by Terry McCormick
The Tennessee Titans came to Jacksonville with a playoff berth within their grasp.
They not only were embarrassed in a 38-17 loss, but also lost quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is done for the season after having to be carted off with a broken right fibula injury.
To make matters worse, the Titans also were eliminated from playoff contention when the Cincinnati Bengals missed a field goal in the final seconds, and the Houston Texans escaped with a win and the AFC South crown.
What came in as hope for their first playoff bid in eight years if they could finish the season with two wins, turned into a nightmare worst-case scenario for the Titans.
“Marcus has a fractured fibula, and obviously he is out. We’ll know more when we get back and he sees the doctor,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “You don’t want to lose Marcus. He means a lot to this football team.”
Sunday’s ugly loss marked the first time this season that the Titans have been blown out this season as the Jaguars, losers of nine in a row and having fired Coach Gus Bradley, returned the favor from when the Titans blew them out in October.
The Titans were struggling even before Mariota was injured, but the loss of their starting quarterback certainly hampered them not only in the game, but also in their chances for the postseason.
Mariota was sacked by Sheldon Day, who caught him from behind and landed on his leg. Mariota stayed down on the turf and had to have an air cast put on his leg.
Mariota and the Titans were struggling against the lowly Jaguars, trailing 25-10, at the time of the injury.
Matt Cassel, who had thrown just one pass all season before Sunday, misfired on his first two passes of the game forcing a punt.
The Titans had struggled on offense the entire game, putting together just one touchdown drive in the first three quarters– that coming in the second quarter on Mariota’ three-yard TD pass to Rishard Matthews. It was his 26th and probably last touchdown pass of the year.
The Titans did manage to regroup momentarily as Cassel led a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, hitting tight end Delanie Walker for a 14-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 25-17.
But that would be as close as the Titans would get, as the Jaguars answered with a trick play touchdown pass from receiver Marqise Lee to quarterback Blake Bortles and then got a pick six by rookie Jalen Ramsey, a Nashville area native, off a Cassel pass on the sideline.
“I wish I had one of those throws back, but the guy made a great play on the ball,” said Cassel, who was 13 of 24 for 124 with one touchdown and one interception.
The Titans struggled from the outset as the much-maligned Bortles threw for 325 yards, engineered a touchdown drive on game’s opening possessions and did not have any turnovers. He came into the game with 16 interceptions. The Titans also had no answers for Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson, who had nine catches for 147 yards. Jacksonville built a 19-7 lead at the half and led throughout.
“There was never a question of how the Jaguars were going to play, but didn’t play with the energy we needed to play with,” Mularkey said.