Work in Sports
Revenge? Beating Titans is more about survival
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- This was one game the Jacksonville Jaguars had circled on their calendar before the season began -- Monday night at Tennessee, the only team to beat them last year.
It's still a big game, but for entirely different reasons.
The Jaguars, who were one half of a game from going to the Super Bowl last year before losing to the Titans for the third time, are now a team in disarray.
The running game barely has a pulse. The quarterback's starting job was briefly in jeopardy. Jacksonville is in the midst of its longest losing streak since it was one year removed from an expansion team.
This game is not so much about revenge as survival.
"We're not a good team right now," receiver Jimmy Smith said Wednesday. "We haven't shown we're a Super Bowl contending team. We haven't even shown we're a playoff team. It's a gut check, and guys are reaching deep to find out what kind of a team we've got."
Despite back-to-back home losses, the Jaguars (2-4) are convinced all their problems can be solved, and that whom they play is less an issue than how they play.
Then again, they've been saying that for three weeks.
Another loss Monday night at Adelphia Stadium, where the Titans (4-1) have never lost, would leave him four games behind in the AFC Central and in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs for the first time since their expansion season in 1995.
They don't use the word panic, but it certainly came to mind earlier this week when head coach Tom Coughlin until Monday afternoon before saying that Mark Brunell, whom he benched early in the fourth quarter of a 15-10 loss against Baltimore, was still his starter.
Coughlin said Wednesday it was only a matter of having time to talk to Brunell and figure out what went wrong, which was plenty.
Brunell interceptions on consecutive possessions, and Jacksonville lost two of the four fumbles from the center exchange. Rookie receiver R. Jay Soward dropped three straight passes in the first quarter. Needing to pin the Ravens deep late in the game, the Jaguars allowed a kickoff return to the 41.
Coughlin, who raised eyebrows Monday for not committing to a starter right away, sounded much more confident two days later.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Mark Brunell is our quarterback," he said. "Mark Brunell is the guy who I believe can lead us out of this stagnant situation we're in on offense. Mark Brunell is not at fault for the majority of things that are taking place offensively."
But under Brunell, the Jaguars have not scored a touchdown in 10 quarters.
What perplexes Coughlin is that the talent it still there from a team that went 14-2 last year and had the best record in the league. Smith and Keenan McCardell are on pace to each have 100 receptions this year. Fred Taylor has been back for three weeks, all losses.
The offensive line has been hurt by injuries, and as a result, Brunell has been sacked 27 times. The Jaguars have scored only five touchdowns in their last four games.
Another loss could be devastating. A victory -- especially over their nemesis -- could be just what the Jaguars need.
"It definitely would turn our season around," Smith said. "Any win would. On top of that, to beat Tennessee would put a spark in this franchise, and I think that will be the key to getting things rolling."
One bright spot, at least for one week, was the defense. It gave up only 193 yards to Baltimore and allowed only three drives longer than 23 yards.
But defensive tackle Gary Walker isn't interested in the past. That goes for last week against the Ravens, and last year against the Titans.
"There's no sense in getting tight," he said. "The difficulty of beating Tennessee ... I know they're undefeated, but that's not the ultimate. What we've got to do to get the program turned around is in this locker room."