View from the O-Zone: A real stinger

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Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) calls a play at the line of scrimmage against the Tennessee Titans during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

JACKSONVILLE – This one stung. A lot, actually.

Not that losing to the maddening, frustrating Tennessee Titans at TIAA Bank Field in front of 64,015 Sunday was a season-killer. Or season-threatening. Recent history tells us otherwise, and reason tells us the Jaguars are still very good. Still …

Titans 9, Jaguars 6.

"I didn't see this coming," safety Tashaun Gipson said after a third Jaguars loss in the last three games to their AFC South rival. "I don't think anyone in this locker room saw it coming."

That's perhaps not exactly true.

No, the Jaguars didn't expect a loss Sunday. No way, no how. These talented Jaguars, after all, were confident all week – and rightly so considering their 2-0 record and a convincing victory over perennial power New England last week.

Still, the Jaguars know the Titans. They know what the Titans do. They scrape and scratch. They play the Jaguars tough. They play tight defense with a talented front. They get enough offense to stay on the field and keep you frustrated. They grind with running back Derrick Henry.

The Titans did those things Sunday, and they did other things they have tended to do lately in this series: They kept Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles from hurting them outside the pocket and kept him from making plays downfield.

Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, meanwhile, on Sunday again did what he tends to do in this series, too – i.e., just enough for the Titans to win.

Combine all that with dropped passes, tipped balls, untimely penalties, a less accurate day from Bortles than a week ago and 232 total yards offense …

Well, the combination was enough to drop the Jaguars into second place in the AFC South.

And it was enough for a frustrated home locker room late Sunday afternoon.

"We definitely we feel like we should have won the game," linebacker Myles Jack said.

That was a popular theme in the post-game locker room – right up there with the universal belief among Jaguars offensive players that what they did Sunday wasn't nearly enough. A week after scoring four offensive touchdowns against the Patriots, the Jaguars continued a trend that is coming to define this Jaguars-Titans series.

The Jaguars didn't score a touchdown Sunday. They didn't score a meaningful offensive touchdown against Tennessee last season, scoring two touchdowns late in a 37-16 Week 2 loss and not scoring a touchdown offensively in a 15-10 Week 17 loss at Tennessee.

"We know we have to score points against them," Head Coach Doug Marrone said. "We didn't score."

The result was what the Jaguars expected against the Titans – a physical, defensive-oriented, dogfight type game in which neither team led by more than a field goal.

The Jaguars controlled the Titans' offense early and appeared create a momentum-turning first-quarter play when Titans quarterback and former Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert lost a fumble on a sack by defensive end Calais Campbell. Defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. recovered, and the Jaguars had all the momentum.

But defensive tackle Malik Jackson was called for lowering his head to initiate contact, and the Titans drove for a 3-0 lead. On some days, a first-quarter field goal might feel incidental.

On this day, it felt major – and knocking Gabbert from the game felt major, too.

Whereas the Jaguars sacked Gabbert three times, they placed little pressure on Mariota. And though Mariota – who began the game on the bench with lingering elbow issues – was unable to throw effectively, he scrambled just enough to score just enough for the Titans to win a game in which the Jaguars offense couldn't match three Tennessee field goals.

The Jaguars and Marrone rightly weren't in Panic Mode Sunday. The Jaguars are 2-1 in a long season and there's every reason to think they're going to be in contention through season's end.

Afterward, the talk was of responding. Linebacker Telvin Smith said the look in his teammates eyes afterward left him no doubt they will do just that.

"We came back in the locker room and the guys expressed emotion," Smith said. "It's not like guys got quiet. No one will shy away from it. Things were said … so no, not this team."

History suggests they will respond fine. If anything has defined this group under Marrone, in fact, it has been its ability to play its best when outsiders doubted it the most. 

No, this loss didn't ruin anything for the Jaguars. The Titans are a tricky matchup and they just seem to find a way to hang around and beat this team. They're not unbeatable, and there's no reason the Jaguars can't reverse Sunday's outcome on national television in early December.

Still, these were the Titans after all. And that made this one sting.

A lot actually.

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