Wiedmer: Titans make winners of the Jags

Wiedmer: Titans make winners of the Jags

November 11th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (4) passes against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the third quarter of an NFL football game on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, in Nashville.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE - Tennessee reserve quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said what 69,143 Titans fans were surely thinking as they angrily exited LP Field Sunday afternoon:

"It felt like we didn't come to play," the Harvard grad observed of his team's 29-27 loss to previously winless Jacksonville. "There's nobody to blame but us."

There's definitely plenty of blame to go around. Running back Chris Johnson fumbled for the first time all season on the first play from scrimmage, a mistake that quickly produced a 7-0 Jaguars lead.

Titans coach Mike Munchak hesitated in throwing a challenge flag concerning a questionable Jacksonville reception. Maybe it was a legitimate catch and maybe it wasn't, but by the time he tossed the red hanky, the next play had begun. The Jags kicked a field goal for a 10-0 advantage. Fair or not, those three points have ultimately been the difference in victory and defeat.

Then, before that arguable brain cramp could sink in, a Jake Locker interception led to another Jax field goal and a 13-0 lead before the QB went to the sideline for the day with an injured ankle.

To make all this worse for the home team, The NFC South-leading Indianapolis Colts arrive Thursday evening for a critical division game, though at least they also were embarrassed on their home field on Sunday, falling 38-8 to the same St. Louis Rams the Titans bested a week ago.

"We play in four days, so we don't have much time to feel sorry for ourselves," Munchak said of his 4-5 team, which remains two games behind the 6-3 Colts. "We're going to have to come a long way in a short period of time."

Of course, one man's fertilizer can be another's perfume.

As painful and embarrassing as this loss was for the Titans, it was equally pleasurable and uplifting for the previously winless Jaguars. Not since a Nov. 25, 2012, victory over the Titans in Jacksonville had the Jags won a regular-season NFL game, a span of 13 contests.

"Oh, man, it's awesome," said Jacques McClendon, the former Baylor School and University of Tennessee product who's running second team at two offensive line spots for the Jags. "Coach [Gus] Bradley's a very competitive individual. After all we've been through, this means a lot."

McClendon has been through a lot to get to this point since being selected in the fourth round of the 2010 draft by Indianapolis. Originally signed by Jaguars in September after being released by Atlanta, McClendon has been on the roster full-time since early October.

"My mom, Stephanie, came up from Cleveland (Tenn.)," he said. "My brother-in-law came, too. I think I got about eight tickets in all for people."

So how has a team that lost all eight of its games this season coming into LP Field, walk away with a AFC South Division victory against a seemingly superior foe?

"It's obviously been disappointing," McClendon said. "But we've stayed together as a team, we've stayed tight. All we can do is work to get better."

And despite his alma mater's crushing loss to Auburn on Saturday, McClendon believes Butch Jones was the right choice to rebuild the program.

"We got the right guy," he said. "I haven't had the pleasure of meeting him, but I like the way he's handling a tough year. He's not making excuses. He's just working hard every day to improve."

McClendon says he still keeps up with former UT teammates Wes Brown, Montario Hardesty and Dan Williams, among others.

"When you play there, you become a part of the Big Orange fraternity and brotherhood forever," he said. "If the Vols are playing, I'm watching. That's my school."

Or at least one of his schools from the Volunteer state. Saying he was, "blessed to go to Baylor," he also spoke of his closeness to many former Red Raider classmates and teammates, including Chris Bach, whom he called, "my best friend."

But if McClendon could finally break into his infectious and easy grin after this one, the mood was vastly different and darker inside the Titans' locker room, Tennessee having now lost four of its last five games to fall to 4-5 after a 3-1 start.

"We know we are better than what we've been playing," said Johnson. "We know we are supposed to beat [the Jaguars]. It's frustrating."

Tight end Delani Walker zipped past frustrated sometime in the third quarter. He was basically in a rage by game's end.

"We lose to Jacksonville at home," he said. "A team that was 0-and-8. I mean, come on. We didn't play football."

A veteran knowing how fast four days can pass, Fitzpatrick tried to take a reasoned approach to a loss suffered for no good reason.

"This is just a nice reminder to everybody in our locker room that this is the NFL," he said. "There are no bad teams in the NFL. You can get beat on any single day if you don't show up."

To which Walker quickly added a pointed postscript, though perhaps one day too late: "We've got to get it in gear."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com