Some things never change. Just when the Jaguars were on the verge of something sweet, the Titans turned it sour.
This was a game that could've left the Jaguars on the verge of clinching a playoff berth. Instead, the Jaguars flew home with a 24-17 defeat that leaves the team in a must-win mode for its final two games of the season.
"A clear example of turnovers. Any time you have turnovers returned for touchdowns, it ends up being the difference-maker," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said following a game the Jaguars dominated statistically.
It shouldn't have even been close. The Jaguars out-gained the Titans, 396-98; dominated the game in every meaningful way except one, turnovers. That's where the Titans stole the win.
"We won every statistic there was to win today but we didn't win that one," Del Rio said of turnovers.
Jaguars quarterback David Garrard threw three interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns, and lost a fumble that was returned 92 yards for a touchdown.
"My first impression is that he was trying to do too much," Del Rio said of Garrard. "With our defense, we're not in must-score mode on every series. I got the impression he was pressing to score on every series."
Garrard's fumble was certainly the result of trying to do too much. It occurred on a third-and-21 play in which Garrard was trying to gain enough yards to shorten a field goal attempt for Josh Scobee. As Garrard neared the first-down marker, he got wild with his running and had the football punched out of his hand.
His two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns were the result of throwing the ball into coverage. Pacman Jones made an easy pick of a sideline pass intended for Reggie Williams in the first quarter, and Chris Hope stepped in front of a third-quarter pass for Williams and returned it for what would be the eventual game-winning touchdown.
"Yeah, I will say that," Garrard said when asked if he agreed that he was trying to do too much. "We were moving the ball great. I was trying to make plays – keep the offense on the field – and they were making big plays on my balls. It's upsetting but I know we can move on and still do some great things around here."
He blamed the Hope interception on a "bad read between me and Reggie. The one by Pacman, he just made a great break on the ball.
"I know what I possess," Garrard added. "I know the character I have in me."
Jones' interception gave the Titans a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, but Garrard answered with a 10-play, 67-yard scoring drive that rookie Maurice Jones-Drew capped with a 12-yard touchdown run.
Jones-Drew turned in another outstanding performance, rushing for 98 yards on 25 carries. His load got heavier when Fred Taylor re-injured his hamstring on a 35-yard run that immediately preceded Jones' interception return. Taylor was headed for the end zone when the hamstring went twang, causing him to limp to a halt.
"I thought it was a cramp but it didn't let up. That's a 14-point swing. It was definitely a touchdown," Taylor said.
Following a 43-yard field goal by Josh Scobee early in the second quarter, the Jaguars led 10-7 and were firmly in control of the line of scrimmage. The Jaguars offensive line paved the way to another 200-yard rushing performance, the fourth by the Jaguars this season, which is a franchise record.
The Jaguars held that 10-7 lead at halftime, but the Titans opened the second half with a 70-yard kickoff return by Pacman Jones that led to a game-tying field goal, and then came Cortland Finnegan's return of Garrard's fumble and then Hope's interception return and the Jaguars found themselves staring at a 24-10 deficit.
Garrard battled cramps to lead the Jaguars down the field twice in the fourth quarter. The first occasion ended, however, in a stop by the Titans on a fourth-and-goal play, when Garrard threw incomplete to Matt Jones. Pacman Jones swatted the pass away.
It appeared as though rookie tight end Marcedes Lewis had made a one-handed touchdown catch on second down, but the call was reversed when replay review showed Lewis had not established possession of the ball before going out of bounds.
There were two other similar reversals in the second half. On the first one, Reggie Williams was ruled not to have controlled the ball through contact with the ground. Later, the Titans' Drew Bennett had a catch wiped out by replay when it was determined he, too, had not maintained possession of the ball.
"I think he made the right call," Del Rio said of referee Mike Carey. "I thought in both cases he did a good job and got it right, which is most important."
Garrard moved the Jaguars down the field quickly to cut the lead to 24-17 with 2:37 to play. This time, Garrard threw a lob to Matt Jones on the left side, against cornerback Reynaldo Hill instead of against Pacman Jones. This time, Matt Jones made the catch.
The Jaguars had no times out remaining so they were forced to attempt an onside kick. Tennessee recovered at the Jaguars 40-yard line and could've run the clock down to about 30 seconds left to play before the Jaguars regained possession. Titans coach Jeff Fisher, however, inexplicably ordered a pass on third down. When it fell incomplete, the Titans punted and the Jaguars had the ball at their 10-yard line with 1:01 to play.
It only took three plays, however, for Garrard to throw his third and final interception. Hill got this one.
"We're promised two more weeks. If we get enough done in the next two weeks, then we will have earned it," Del Rio said of a possible playoff berth. "We're not going to walk out of here with our heads hanging."
Garrard completed 22 of 37 passes for 233 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and a 53.1 passer rating. He also rushed six times for 43 yards. At times, he made eye-popping plays that demonstrated his athletic ability. The turnovers ruined what could've been a great performance.
"I'm going to continue to try to make plays. I'm going to continue to play my game, just play smarter," Garrard said.