Titans ‘alive’ as Jags visit
NASHVILLE — The Jacksonville Jaguars insist they’re ready to play, with no need to heal up for the playoff berth earned with their first AFC South title. That’s how coach Doug Marrone and Jaguars top football executive Tom Coughlin prepare for the postseason.
A three-game skid has left Tennessee needing a win to assure itself of a playoff spot. Losses by both Buffalo and the Chargers also would clinch a berth for the Titans, who haven’t played beyond the 16th game since 2008.
“I’m excited,” Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo said. “We’re like a cat with nine lives, man, and we’re still alive. So we’ve got to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Momentum for the postseason (Jacksonville) and an actual playoff berth as either the AFC’s No. 5 or 6 seed (Tennessee) is on the line today when these rivals meet in a game pushed back to late afternoon to rev up the drama. The Jaguars (10-5) are locked in as the No. 3 seed and already know they’ll host a wildcard game next weekend.
If the Titans (8-7) win, then Tennessee could head to Jacksonville for the first playoff game between these franchises since the 1999 season. That’s when the Titans swept all three games, the last the AFC championship in Jacksonville to earn the franchise’s lone Super Bowl appearance.
Jacksonville is coming off a 44-33 loss in San Francisco, but the Jaguars clearly remember the Titans routing them 37-16 in the second week of the season. Pro Bowl defensive end Malik Jackson said this game is about respect for the Jaguars, who ended Tennessee’s playoff hopes last season on Christmas Eve.
“We’re going to try to do what we did last year and knock them out,” Jackson said. “We understand, too, that if we don’t handle business Sunday, we could be facing the same team next Sunday. We kind of want to get past them, finish them and move on.”
The Titans squandered their margin for error with a 27-23 loss to the Los Angeles Rams last week. But they will have quarterback Marcus Mariota for a regular-season finale for the first time in his pro career. Mariota said he’s worried only about production, not perception.
“I’d rather get in with these guys,” Mariota said, “and just see how far we can go.”
Derrick Henry will have his first chance at starting since the Titans drafted the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner out of Alabama in 2016. Veteran running back DeMarco Murray has a sprained right knee and is out today. The seldom-used David Fluellen will serve as the primary backup.
Henry has not carried more than 19 times in a game this season, but he ran 14 times for 92 yards and a touchdown against the Jaguars earlier this year.
Jacksonville Jaguars defensive lineman Calais Campbell celebrates after sacking Houston Texans quarterback T.J. Yates (2) during their Dec. 17 game in Jacksonville, Fla.