By: Justin Hawkins
“We just have to do a better job of doing our job.”
-Titans QB Ryan Tannehill
The Tennessee Titans offense struggled all game long in a 26-3 New Year’s Eve defeat in Houston against division rival Houston Texans. With no hope of making the 2024 playoffs, the Titans season will come to an end Sunday, but not without an opportunity to play spoiler. The Titans (5-11) host division rival Jacksonville Jaguars (9-7) at Nissan Stadium in the season finale and hope to avoid going winless in the division.
Last Time Out
The Tennessee Titans traveled down south to Houston in a divisional matchup against the Texans on New Year’s Eve, but they, ultimately, came up well short in a 26-3 loss. It was a rookie vs rookie battle at the quarterback position as both Titans quarterback Will Levis and Texans quarterback CJ Stroud returned to the lineup from their injuries.
It was a long day at the office for the two-tone blue on offense who only mustered 187 total yards, 53 rushing and 134 passing. The only points the Titans were able to put on the board were three points by kicker Nick Folk who squeezed a 53-yard field goal home at the end of the first half.
The loss was a case of, yet again, how the Titans offensive line can hinder this team from gaining much success. The Texans were able to sack the quarterback six times and register twelve quarterback hits. The Texans first sack was the most impactful on the game as Texans defensive end Jerry Hughes sacked Titans quarterback Will Levis, causing a fumble, and defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins scooping up the ball and taking it thirteen yards for a touchdown. That increased the Texans lead to 17-0 after just 20 minutes of play. Will Levis had his right foot stepped on during the sack and it caused him to miss the rest of the game. Backup quarterback Ryan Tannehill came in for relief and suffered through five sacks of his own.
Ryan Tannehill, in relief, went 16-of-20 for 168 yards. The offense had a hard time gaining yards due to the play of the offensive line, but wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins still managed to have a decent day and stat line of 7 catches for 72 yards.
The lone bright spot on offense Sunday for the Titans was the fact that Hopkins and running back Derrick Henry both hit the 1,000 yards mark on the season. Henry (1,014 yards) rushed for 42 yards making him eclipse 1,000 yards rushing for the 5th time in his career. Additionally, Hopkins’ (1,011 yards) 72 yards allowed him to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards for the 7th time is respective career.
On the flip side, the Titans defense faced Texans rookie quarterback CJ Stroud for the first time this season (Stroud missed the first meeting due to a concussion). Stroud picked up where he left off as he threw for 213 yards and his 21st touchdown of the season on a 12 yard pass to tight end Brevin Jordan.
The Titans defense, despite giving up the Brevin Jordan touchdown, held their own throughout the game. They allowed the Texans to 312 yards of total offense, and proved why their red zone defense is one of the tops in the NFL. The Texans had four trips inside the red zone, but were able to find the end zone just once. Texans kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn was a perfect 4-for-4 kicking on the day.
One problem for the defense was the lack of pressure on the quarterback as they managed just one sack and two quarterback hits. Much of the problem for the defense, instead, seemed to be the Titans offense and special teams wasn’t helping much as they punted five times and had two turnover on downs (one of which was just five plays).
On the first drive of the game, Will Levis had wide receiver Treylon Burks deep down the field, but the ball was dropped and one Burks would certainly want back. Then, on the Texans first drive of the game, the Titans forced them to punt, but rookie linebacker Caleb Murphy was called for running into the kicker and gave them a first down. The drive would later result in a Texans touchdown.
No Trevor Lawrence no problem for the Jacksonville Jaguars as they snapped a 4-game losing skid against the woeful Carolina Panthers in a 26-0 shutout win. Jaguars starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence missed the game due to a sprained throwing shoulder, and backup CJ Beathard got the start.
Beathard completed 17 of 24 passes for 178 yards in his first start since 2020 and managed to escape with no turnovers on offense. The highlight of the day for the Jaguars on offense was running back Travis Etienne Jr. who had 102 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries that included a 62 yard touchdown run in the third quarter to give the Jags a 16-0 lead.
It was career day for the Jaguars Sunday as three players managed to reach career marks in the game. Etienne became the franchise’s first player since Maurice Jones-Drew in 2009 to record at least 10 rushing touchdowns in a season.
Jags tight end Evan Engram became the eighth tight end in NFL history to record at least 100 receptions in a regular season with his six catches for 60 yard performance, giving him 104 receptions on the year.
Lastly, Jags edge rusher Josh Allen recorded three sacks in the win which set the franchise record for single-season sacks with 16.5. Calais Campbell previously set the mark at 14.5 sacks in 2017.
The Jaguars on defense were soaring as they sacked Panthers quarterback Bryce Young six times, registered eight quarterback hits, and intercepted Young with three minutes left in the game.
This lopsided game could be best told with three stat lines. 1) The Jaguars out gained the Panthers 317 yards to just 124. 2) First downs in the game were in favor of the Jaguars 16 to the Panthers 7. 3) The Jaguars out gained the Panthers in the run game 155 yards to just 57.
It’s the regular season finale at Nissan Stadium and there is a lot on the line… for the Jacksonville Jaguars who have a win and you’re in as the AFC South champions scenario. For the Tennessee Titans, they have the opportunity to play spoiler for the second week in a row. If the Titans can come away with the victory, the AFC South crown would fall to the winner of the Houston-Indianapolis game on Saturday night.
The Titans have lost three in a row, but don’t think the two-tone blue are just going to end the season without a fight. Winning means as much to this team and head coach Mike Vrabel as any other team in the NFL.
“It (expletive) sucks, losing. Awful. That’s why I want to win. Because you don’t sleep. You want to win for the players that bust their tail.”
– Mike Vrabel
The Titans and Jaguars last met in Jacksonville in week 11 this season, but resulted in a strong Jaguars 34-14 win. The Jags jumped out of the gate scoring 27 straight points, but Will Levis and the Titans were able to get 14 points on the board with touchdown passes to DeAndre Hopkins and Jefferey Simmons. Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw for 262 yards and two touchdowns, both to wide receiver Calvin Ridley, and also added two rushing touchdowns. Titans running back Derrick Henry was limited to just 38 rushing yards on 10 carries.
Since that week 11 matchup, things have certainly changed. The Titans have won just two games, fell out of the playoff race, and have put several players on season ending injured reserve including Jeffery Simmons, Kristian Fulton, and more. The Jaguars, meanwhile, went on a four-game losing skid pushing their playoff hopes to the brink. The Jaguars in their losing streak turned the football over an astonishing 10 times and quarterback Trevor Lawrence battled injuries (concussion and now a shoulder sprain).
The biggest challenge in this finale is how will the Titans offensive line hold up against Josh Allen and the Jaguars pass rush. The Jaguars have 18 sacks in their last six games which give them an average of three sacks a game. Last week against the Panthers they recorded six sacks on Bryce Young.
For the Titans, it doesn’t look pretty. The Titans have surrendered 27 sacks in the last six games giving them an average of 4.5 sacks per game in that span. But the last three games they given up an average of 6.3 sacks per game. Whether the quarterback for the Titans is Will Levis or Ryan Tannehill, the message is the same. Get rid of the ball early to avoid the multiple take downs. The Titans did hold the Jags to just 2 sacks in the week 11 meeting, however.
With their win last week against the Panthers, the Jaguars may have had the get-right game they needed to try and push them into the playoffs this week. But, quarterback Trevor Lawrence is questionable to play and it is still unknown if Jags wide receivers Christian Kirk and Zay Jones will suit up. The Titans were burned in the last meeting by receiver Calvin Ridley, so he is still a guy to watch out for.
The Titans have no playoff hopes entering Sunday’s finale at Nissan Stadium, but finding a way to win and spoil the Jaguars chance of winning the AFC South for the second straight year could provide a nice transition into the offseason.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans
Time: January 7 @ 12:00 PM CT
Location: Nissan Stadium (Nashville, TN)
TV Broadcast: CBS (News Channel 5 locally)
TV Broadcast Crew: Kevin Harlan, Trent Green, Melanie Collins
Radio: Titans Radio (104-5 The Zone)
Radio Broadcast Crew: Mike Keith, Dave McGinnis, Ramon Foster, Rhett Bryan
Line: JAX -5.5
Things To Watch
The King’s Last Hoorah?
Could this be it for Derrick Henry in a Tennessee Titans uniform? The veteran running back has his contract expiring at the conclusion of the season, and with his age, 30, and lack of success compared to recent years, Henry’s time in Nashville could be over. Thus far this season, Henry has rushed for 1, 014 yards marking the 5th time reach the 1K milestone. He has not had the best offensive line to run behind this year or last, but he has seemed to have made the best of it. With rookie running back Tyjae Spears showing flashes this season in the passing and run game, he could be the feature moving forward. Let’s all appreciate what could possibly be the last game at Nissan Stadium for the king.
9,349 rushing yards with 89 rushing touchdowns (T-15th all-time) on 2,011 carries averaging 4.6 yards per carry including a 99-yard touchdown run against the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018.
1,458 receiving yards with three touchdowns on 155 receptions.
7 of 9 completions for 37 yards and four touchdowns with 77.8 completion percentage.
The King has done it all.
The Titans have the fun chance of spoiling the playoff hopes of the Jacksonville Jaguars. In week 18 of last season, it was a win-and-in scenario for both Tennessee and Jacksonville in their matchup. The Jags came away with the win and AFC South crown. The Titans cannot make it to the playoffs this year, but can prohibit Jacksonville from doing so.
If the Jaguars win, they win the AFC South. If the Titans win, the Jaguars miss the playoffs and the playoff berth/AFC South title goes to the winner of Houston-Indianapolis Saturday night.
Titans Offensive Line
The struggles are real for the Titans offensive line who are amongst the worst in the NFL at protecting the quarterback. The Titans are tied for the fourth worst team in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers in quarterback sacks allowed at 62. Clearly, the Titans offensive line has struggled this season and it has been the starting point of why this offense is limited.
The Titans face Josh Allen and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Allen is third in the NFL with 16.5 sacks. It will be a challenge to stop him and the rest of the Jaguars, but it’s not impossible. The Jaguars rank just 25th in the league in sacks with 38.
Who is QB1 for Titans and Jaguars?
Both starting quarterbacks for these teams are injured and questionable to play. One team has much to play for, and the other does not.
For the Titans, it has already been determined by head coach Mike Vrabel that Ryan Tannehill will start if Will Levis cannot go. Should Levis play? If he is your franchise guy, then that answer should always be yes if he is able.
For the Jaguars, Trevor Lawrence practiced Wednesday after not playing this past Sunday with a sprained throwing shoulder. With a lot on the line and his availability in practice, I would suspect Lawrence to gut it out and try to will his team to the playoffs. If he is unable to go, backup quarterback CJ Beathard will make his second consecutive start.