1:00 PM ET, December 24, 2011
LP Field, Nashville, TN
The Tennessee Titans took a big step backward in their quest for the playoffs last weekend, falling to what had been the league's only winless team.
While Saturday's meeting with the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars provides the Titans with what seems to be another favorable matchup, it may be too late for them to pick up the pieces.
Tennessee (7-7) entered Sunday with a chance to greatly improve its position for the AFC's final wild card berth, but instead suffered a devastating 27-13 loss at Indianapolis. The Titans fell into an eighth-place tie in the conference with Oakland and San Diego, one game behind the New York Jets and Cincinnati.
"We don't have control anymore," rookie defensive tackle Jurrell Casey said. "We'll have to see how some other teams do, and we'll see how it all plays out. We can't go out there and just give up."
Fortunately for Tennessee, a visit from the woeful Jaguars (4-10) could help keep its postseason hopes alive. Jacksonville is 1-6 on the road -- including a 41-14 rout at the hands of Atlanta on Dec. 15.
Without top cornerbacks Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox and Will Middleton -- all lost for the season -- the Jaguars' injury-riddled secondary continues to struggle. Jacksonville surrendered 280 yards and three touchdowns through the air against the Falcons, and could allow for Matt Hasselbeck to get back on track.
Hasselbeck, who strained his left calf muscle and was forced from a 22-17 loss to New Orleans on Dec. 11, returned to complete 27 of 40 passes for 223 yards versus the Colts but was picked off twice. Hasselbeck has thrown for 691 yards with just one TD and five interceptions over his last five games.
With the veteran scuffling, coach Mike Munchak turned to promising rookie Jake Locker in the fourth quarter Sunday. The eighth overall draft pick completed 11 of 16 passes for 108 yards and a score, giving him 530 yards, four TDs and zero turnovers in limited playing time over his last three appearances.
Despite Locker's impressive play, Hasselbeck is expected to start.
"We're still in the playoff hunt, and he's the quarterback that got us there," Munchak said. "I think that's what you have to go with the guy who has the experience, the guy that's been in playoff situations, the guy that's been in the Super Bowl. After what he's meant to us this year and how well he has played throughout the season for us that I think we have to give him the opportunity to finish the job.
"We've got to man up and play our best game to win."
Having three-time Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson available will surely help. Johnson thought he had seriously hurt his right ankle Sunday, but he expects to be active for a matchup he tends to look forward to.
Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew, who leads the league with 1,334 rushing yards, have developed a bit of a friendly rivalry over the years.
"If you look at the past (four) games between Jacksonville and Tennessee, he rush for more yards than I do, they win the game. When I rush for more yards, we usually win. It's a big deal when we play against each other," said Johnson, who in his first action since his infamous holdout was limited to just 24 yards on nine carries in a season-opening 16-14 loss at Jacksonville.
With 930 rushing yards, Johnson is 70 away from joining Hall of Famer Earl Campbell and Eddie George as the only backs in franchise history to reach 1,000 yards in each if their first four seasons.
Johnson ran for a career-high 228 yards in a 30-13 win over the Jaguars on Nov. 1, 2009. Jones-Drew, who compiled 177 yards on just eight carries in that contest, topped that performance with a career-best 186-yard effort during a 17-6 win at Tennessee on Dec. 5, 2010.
While Jones-Drew continues to flourish, the rest of the Jacksonville offense has faltered. The Jaguars rank last in the NFL in total offense (256.3 yards per contest) and have scored 14 or fewer points in 10 of 14 games.
Much of the blame has been put on rookie Blaine Gabbert's shoulders. He completed 12 of 22 passes for 141 yards with a TD and an interception versus Atlanta, also losing two fumbles to give him 14 turnovers in 12 starts.
"Obviously, the season we've had is horrible," Jones-Drew told the team's official website. "The only way we can kind of save it or feel better as much as we can is by winning the next two – starting off with a win in Tennessee."
More from ESPN.com
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Lee's injury further depletes Jags' WR corps
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Jags to make changes on O-line but not QB
The Jacksonville Jaguars will have two new starters on the offensive line for Sunday's home opener against the Indianapolis Colts, but there won't be a change at quarterback.
Bengals' Green hopeful to play vs. Titans
Bengals receiver A.J. Green (toe injury) has not ruled out the possibility of playing Sunday against the Titans.
Jaguars-Titans: 10 observations
After breaking down film of both teams, Scouts Inc. offers 10 things to watch in the Week 16 Jaguars-Titans matchup.
1. Jacksonville must threaten the back end of Tennessee's secondary: The Jaguars have the worst passing attack in the NFL, averaging a league-low 140 yards a game and a league-low 4.3 yards an attempt. Teams are starting to crowd the box and are not overly concerned about getting beat deep. If Jacksonville can hit on one or two downfield passes, it would help to loosen things up for its running game.
Recent Blog Posts
|Avg Points Allowed||21.1||19.7|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||JAX|
|Rush Yds Allowed||JAX|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Tennessee leads 13-9|
|Sep 11, 2011||JAX 16, TEN 14|
|Dec 5, 2010||JAX 17, @TEN 6|
|Oct 18, 2010||JAX 3, TEN 30|
|Nov 1, 2009||JAX 13, @TEN 30|
|Oct 4, 2009||JAX 37, TEN 17|
|Nov 16, 2008||JAX 14, TEN 24|
|Sep 7, 2008||JAX 10, @TEN 17|
|Nov 11, 2007||JAX 28, @TEN 13|
|Sep 9, 2007||JAX 10, TEN 13|
|Dec 17, 2006||JAX 17, @TEN 24|
|Nov 5, 2006||JAX 37, TEN 7|
|Jan 1, 2006||JAX 40, TEN 13|
|Nov 20, 2005||JAX 31, @TEN 28|
|Nov 21, 2004||JAX 15, TEN 18|
|Sep 26, 2004||JAX 15, @TEN 12|
|Nov 16, 2003||JAX 3, @TEN 10|
|Oct 26, 2003||JAX 17, TEN 30|
|Dec 22, 2002||JAX 10, TEN 28|
|Oct 13, 2002||JAX 14, @TEN 23|
|Nov 4, 2001||JAX 24, @TEN 28|
|Sep 23, 2001||JAX 13, TEN 6|