Jags finish home sked against Titans
(SportsNetwork.com) - The teams have nine wins in 28 combined games and the playoffs are a memory whose optimism flickered out weeks ago.
But don't simply assume the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans will have the dreaded "nothing to play for" disease when they meet Sunday afternoon at EverBank Field.
The Jaguars, in their 2013 finale in Florida, will bid a home turf farewell to veteran center Brad Meester, who said Wednesday that he'd retire at the end of this, his 14th season in the league.
The 6-foot-3, 300-pounder was a second-round selection out of Northern Iowa in 2000 and is one of just five active players in the NFL to have spent at least 14 years in the same city.
Also taking a potential sentimental victory lap could be running back Maurice Jones-Drew, the eight-year veteran whose contract expires at the end of the season.
"You never know," he said. "You just want to go out there and put your best foot forward, you want to go out there and show your best."
Jones-Drew sat out of last week's 27-20 loss at Buffalo that put a slight skid on a Jaguars team that had won four of five since an 0-8 start. Unavailable as well this week is wide receiver Cecil Shorts, who was placed on injured reserve with a groin problem and will be unable to add to his team-best 66 receptions and 777 receiving yards.
Jacksonville turned the ball over four times - a season-high - against Buffalo, including two interceptions from quarterback Chad Henne, who completed 21-of-36 passes for two touchdowns and 237 yards.
"It was a game of missed opportunities," coach Gus Bradley said. "We didn't play like we're capable of playing, whether it was a fumble, interception, things like that. In the locker room, our hearts are broken right now because of this, but I felt like our spirit is not."
The Titans arrive with similarly jarred emotions.
Tennessee dropped a 37-34 decision in overtime against Arizona, its fifth loss in six games since postseason chatter began at the halfway point after a 4-4 start.
Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick established a career-high with 402 passing yards and threw for four TDs, but the second of two interceptions ultimately yielded the Cardinals' game-winning field goal in the extra session. The miscue voided a rally in which the Titans scored 17 points in the final four minutes to send the game to overtime.
"Nobody on this team wants to lose," tight end Delanie Walker said. "Just because we're not going to the playoffs, you don't throw the games away. You go out there and fight. We're going to fight for our coaches. We're going to fight for each other."
A porous run defense was gashed for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns by the Cardinals and is now averaging 119.1 ground yards allowed per game along with 20 TDs - which places it second from last in the league in the latter category.
A willing beneficiary could be Jacksonville youngster Jordan Todman, who made his first start in Jones-Drew's absence last week and rumbled for 109 yards while adding four catches for another 44 yards.
It was a loss to the Jaguars on Nov. 10 - Jacksonville's first win of the season - that both kicked off Tennessee's tailspin and triggered the Jaguars' modest renaissance.
The Titans are 0-4 in division games this season, with a finale scheduled next week against Houston. A Jacksonville win this week, remarkably, would lift it to second in the division - ahead of the Titans and trailing only first-place Indianapolis.
"You wonder why they're motivated? They're motivated for a lot of reasons to win this football game. It's a pride thing now," coach Mike Munchak said. "We got to finish with two here. It does mean a lot for that reason. You're battling for second in the division I guess or whatever that comes to at the end. We got to beat a team that has given us trouble."
Tennessee leads the all-time series, 20-17, but the Jaguars have won four of six since December 2010.
"We did everything we could to lose that football game (in November) by turning it over and still were down by two," Munchak said. "We owe them for this year, last year, the year before that."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Long regarded as a journeyman or a middling starter, Fitzpatrick joined the elite for at least one week by surpassing the 400-yard mark for the first time in his 74th career start.
He's been lights out against the Jaguars in his last three meetings with them - combining to post seven touchdowns and a 110.2 passer rating with just a single interception.
That rumbling you've heard lately in northeast Florida has been the restarting of Jones-Drew's engine after a sleepy start to 2013.
The stocky fireplug failed to reach 75 yards in a single game until week eight, but he's gone past that number in each of his past three games - including his first triple-digit outing, 103 yards, in Week 14.
It may indeed come down to motivation. The Jaguars, though long removed from playoff discussion, hung their second half on pride and have won four of six.
The Titans, meanwhile, were on the fringe of contention halfway through before collapsing. Unless Munchak revs the engines in the locker room, it's hard to imagine Tennessee as the one with more juice Sunday.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Jaguars 27, Titans 20
12/20 10:33:23 ET