Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota leaves the field on a cart after he was injured during the second half of an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Saturday, Dec. 24, 2016, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Phelan M. Ebenhack
December 24, 2016

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) The Tennessee Titans delivered their worst performance of the year at the most inopportune time.

The Jacksonville Jaguars played their best game much later than anyone expected.

The result was a 38-17 drubbing that left the Titans (8-7) and Jaguars (3-12) considering what might have been.

Blake Bortles played without pressure, able to exhale after popular coach Gus Bradley was fired, and threw for 325 yards and a touchdown. He also was on the receiving end of a 20-yard trick play that essentially sealed the victory and ended Jacksonville's nine-game losing streak.

''Man, I've been telling Blake all week, `This is your team. Act like it,''' left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. ''The more you keep saying that, the more people believe it and the more he believed it. He played lights out today. When he plays like that and we block like we blocked, the sky's the limit for us. It's a shame it's taken this long to close a game out like we did. But it's a great experience.''

The game was an awful experience for the Titans. Quarterback Marcus Mariota broke his right leg in the third quarter, ending his season, and they squandered one of the team's most important games since 2008.

''That breaks my heart, man,'' Tennessee offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said. ''Love him. That guy's an awesome dude. For that to happen to him, it's unfair.''

The Titans had won three in a row and seven of 10 entering the game. All they needed to do was beat reeling Jacksonville to set up an AFC South title game next week against Houston. Instead, they lost, and the Texans beat Cincinnati to clinch the division for the second straight year and eliminate Tennessee.

Coach Mike Mularkey knew facing Jacksonville six days after Bradley was dismissed would be unpredictable, unsure whether the Jaguars would perk up or pack it in.

The Jags played inspired football from the opening kick, rallying around interim coach Doug Marrone, dedicating the game to Bradley and avenging that embarrassing loss at Tennessee in late October.

''It was a number of things. It was all those things,'' Beachum said. ''We're a team that hasn't been given any respect. We had a chance to go out and earn respect today, and you earn respect by winning games, closing games out and beating teams. In the National Football League, it's a pride thing. They blew us out on national television on Thursday night. We came back and showed how prideful we are and how much we respect each other and honor each other.''

Some other things to know about the Titans and Jaguars:

CASSEL'S CHANCE: Matt Cassel will serve as Tennessee's starting quarterback for the season finale. The journeyman completed 13 of 24 passes for 124 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. His 14-yard score to Delanie Walker made it 25-17, but Jacksonville answered with a touchdown on the ensuing drive and then sealed it with Jalen Ramsey's first career pick 6 seconds later.

''I'm excited to be out on the field and play with these guys,'' Cassel said. ''I'm not excited on the circumstances. At the same time, it's part of my job to be ready.''

TRICK PLAY: The first pass of Marqise Lee's football career - from Pop Warner all the way up to the NFL - went for a touchdown. Lee got the ball on an end-around in the fourth quarter, pulled up and then found Bortles wide open down the left sideline to put the Jaguars up 31-17.

''That was my first game-time throw, game-time play,'' Lee said. ''I'm not a quarterback.''

According to the NFL, Bortles and Lee became the first quarterback-receiver combination to throw TD passes to each other in the same game since Week 4 of the 1985 season. Chicago Bears greats Jim McMahon and Walter Payton were the last to accomplish the feat.

''He was fired up,'' Bortles said. ''His eyes got really big in the huddle when I called it, so it was cool for him. I think it's the first pass he's ever thrown. It's the first (meaningful) pass I've ever caught, so it was cool. It was cool to have that at the end of the game.''

A-ROB RISES: Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson had his best game of the season. He caught nine passes for 147 yards, his most since Week 16 of last season.

HOME FINALE: The Jaguars had lost seven in a row at EverBank Field, a losing streak that dated Dec. 13, 2015, against Indianapolis. They needed a victory to ensure they wouldn't have their first winless season at home.

---

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

You May Like