titans' lead to 16-14, and the Titans were beginning to feel the pressure of their desperation, again. Maybe it says something about the Titans that they responded with a 14-play, 68-yard touchdown drive that clinched victory.
And maybe it says something about the Jaguars defense that it allowed that drive at crunch time.
"He ran hard but we knew he was going to run," middle linebacker Wali Rainer said of George, who gained 113 yards on 31 rushing attempts. "They ran the ball on us today. It's very upsetting. Definitely, I think it was the difference in the game."
"We missed key tackles, we made key mistakes and didn't get off the field on third down," defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said. "In the first half, I think we overpursued the ball and we missed a helluva lot of tackles. I don't remember us getting pushed off the line of scrimmage. They came in with the game plan; they instituted the game plan."
The win left the Titans to limp into their bye week at 2-4.
"We didn't overlook them. We weren't looking forward to next week's game; none of that crap," Stroud added.
Running back Fred Taylor was held to 59 yards on just 19 rushing attempts. In fact, the Jaguars ran only 42 offensive plays, in a game in which the Titans dominated time of possession by more than 15 minutes. The Jaguars' 13 pass attempts is the fewest in their history.
"We have no excuse," said Taylor, who played with a slight fever and flu symptoms. Taylor said several Jaguars played with similar discomfort.
"The difference? They out-physicaled us, right from the first snap," he said.
There were several interesting twists during the game. George had a 51-yard touchdown run in the first quarter nullified by a block-in-the-back penalty against wide receiver Kevin Dyson. But the play revived a chant of "Eddie, Eddie." At that point, the Jaguars had to know they were in for a long day.
Shortly after that, Titans wide receiver Justin McCareins' apparent 20-yard, catch-and-run touchdown was nullified when guard Zach Piller was flagged for tripping.
The Jaguars' good fortune continued in the second half when Garrard appeared to have fumbled when the ball was knocked out of his hand while preparing to pass. After a discussion, the officials ruled incomplete pass and Coughlin sent his quick-punt team onto the field before Titans coach Jeff Fisher had a chance to challenge the call.
Shortly after that, during Garrard's 41-yard run, a distinct block in the back by wide receiver Jimmy Smith was not seen by the officials.
In an interesting twist for the Titans, Fisher scored a trick play victory late in the first half. On fourth-and-one near midfield, Fisher deployed his team in a spread punt formation, then had punter Craig Hentrich step under center in a three-man line. Hentrich plowed ahead for five yards and a first down that led to a field goal.
"I didn't think a timeout was necessary. We should've been able to line up to it. We didn't have enough guys at the line of scrimmage," Coughlin said.
The 3-2 Jaguars are a game behind AFC South leader Indianapolis.