This week's Jaguars vs. Titans matchup was considered by many to be an automatic win for the Titans. At one point, Las Vegas had the line as high as 13 points in favor of Tennessee, and the Jaguars had just lost wide receiver Justin Blackmon for the remainder of the season due to suspension.
The Jaguars promptly came out and dominated the Titans in the first half. They entered halftime with a 13-7 lead that wasn't indicative of how lopsided the play was on the field. Tennessee closed the gap to two points with under a minute remaining, but the Jaguars recovered the onside kick, and that was that.
Gus Bradley now has a win under his belt as an NFL head coach, and it's got to feel pretty great for the franchise's new regime.
#Jaguars owner Shad Khan: “It was absolutely incredible. It speaks volumes about the team, the players and their effort."
— Hays Carlyon (@HaysCarlyon) November 10, 2013
#Jaguars owner Shad Khan: "This was well earned. I’m so happy for Gus, Dave and all the players.”— Hays Carlyon (@HaysCarlyon) November 10, 2013
For the first time this year, we learned the Jacksonville Jaguars have the ability to win a football game.
What else did we learn this week?
The Jaguars' defense came to play today. They forced four turnovers—three of which were fumbles by the Titans, and one of which was an interception by Jake Locker.
Jacksonville's defense hit the Titans' runners hard and often. They entered the game dead-last in the league in rushing defense but held Tennessee to only 83 yards on the ground. Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene only combined for 52 yards rushing on 21 carries; the other 31 yards were picked up by Tennessee's quarterbacks.
All game long, Jaguars defenders were swatting at the ball, trying to knock it free via big hits and penetrating into the Tennessee backfield. It was an impressive performance.
If the Jaguars' defense can keep playing as aggressively as they did today, they'll end the season with more than just this one win.
Though the box score doesn't support the argument, Maurice Jones-Drew was impressive today. The offensive line gave him very little room to run, but he still gutted out 42 tough yards on the ground and picked up 33 yards on four catches as well.
Jones-Drew finished all his runs hard, bulling into defenders and falling forward for the extra yard. He made defenders miss when they tried to bring him down using only their arms and was impossible to tackle by the ankles.
As noted by Vito Stellino of The Florida Times-Union, earlier this week, Bradley stated that the team wanted to give Denard Robinson more touches. However, Jones-Drew was the more effective back today.
Tennessee's run defense was tough, and if MJD keeps running like he did today, he'll be plenty productive over the Jaguars' final seven games.
Justin Blackmon had a game this year where he pulled down 20 targets. Against the Titans, the Jaguars only threw 23 total passes. The difference this week was that they played the entire game with a lead, but it's still a startling statistic.
With Blackmon out of the lineup, the Jaguars went run-heavy, running 30 times against only 23 passes. Marcedes Lewis led the team with six targets, and no other player had more than four. The team leader in yardage was Cecil Shorts III with 42 yards, but he gained those 42 yards on only two catches.
Jacksonville may start leaning harder on the running game going forward, though that may depend upon the score. It remains to be seen how the Jaguars' targets will be spread without Blackmon in the lineup, but one thing is for sure: the Jaguars' receiving corps is much worse without him on the field.
One of the major differences between the defense that the Jaguars played today and the defense that the team played through the season's first eight games was the play of the linebackers. Geno Hayes, in particular, played his best game of the season, racking up 11 tackles, forcing a fumble and knocking down a pass.
Linebacker Paul Posluszny was credited with eight tackles and also forced a fumble of his own, and Russell Allen racked up six tackles as well. The Jaguars' linebackers were all over the field.
Jacksonville's linebacking corps had been one of the NFL's worst so far this season, but their play this week helped the league's worst run defense hold Titans running backs to only 52 yards on the ground.
If they continue to improve as the season progresses, the run defense should be much better, which will allow the Jaguars to be competitive in more games.
As previously mentioned, during the bye week, Bradley announced that the team would be giving rookie fifth-round pick Denard Robinson a larger role in the offense.
Robinson received four carries against the Titans and picked up three yards, but the main issue is that he fumbled one of those four carries. NFL head coaches don't stick with players who put the ball on the ground for very long, and Robinson has fumbled the football twice in 15 career carries.
With career totals of 15 carries for 28 yards and two fumbles, Denard Robinson doesn't appear ready for a major role yet. The Jaguars would probably be best served letting Jordan Todman handle the backup/change of pace role and allow Robinson to focus on next year and beyond.
It's not often that a single punt can make a huge difference in a football game, but today's Jaguars/Titans game was an exception.
The punt in question came in the fourth quarter on a 4th-and-15, with the Jaguars holding a 20-13 lead.
Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey received a neutral zone infraction penalty to move the ball up to the Tennessee 43-yard line. Gus Bradley declined the penalty and then tried to run out the play clock in order to move the ball back to the 48-yard line with a delay of game penalty, but the Titans declined it.
After all the coaching games, Jaguars punter Bryan Anger struck a fantastic punt that landed inside the Tennessee 10-yard line and squirted around near the end zone. Jaguars linebacker LaRoy Reynolds sprinted downfield, narrowly avoided the goal line and fell on the ball at the 1-yard line.
Tennessee head coach Mike Munchak challenged the call, saying Reynolds had slid his foot over the goal line before downing the punt. Upon viewing the replay, I felt he had a valid case. However, the call was not overturned, giving the Titans the ball on their own 1-yard line and also costing them a timeout.
The Titans tried to go deep on the next play, but to no avail, and then they threw a simple swing pass to Shonn Greene on second down. The problem, though, was that guard Chance Warmack was called for holding. Furthermore, the penalty took place in the end zone, which resulted in a safety. The Jaguars picked up two points and also gained possession.
If Anger's punt had ended up in the end zone or if Reynolds' foot had been deemed to have crossed the goal line, there would have been no safety. Two points was the final margin in this game, so you tell me if that punt was a big play.
The defense played better, but it still allowed 362 total yards, including 279 yards passing. They generated four takeaways, but one of those was a horrendous throw by Jake Locker and another was due a handoff that Chris Johnson simply dropped.
Offensively, the Jaguars struggled to run the ball, picking up only 54 yards on 30 carries for a dismal average of 1.8 yards per carry. They didn't do much better through the air, finishing with only 180 yards on 23 passes. Turnovers helped them get in position to score, but the offense only gained 214 total yards, which is an extremely poor total.
The Jaguars picked up a sack and a defensive touchdown, but those both occurred on a same play—a Will Blackmon strip-and-score in the fourth quarter with the Titans in catch-up mode. Besides that play, the unit was credited with zero sacks and one quarterback hit.
Conversely, the Titans racked up three sacks and six quarterback hits, and they were also credited with seven tackles for loss. The Jaguars' offensive line struggled to create holes all game long.
Until the Jaguars get a franchise quarterback and some semblance of a pass-rusher, they will struggle to win football games—and there are still other holes on the roster as well.
This wasn't a dominating win by any stretch of the imagination. However...
...it was a win nonetheless.
The Jacksonville Jaguars' road to 0-16 has hit a speed bump, as they have officially won a game. Gus Bradley now has a victory to his credit as an NFL head coach, even after some, like CBS Sports' Pete Prisco, thought the team was headed for a winless season:
So I guess the Jaguars are now 0-9 after this loss during the bye week. 0-17 coming— Pete Prisco (@PriscoCBS) November 1, 2013
The Jaguars can feel exponentially better about themselves than they could before the bye week. A win can work wonders for a winless NFL team, and perhaps this game is the motivation the Jaguars need to be more competitive down the stretch. They face a theoretical "race" with the rest of the league's bottom-feeders for higher draft picks, but the players don't care about draft picks; they care about wins.
If they play like they played this week over the next seven weeks, the Jaguars will finish with more than one win in 2013. They played tough, worked hard, limited mistakes and forced turnovers. They were so much more fun to watch than the team that struggled through the season's first eight weeks.
Let's hope we see the group that showed up today seven more times this year.