JACKSONVILLE – Here’s this week’s Setting the Table: Storylines and stuff to watch as the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-10) prepare to play the Tennessee Titans (5-9) at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday…
The Jaguars’ postseason hopes are officially over. So is the winning streak.
The season, though, very much isn’t.
If Jaguars veterans had a theme early this week as they began preparing to play the Tennessee Titans in the regular-season home finale at EverBank Field Sunday, that was it:
That following an 0-8 start, the playoff chances were remote, anyway. So the focus remains on continuing to build the foundation under first-year Head Coach Gus Bradley. In that sense, the season absolutely isn’t over.
The Jaguars, who lost their first eight games of the season by double digits or more, have won four of six games since a Week Nine bye week. They lost another, 27-14, to Arizona, and they lost at home to the Buffalo Bills Sunday, 27-20.
That means they have won or been in every game since the bye, and for a team that emphasized getting better throughout Bradley’s first season, that’s improvement on a significant scale. Players said this week the idea is to continue that improvement, and to continue building momentum for next season.
The Jaguars also still have a chance to not only finish with the AFC South’s best record in division play, but to finish second in the division. If they win both games, they will finish in no worse than a tie with Tennessee for second place and would hold the tiebreaker advantage because of a head-to-head sweep.
They are 3-1 in the division this season, with games remaining against Tennessee and at Indianapolis. Victories in each of their final two games also would give them a 5-1 division record, and assure them of at least matching the Colts’ division record. The Colts, who have clinched the AFC South because they are assured of a better overall record than Tennessee and Jacksonville, are 5-0 in the South.
Veteran Chad Henne remains the Jaguars’ starting quarterback and is 4-3 since taking over as a starter for a healthy Blaine Gabbert one game before the bye. He has completed 251 of 418 passes this season for 2,673 yards and 10 touchdowns with 12 interceptions, but has thrown eight touchdowns with seven interceptions since being named the starter.
The Titans (5-9), after a solid start during which a playoff appearance appeared possible, have struggled through the second half of the season, a period that included a 29-27 loss to the Jaguars in Tennessee in Week 10. The Titans have lost five consecutive games at LP Field in Nashville and have lost eight of 10 games, with speculation emerging during that time about the job status of Head Coach Mike Munchak. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown 11 touchdowns and six interceptions since taking over as the starter when Jake Locker sustained a foot injury in the loss to the Jaguars. The Titans are 1-5 in those games.
The game at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 1 p.m. will be broadcast regionally on CBS and locally on WTEV-TV CBS-47. Andrew Catalon will be on play-by-play with Adam Archuleta on analysis.
Early matchup to watch
Jaguars cornerbacks Dwayne Gratz and Alan Ball versus Titans wide receiver Kendall Wright and Nate Washington. The Jaguars’ run defense hasn’t been as strong in recent weeks as it was out of the bye, but it remains enough of a strength that the Titans’ best option may be Ryan Fitzpatrick to Wright. The Titans have struggled offensively much of the season, and running back Chris Johnson needs 140 yards rushing in the final two games to surpass 1,000 yards for the season. But the Titans have been able to pass effectively at times, including in a 37-34 overtime loss to Arizona this past week. Wright, a second-year veteran, had a monster game, catching 12 passes for 150 yards to move past 1,000 yards for the season. The Jaguars have struggled at times with opponents’ top receivers in the second half of the season.
Player to watch
Marcedes Lewis. With wide receiver Cecil Shorts III (groin) out for the season and wide receiver Justin Blackmon already out with an indefinite suspension, much focus in the passing game will be on Jaguars wide receivers Ace Sanders, Mike Brown, Jeremy Ebert and Kerry Taylor. But the Jaguars also likely will depend on Lewis, a veteran tight end who has played well since recovering from a calf injury that kept him out five games during the first half of the season. The Jaguars got Lewis involved early last week with a 25-yard reception and his catch-and-run ability has provided some of the Jaguars’ most dynamic plays of the season in the passing game. Lewis has a touchdown reception in each of the last three games and he has been particularly important to the Jaguars’ running offense. The Jaguars have had 100-yard rushers in each of the last two games and they have surpassed 100 yards as a team in each of the last two games. Bradley said on Monday that Lewis’ blocking on the edge at the point of attack has keyed that development.
What to watch
*Maurice Jones-Drew’s status again will be uncertain entering the week. The three-time Pro Bowl running back missed Sunday’s loss to Buffalo with a hamstring injury and Bradley said his status will be updated Wednesday. Jordan Todman made his first career start in place of Jones-Drew against the Bills, rushing for 109 yards on 25 carries.
*Defensive tackle Roy Miller (shoulder) is expected to miss practice much of the week, as has been the norm late in the season. Bradley said while Miller is playing with pain he has been playing at a high level and will continue to play as long as that is the case.
*Linebacker Geno Hayes (knee) also is expected to miss practice time this week but play Sunday. He left Sunday’s game twice with a knee issue but returned each time. J.T. Thomas has played in Hayes’ place when unavailable.
*Outside linebacker Russell Allen will be in the concussion program this week. John Lotulelei has gotten repetitions for Allen in recent weeks and would start if Allen is unavailable.
*After Mike Brewster went out Sunday with a fractured ankle, Jacques McClendon played in Brewster’s left guard spot.