Jaguars, Titans looking for AFC South win in lone night game
FILE – At left, in a Sept. 18, 2016, file photo, Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota warms up before the first half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, in Detroit. At right, in an Oct. 23, 2016, file photo, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) passes the ball as he warms-up before an NFL football game against Indianapolis Colts in London. The Jaguars and Titans play Thursday night in Nashville. (AP Photo/File)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans have been so bad in recent years that each sees the other as an opportunity for a rare win.
In the woeful AFC South, Thursday night not only offers the lone prime-time opportunity this season for both teams, but the chance for a huge step up in the division.
‘This is important …’ Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. ‘We’ve got to win a division game and stay in the pack, and hopefully come out of it at some point.’
The Jaguars (2-4) may have just gotten a visit from worried owner Shad Khan , but they at least have an AFC South win. The Titans (3-4) still are looking for such a victory, yet are only a game in back of Houston for the division lead.
A popular pick to win this division before the season started, the Jaguars were routed 33-16 by Oakland on Sunday to end a two-game winning streak. They are trying to remain undefeated inside the division, though is just Jacksonville’s second AFC South game.
‘That is the biggest goal right now,’ Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said. ‘You treat every week like a one-game season, and it is the most important game we ever played.’
Jacksonville is the only team the Titans beat in Nashville each of the past two seasons, and they want to wrap up a three-game home stand by adding the Jaguars to a list of home wins that includes only winless Cleveland after losing 34-26 to Indianapolis on Sunday.
Here are some things to watch Thursday night:
MARIOTA’S TOUCHDOWNS: Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota finds himself in good company as he prepares to celebrate his 23rd birthday Sunday. He currently ranks fifth all-time for most TD passes before a quarterback’s 23rd birthday behind Drew Bledsoe of New England and Minnesota’s Fran Tarkenton (40), followed by Josh Freeman (35) with Tampa Bay and Jameis Winston (34), who turns 23 in January. Mariota has 31 TD passes in 19 career games — eight over the past three games, tying New England’s Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford of Detroit for most in the NFL in that stretch.
MARIOTA’S TURNOVERS: But the Titans quarterback is 2-8 at home with 19 turnovers in his career. Seven of those have come this season, with at least one in each home game. His latest turnover cost the Titans a chance at a comeback against Indianapolis, and he had an interception wiped out by a penalty away from the play.
STILL SEARCHING: Bortles raised eyebrows Tuesday by saying the Jaguars are ‘still trying to find an identity.’ It’s Bortles third year in the league and second in the same system. Bortles said the offense is still searching to find out what it does well. This much is certain: The Jaguars have to cut down on penalties and turnovers ‘to have any chance of being successful,’ Bortles said.
The Jaguars will be facing a Titans secondary missing two starters with cornerback Perrish Cox (concussion) and safety Rashad Johnson (neck) both declared out.
STOPPING THE RUN: Titans running back DeMarco Murray leads the AFC and ranks third in the NFL with 633 yards rushing, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Murray also has run for at least 100 yards in three of his past five games.
The Jaguars will try to slow down Murray without their best run stopper. Defensive tackle Roy Miller was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a torn right Achilles tendon, leaving Abry Jones and Sen’Derrick Marks to handle the position the rest of the season. Jones has two career starts, and Marks is trying to get back to his 2014 form after missing time with a torn knee ligament and an elbow injury.
LOSING CONTROL?: Although it sure seemed like the Jags were spiraling out of control against Oakland, players and coach Gus Bradley insist it did little to affect them moving forward. Receiver Marqise Lee was penalized for using a racial slur. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson was ejected after picking up two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for using abusive language toward an official. And cornerback Jalen Ramsey was ejected for fighting.
Throw in the team’s inability to run the ball and Bortles’ penchant for poor passes, and the Jaguars looked like a team on the verge of a complete meltdown.
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Jacksonville, Florida, contributed to this report.
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