Jags playing for momentum, Titans need win for playoff spot
By TERESA M. WALKER
Dec. 28, 2017
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars insist they're ready to play , 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 reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Losses by both Buffalo and the Chargers also clinch a berth for the Titans.
"I'm excited," Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "We're like a cat with nine lives, man, and we still alive. So we got to take advantage of this opportunity."
Momentum for the postseason and an actual playoff berth as either the AFC's No. 5 or 6 seed is on the line Sunday when these old AFC Central 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 wild-card game in a week. Excitement is so high in Jacksonville tarps are even being removed, making more tickets available.
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 Week 2 . 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 the first time in his career for a regular-season finale. Mariota said he's worried only about production, not perception.
"I'd rather get in with these guys and just see how far we can go," Mariota said.
Here are some things to know about the Jaguars and Titans:
HOT SEAT: This is the longest skid for Tennessee since finishing 2015 with a 3-13 record, and it has some fans wanting coach Mike Mularkey fired after just two seasons. Ending the franchise's playoff drought would be a big step toward job security for Mularkey, who is 19-21 since taking over in November 2015.
ELITE COMPANY: Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles needs 230 yards passing against Tennessee to join Peyton Manning, Dan Marino and Ryan Tannehill as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with 15,000 in their first four seasons. Bortles currently has the sixth-most yards passing (14,770) in his first four years, trailing Manning (16,418), Marino (16,177), Tannehill (15,460), Carson Palmer (14,899) and Andrew Luck (14,838).
REPLACEMENT BACK: Derrick Henry has his first chance at starting for Tennessee since the Titans drafted the 2015 Heisman Trophy winner in place of DeMarco Murray. The veteran running back has an injured right knee, making him a game-time decision , though any role Murray has will be limited. 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 in Week 2.
WIDEOUT WOES: The Jaguars hope to have receiver Allen Hurns back for the first time since Nov. 12. Hurns missed six consecutive games following a high-ankle sprain and has been part of the team's revolving door at the position. Allen Robinson (knee), Rashad Greene (back), Arrelious Benn (knee) Shane Wynn (leg) are on injured reserve, and Marqise Lee (ankle) is expected to miss his second straight game.
SACKSONVILLE: The Jaguars lead the NFL with 52 sacks and are five shy of the franchise-record 57 set in 1999. The Jaguars only sacked Mariota once in Week 2. Mularkey says that probably was the best the Titans protected Mariota all season with the Jaguars coming off a 10-sack performance. "We went in there determined to protect him and our guys did a nice job," Mularkey said.
AP Sports Writer Mark Long contributed to this report from Jacksonville, Florida.
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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker