JACKSONVILLE – This feels like a rivalry again. At long last.
Malik Jackson feels it when it comes to the Jaguars-Tennessee Titans series that renews Sunday, and the Jaguars' veteran defensive tackle stated why Wednesday.
"It's two physical teams in the same division that don't really think each other's team is really that good," Jackson said as the AFC South-leading Jaguars (2-0) prepared to play the Titans (1-1) at TIAA Bank Field in downtown Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m.
"It's going to be two guys on the same block trying to go after it on that block. This is a real street brawl. We expect it. We known they expect it. We'll see how it goes."
The NFL is about fun, rivalries are darned sure fun and Titans-Jaguars – which a long time ago in an era far, far away was a very real rivalry – feels healthy again.
"I think so," Jaguars middle linebacker Myles Jack said, "just because of the fact that we're emerging as a good team and Tennessee always has been that powerful, hungry team. There's a story behind it with them beating us twice, and us going to the AFC Championship Game.
"You've got two good teams going at it. It's a good matchup."
This rivalry talk between the Titans and Jaguars? That's good, fun stuff and the storyline to which Jack alluded is a big reason that this series once again has a healthy edge.
Long gone are the early days of this rivalry, when the Jaguars and Titans fought for AFC Central supremacy. That era culminated with the 1999 season when the Jaguars went 14-2 and finished with the NFL's best record but lost three times to the Titans, including a 33-14 loss in the AFC Championship Game in Jacksonville at what was then known as Alltel Stadium.
The teams have played one another twice every regular season since but didn't make the postseason in the same season again until last season. It was then that the rivalry took a renewed flair.
The Jaguars won the AFC South at 10-6. That was a game better than the Titans, who qualified as a wild-card entrant. But the Titans beat the Jaguars twice – 37-16 in Week 2 in Jacksonville and 15-10 in a Week 17 game in Nashville.
Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey in particularly was vocal following the game, criticizing Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and saying: "King of the South? King of the South? Sounds great, but gotta be able to beat us."
Jack on Wednesday smiled at the memory.
"That's how they feel, but at the end of the day we got the hats and the replica balls and everything," Jack said. "They beat us twice, but we were deemed as champions. They've got a point, but at the end of the day we were the AFC South Champions and we're trying to repeat this year."
The focus for the Jaguars this season is squarely on this season. Linebacker Telvin Smith made that clear Wednesday. He also said this about the Titans:
"It's more so what are they [the Titans] going to do this year. They saw they was champs. Now they have a chance to prove it."
Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson on Wednesday cited a very real reason Sunday matters to the Jaguars. Yes, the Jaguars won the South last season. But the two losses to the Titans were real. Ending that sort of trend against a division opponent matters. A lot.
"That's the one team we really didn't have an answer for – by no means," Gipson said. "They outphysicalled us. They outplayed us in every facet of the game. We were truly outmatched – from the home opener last year to the game before the playoffs.
"Obviously we want to get our lick back in a sense. We feel like we're the better team. We feel like it's time for us to go out and show it."
Jackson, one of the more vocal Jaguars players last season when Casey spoke of the Titans being the real AFC South Champions, unsurprisingly put Titans-Jaguars in perhaps the best perspective on Wednesday.
And on Wednesday, he was one of the more vocal as Sunday's game approached.
"They think they won the South, because they did beat us twice," Jackson said, adding with a s smile: "But they didn't [win the division]."
He continued, "They don't respect us all at all. It's up to us to go out and earn our respect. If I was them, I'd be upset, too. But it is what it is. It's a new season. It's a new time. It's a new day.
"We're going to try to get to 3-0 and run the AFC South – like we did last year."
That's rivalry talk, and that's good stuff.
And it should make Sunday in downtown Jacksonville a whole lot of fun.