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The Jacksonville Jaguars are running toward the playoffs.
After the most overpowering rushing performance in franchise history, the Jaguars (8-5) look to continue their push for the postseason when they visit the Tennessee Titans (6-7), winners of four straight, on Sunday.
Jacksonville rushed for a franchise-best 375 yards in a stunning 44-17 rout of AFC South-leading Indianapolis last week. The Jaguars, in second place and two games behind the Colts in the division, are holding down the sixth and final playoff spot in the conference.
The Jags’ rushing total tied for the second-best in the NFL since the 1970 merger. Cincinnati rushed for 407 yards against Denver on Oct. 22, 2000.
Rookie Maurice Drew rolled up a career-high 166 yards on the ground and veteran Fred Taylor rushed for 131 yards, becoming the second set of teammates in the last 30 seasons to rush for at least 130 yards in a game. St. Louis’ Marshall Faulk (183 yards) and Trung Canidate (145) did it in 2001.
“I haven’t seen anything like that since I watched NFL Films,” Jaguars defensive end Paul Spicer said.
Taylor, who surpassed the 1,000-yard mark (1,083) for sixth time in his career, strained his right hamstring and did not practice Wednesday, but Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio expects him to play Sunday.
“We’re optimistic we’ll have him this week,” Del Rio said.
Jacksonville’s big day against one of the league’s worst run defenses gave the Jaguars 2,091 rushing yards on the season, second in the NFL behind Atlanta’s 2,570. The Jags, who average 160.8 yards on the ground, are 12 yards shy of breaking the club record established in 1998.
“We wanted to get to 400, but 375 isn’t bad,” said Drew, who also returned a kickoff 93 yards for a score and finished with 303 yards—the fourth-highest total for a rookie in league history.
“It’s hard for words to describe it,” Del Rio said. “It was a great day running the ball, and I felt like we had some things that we’d be good at and we executed well.”
Del Rio, though, is cautious, knowing the Jags’ three remaining opponents will likely focus on shutting down their formidable ground attack. That could mean quarterback David Garrard will need to make more plays through the air.
“As people load the box, there will be opportunities down the field to take advantage of if they get a little too crazy loading it up,” Del Rio.
Even if Tennessee stacks the line of scrimmage Sunday, however, it may not have much success stopping the Jaguars. The Titans rank near the bottom of the NFL with 140.9 rushing yards allowed per game, and are last in the league in total defense at 364.4 yards a contest.
Jacksonville, looking to win its third straight game and fourth in its last five since starting 5-4, has averaged 224.2 rushing yards in its last four games.
The Jaguars ran for 173 yards in 37-7 win over the Titans on Nov. 5. Garrard, making his second start of the season, was 12-for-22 for 177 yards and three touchdowns.
Tennessee has lost the last three meetings to Jacksonville and the previous two home matchups, but the Titans are one of the hottest teams in the AFC. They’re looking to win five in a row for the first time since 2003.
They’ve done it in dramatic fashion, coming from behind in their last three victories, highlighted by rookie quarterback Vince Young’s 38-yard touchdown run in overtime for a 26-20 win at Houston last week.
“I’ve never heard of a walkoff touchdown, but that’s what it was,” Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said.
Tennessee has already surpassed its win totals from each of the last two seasons, and is still mathematically alive in the playoff race.
“We haven’t fallen down in that column that says you have been eliminated,” Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said. That’s a tough place to be, and that’s a place where we’ve been the last couple of years at the end. They’re fighting and scratching to stay out of that, and that says a lot for them.”
Young has been the main reason the Titans still have an outside shot at the postseason.
The rookie is 6-4 since taking over the starting job Oct. 1. Though he didn’t throw a touchdown for the first time in four games Sunday, he was 19-for-29 for 218 yards and ran for a career-best 86 yards on seven carries in his return to Texas.
“Everything I saw him do in college, I’ve seen him do on this level,” Bulluck said.
Young, who has passed or rushed for a touchdown in his 10 starts, will need a better outing Sunday than he had in the teams’ last meeting.
Young was 15-for-36 for 163 yards with a touchdown and a season-high three interceptions, one of which was returned 55 yards by Scott Starks for a TD, in the loss.