On their first trip back to EverBank Field since last year’s costly loss to the Jaguars in December, the Titans instead came looking for a chance to set a tone early in the season. They wanted to put their goals for 2017 in motion, and begin their quest to rule the AFC South.
“It’s a brand new year,” quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “Our main focus, our main concern was being better in our division.”
On this day, mission accomplished.
The Titans beat the Jaguars in impressive fashion here on Sunday, rolling up a 37-16 victory with a dominating performance in the second half. The win evened Tennessee’s record at 1-1, which puts them tied with the Jaguars and Texans after two weeks.
The win came nine months after the Christmas Eve loss everyone remembers so well.
After the game, just about every Titan said this wasn’t payback.
“I’m going to keep it honest with you: I don’t dwell on the past,” Titans tight end Delanie Walker said. “At the end of the day it’s a whole new season, a whole new year, a whole new roster. Some of the guys on this team weren’t even on the roster last year. I just wanted to get a W, and I think that’s what everybody on this team was looking for. Today, we came out and played like we wanted to be in the playoffs.”
Well, that was the feeling from most of the Titans at least.
“We owed them one,” linebacker Brian Orakposaid. “They took food off my table last year, so we owed them one no matter what anybody else says.
“It hurt. It definitely did for me. I don’t know if you guys heard me, but all week I was “Jags week, Jags week.” I circled this one. They are going to be ready when we play them again at the end of the year, and we will be ready. But this is one that we wanted.”
Mariota completed 15-of-27 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown in the win. He was sacked just once, one week after the Jaguars racked up 10 sacks in a win over the Texans.
Running back Derrick Henry ran for a career-high 92 yards on 14 carries, and produced a 17-yard touchdown run. DeMarco Murray, sidelined in the second half with a hamstring injury, finished with 25 yards as the Titans piled up 179 yards on the ground.
“We wanted to get back to smash-mouth football,” tackle Jack Conklin said. “This is the type of team we want to be, and this shows us what we are capable of.”
The defense forced some key turnovers, and Adoree’ Jackson helped provide a spark with a big return in the third quarter.
Coach Mike Mularkey was pleased with the overall performance.
“I’m proud of our team, coming back, coming in here and getting a win, and playing well in all three phases,” Mularkey said. “It was the difference. We hung in there, we came in in the second half, and just kept playing. That’s credit to those guys. They were ready to play before, and came in at halftime, and wanted to come out and make a statement, and I think they did. It’s a good football team.
“… We want to win the division. You have to beat division teams, and we learned our lesson last year.”
With the Titans leading 9-3, Jackson fielded a punt and sprinted up the middle and to his left for a 46-yard return, which put the ball at the Jacksonville 34.
“I thought I was scoring,” Jackson said. “You want to try and make something happen when you are out there. I’m glad I could get a spark going.”
After a Mariota pass to Walker for 17 yards, the Titans busted it in on a 17-yard run by Henry, who ran through cornerback Jalen Ramsey at the goal-line for a touchdown to make it 16-3.
After the defense forced a three-and-out, the Titans didn’t waste much time in finding the end zone again.
A diving catch by receiver Taywan Taylor provided a 42-yard gain, and put the Titans at the seven. After a Henry run, Walker scored on a one-yard touchdown run to give the Titans a 23-3 lead.
Later, rookie tight end Jonnu Smith caught a screen pass from Mariota and raced 32 yards into the end zone for a touchdown to make it 30-3. The Jaguars scored on a one-yard run from running back Leonard Fournette to cut the lead to 30-9. A three-yard touchdown run by fullback Jalston Fowler made it 37-9 with 4:14 left before a late Jacksonville score.
It was a much better result for the Titans, who lost to the Raiders in Week One.
This one started off slowly.
After the Jaguars took an early 3-0 lead, the Titans answered back with an 11-play, 53-yard drive that was capped off with a 40-yard field goal from kicker Ryan Succop.
On defense, the Titans forced two turnovers in the first half. Orakpo forced a fumble when he sacked Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, and linebacker Erik Waldenrecovered it. Later, safety Curtis Riley intercepted a pass from Bortles on a ball that was tipped by linebacker Avery Williamson.
The second turnover set up a 41-yard field goal by Succop at the end of the first half, which gave Tennessee a 6-3 lead.
The Titans forced another turnover early in the third quarter, and turned it into points. Safety Da’Norris Searcy intercepted Bortles, and returned it to the Jacksonville 39. The Titans drove inside the Jacksonville 10, but had to settle for another field goal, this one a 26-yard kick by Succop to make it 9-3 with 9:24 left in the third quarter.
Then came the flurry of points to close it out.
The Titans face the Seahawks next Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
“We can’t be feeling high and then get a loss,” Walker said, already looking forward to next Sunday. “It is going to be a tough game against Seattle – they are very physical, and fast. But if we play our ball I think we can come out with a victory as well. But we have to execute and play Titans football.”