NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The Titans needed to get well Sunday, and they did thanks to a visit from the two-win Jaguars. Bodies returned to the lineup, the defense clamped down and the two tone blue stopped their two-game skid with a 20-0 shutout victory.
It was the first clean sheet for the Titans defense in three seasons, and the first shutout at home since 2000. The D harassed rookie Trevor Lawrence all afternoon, sacking him three times and forcing four interceptions.
It was a defense that was again without Bud Dupree, Teair Tart and Jackrabbit Jenkins, but the pieces that were there set the tone with a fierce pass rush. Denico Autry had Lawrence in the grasp for a sack on the very first play of the game, and the Jaguars first possession ultimately ended in a punt after Harold Landry’s 11th sack of the season on a third and long blitz. And with the number one overall pick feeling the heat, the Titans were able to come up with their first turnovers in three games.
Rashaan Evans played for the first time in seven weeks, leading the team in tackles and grabbing an interception off a deflection in the third quarter. Jayon Brown, who started next to Evans at inside linebacker for the first time since the season opener against Arizona, also grabbed an interception as he coyly dropped out of a blitz look and into Lawrence’s passing lane over the middle.
Kristian Fulton and Buster Skrine added fourth-quarter picks as the Titans finished plus-four in turnover margin after going an abysmal minus-nine during their two-game slide.
Julio Jones returned after his three-game stint on Injured Reserve to catch four passes for 33 yards, and the Titans got a boost in the return of Jeremy McNichols in the backfield, but the offense continued to lack explosion without Derrick Henry or A.J. Brown.
Without that juice, the Titans played steady and conservative, averaging less than four yards per play. But, unlike in the losses against the Texans and Patriots, they did just enough to get the job done.
D’Onta Foreman ran for a five-yard touchdown as the Titans marched 74 yards in 10 plays on the game’s opening possession. Ryan Tannehill was an efficient 20-31 and also ran for a five-yard touchdown that made it 17-0 in the third quarter. In all, the Titans outrushed the Jaguars 102-8 two months after the Jags to run 34 times for a season-high 184 yards in Jacksonville. It was the second-lowest rushing total allowed in the NFL all season.
This was a methodical, and dare I say, even boring approach from the Titans offensively. Maybe the explosive plays will return as Jones works his way back up to speed, when Brown returns ahead of Christmas and with the hopeful return of Henry in time for the playoffs. There was good news on that front ahead of Sunday's kickoff when NFL Network's Ian Rappaport reported that the 2,000-yard back, who still ranks in the top five in just about every statistical category for running backs despite not playing since Halloween, is ahead of schedule on his rehab from surgery to repair a broken bone in his foot. Rappaport says Henry could return even sooner than the playoffs, which would be a huge boost to an offense that hasn't had anywhere near the same pop in his absence.
But this day was about the dominant defense and an offense that just didn’t shoot itself in the foot against a disgruntled Jaguars team that looked most of the afternoon like they would be just fine if owner Shad Khan would end the disastrous Urban Meyer coaching experiment.
Meanwhile, the Titans improved to 9-4, clinching a sixth consecutive winning season since Jon Robinson was hired as the franchise’s general manager in January of 2016. The West Tennessee native inherited the worst team in the NFL, which had struggled to a 5-27 mark the previous two seasons. But he quickly built a winner with a physical, no-nonsense brand of football that was only boosted when Mike Vrabel was hired as head coach in 2018.
Together they have made Tennessee one of the most consistent winners in football, now just two wins away (or less with a little help from the Colts) from a second consecutive AFC South title. They will be in the playoffs for the fourth time in six years and, if they can continue to trend in the right direction health-wise, will be a legitimate contender to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl in Los Angeles.
Count the Titans out at your own peril, even if they continue to be forced to play with a short deck. They've already surpassed a team record for starters used and beaten the NFL mark for players used in a season, yet continue to find a way to not just stay competitive, but win.
As we saw against the Jaguars the recipe isn't always pretty, but it can still be effective. The Titans aren't getting any style points the way they're playing, but they keep winning, unlike the now 8-5 Ravens, 7-6 Bills or 7-6 Bengals.
It's what has become the expectation in Tennessee. No excuses. Just win.
And through all the adversity that's exactly what the Titans continue to do.