The Tennessee Titans took a big step backward in their quest for the playoffs last weekend, falling to what had been the league's only winless team.
While Saturday's meeting with the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars provides the Titans with what seems to be another favorable matchup, it may be too late for them to pick up the pieces.
Tennessee (7-7) entered Sunday with a chance to greatly improve its position for the AFC's final wild card berth, but instead suffered a devastating 27-13 loss at Indianapolis. The Titans fell into an eighth-place tie in the conference with Oakland and San Diego, one game behind the New York Jets and Cincinnati.
"We don't have control anymore," rookie defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said. "We'll have to see how some other teams do, and we'll see how it all plays out. We can't go out there and just give up."
Fortunately for Tennessee, a visit from the woeful Jaguars (4-10) could help keep its postseason hopes alive. Jacksonville is 1-6 on the road - including a 41-14 rout at the hands of Atlanta on Dec. 15.
Without top cornerbacks Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox and Will Middleton - all lost for the season - the Jaguars' injury-riddled secondary continues to struggle. Jacksonville surrendered 280 yards and three touchdowns through the air against the Falcons, and could allow for Matt Hasselbeck to get back on track.
Hasselbeck, who strained his left calf muscle and was forced from a 22-17 loss to New Orleans on Dec. 11, returned to complete 27 of 40 passes for 223 yards versus the Colts but was picked off twice. Hasselbeck has thrown for 691 yards with just one TD and five interceptions over his last five games.
With the veteran scuffling, coach Mike Munchak turned to promising rookie Jake Locker in the fourth quarter Sunday. The eighth overall draft pick completed 11 of 16 passes for 108 yards and a score, giving him 530 yards, four TDs and zero turnovers in limited playing time over his last three appearances.
Despite Locker's impressive play, Hasselbeck is expected to start.
"We're still in the playoff hunt, and he's the quarterback that got us there," Munchak said. "I think that's what you have to go with the guy who has the experience, the guy that's been in playoff situations, the guy that's been in the Super Bowl. After what he's meant to us this year and how well he has played throughout the season for us that I think we have to give him the opportunity to finish the job.
"We've got to man up and play our best game to win."
Having three-time Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson available will surely help. Johnson thought he had seriously hurt his right ankle Sunday, but he expects to be active for a matchup he tends to look forward to.
Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew, who leads the league with 1,334 rushing yards, have developed a bit of a friendly rivalry over the years.
"If you look at the past (four) games between Jacksonville and Tennessee, he rush for more yards than I do, they win the game. When I rush for more yards, we usually win. It's a big deal when we play against each other," said Johnson, who in his first action since his infamous holdout was limited to just 24 yards on nine carries in a season-opening 16-14 loss at Jacksonville.
With 930 rushing yards, Johnson is 70 away from joining Hall of Famer Earl Campbell and Eddie George as the only backs in franchise history to reach 1,000 yards in each if their first four seasons.
Johnson ran for a career-high 228 yards in a 30-13 win over the Jaguars on Nov. 1, 2009. Jones-Drew, who compiled 177 yards on just eight carries in that contest, topped that performance with a career-best 186-yard effort during a 17-6 win at Tennessee on Dec. 5, 2010.
While Jones-Drew continues to flourish, the rest of the Jacksonville offense has faltered. The Jaguars rank last in the NFL in total offense (256.3 yards per contest) and have scored 14 or fewer points in 10 of 14 games.
Much of the blame has been put on rookie Blaine Gabbert's shoulders. He completed 12 of 22 passes for 141 yards with a TD and an interception versus Atlanta, also losing two fumbles to give him 14 turnovers in 12 starts.
"Obviously, the season we've had is horrible," Jones-Drew told the team's official website. "The only way we can kind of save it or feel better as much as we can is by winning the next two – starting off with a win in Tennessee."
- Sports & Recreation
- Sports & Recreation/American Football
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- Matt Hasselbeck