The Jaguars hardly looked like a potential first-place team for much of Thursday night's game. They did, though, find a little spark late—just enough to rally past the Titans for a 19-13 win.
Here's how it all went down:
• Allen Robinson: The Jaguars' play calling during their first two red zone trips fell somewhere between egregious and blatantly trying not to score touchdowns. Perhaps most frustrating of all in their desires to ground and pound near the goal line was that Robinson went to waste outside.
When Blake Bortles did look Robinson's way, the emerging second year star receiver again got the job done. Robinson hauled down five receptions for 113 yards, highlighted by a leaping grab between Tennessee defenders Perrish Cox and Michael Griffin. Robinson now is just 127 yards from 1,000 on the season.
The rapport between the second-year receiver and his second-year quarterback Bortles is apparent, too. On yet another impressive grab, Bortles threw the ball where only Robinson could catch it: very low and right at the sideline. Robinson went down and cradled the football just before hitting the sideline.
The Jaguars are building quite a nice collection of skill players, even if their offense never hit full speed Thursday (that seems to happen a lot during these mid-week games, go figure). Robinson is the best of the bunch right now, and he has emerged as a legitimate No. 1 target in this passing attack.
• Marcus Mariota's first career touchdown run: The Titans have not asked their rookie QB to run all that much this season, nor has he taken off all that often when facing pressure. He entered Thursday with 16 rushing attempts in seven games. But Mariota still can hurt teams with his legs, just as he did so often at Oregon.
Mariota carried it four times vs. Jacksonville, three coming off zone-read looks. The best of the bunch resulted in a 23-yard touchdown, Mariota's first NFL rushing TD.
Really can't do it much better than this:
Jacksonville's Jared Odrick picked up a key third-down sack later in the game, but that's him biting on the inside run fake. While we don't have the benefit of knowing the defensive play call, there was no one else outside so it's probably safe to assume Odrick needed to hold the edge there.
Most of the credit, though, goes to Mariota, who turned in another solid outing despite facing consistent pressure all night. He made up for a handful of missed throws with this scoring run, on a play that should look very familiar to anyone who saw Mariota in college.
That said, quick props to Orakpo for an all-around effort. He notched a sack of Bortles by whipping his way past Luke Joeckel, plus had an earlier pass break-up on an attempt to TE Julius Thomas, who could not shake the athletic Orakpo up the sideline. Tennessee's outside linebacker was a constant nuisance to Jacksonville's scheme.
• Pass protection: Rather fittingly, the game ended on a sack. Andre Branch fought back toward Mariota to drop the Titans' QB as he set to throw. Hard to pin that one on the offense line, given that Mariota slipped at the apex of his drop, then held onto the ball for an extra beat after escaping the initial rush.
There was plenty of blame to go around among both offensive lines before the final play.
During a brief halftime interview with the NFL Network's Tracy Wolfson, Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley blamed his team's offensive woes on the inability to prevent pressure. That trend continued on into the second half, for both sides. Mariota and Bortles were sacked four times each and pressured on countless occasions.
• The game-changing punt: OK, so the Titans did not want to risk going for it on 4th-and-inches from their own 24, up by four points late in the game. Understandable.
Unfortunately for them, Brett Kern's punt was a low line drive that left his coverage team floundering. Jacksonville's Rashad Greene caught the kick on the run at his own 32 and raced past most of Tennessee's special-teams unit, before finally being pushed out at the 5-yard line. Bortles threw a go-ahead touchdown pass to Thomas on the next snap.
It's always frustrating to lose, doubly so when the special teams play a critical role in the waning moments.
• Kicking a FG on 4th-and-inches: Jacksonville survived this decision thanks to a defensive stop, but opting for three points—and a tenuous six-point lead—rather than going for in short yardage put the Jaguars in position to lose. For a team that entered Thursday at 3-6 and was playing at home, it was an uninspiring lack of moxie.
RB T.J. Yeldon had just been stuffed on a 3rd-and-1 run, and the Jaguars had struggled in similar situations all night (and to some extent, all season), so that likely played into Bradley's mind.
A loss after that call still would have been second-guessed for days.
• Tennessee's two-minute drill: There's a clock, guys. When it runs out, the game is over.
Dorial Green-Beckham picked up a first down at the Tennessee 49 with 1:28 left, clock running. The Titans, trailing by six, needed to get into the end zone. It took them a full minute to get 11 more yards, a snail's pace which set the table for their ill-fated final shot from the Jacksonville 23 at the buzzer.
Give a little credit to the Jaguars: they managed to keep Tennessee to the middle of the field, thus keeping the time moving as the Titans were out of timeouts. There was little urgency from the visitors though, an issue exacerbated when Mariota threw a desperation 3-yard pass to Antonio Andrews, eating up about 20 seconds in the process.
• Denard Robinson, goal-line back: Jacksonville finally threw the ball in the red zone when it mattered, with the result being Thomas's game-winning TD grab. This might have been a lot easier for the Jaguars had they a) tried out T.J. Yeldon near the goal line, or b) given a look to Allen Robinson or Allen Hurns.
On their first trip inside the Titans' 10, the Jaguars handed off to Denard Robinson twice, then Bortles took a sack. Field goal. Later, they ran between the tackles with Denard Robinson on three consecutive snaps, then kicked again.
Yeldon at least has to warrant a look in those situations. Bortles and the passing game, too. The odd approach nearly came back to bite Jacksonville.
• “Color Rush”: If we're being honest here, the latest alternate-uniform matchup didn't bother me all that much. The Titans' blues were not too far removed from their usual gear, although the all-blue was a little overkill. The Jaguars did look as if they'd been dipped in gold, but the look seemed better by the end than it did at the beginning.
Ditch the gold pants for black and fix the jerseys so they don't show off every drop of sweat, and maybe there would be something there.
The general reaction on Twitter would indicate that many, many, many people disagree. The Jaguars' colors Thursday were compared to, among other things, mustard and a baby's bowel movements. Doubt either is what Nike was shooting for with the updates.