You were supposed to get a color rush when the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars squared off in their now-annual Thursday night game, but the biggest jolt in this one wasn’t the garish uniforms, it was the Titans’ brand of exotic smashmouth football.
Along with the realization that when it comes to the AFC South, it’s Tennessee that has turned the corner and left Gus Bradley and the Jaguars, the far “sexier” team in the preseason, in the rear-view mirror.
The Titans routed Jacksonville 36-22 in the rare national television window for both, and it certainly wasn’t that close as the Jaguars piled up meaningless numbers late.
By the time the first 30 minutes of football were over in Music City, the Titans had outgained Jacksonville 354 to 60, had a 20-3 advantage in first downs and most importantly, a commanding 27-0 advantage on the scoreboard.
And it all started with the team’s creative running game, which in turn opened up play action for Marcus Mariota, who played a brilliant mistake-free brand of football.
Coming into this contest Mariota was 2-8 as a starter in Nashville with 19 turnovers in those games so playing a clean game was paramount.
A solid running game is the best friend of any quarterback and the bell cow in Nashville, DeMarco Murray, amassed 123 yards and a 14-yard TD run while his complement, king-sized rookie Derrick Henry added 60 more with another score, the first of the former Heisman Trophy winner’s NFL career.
Overall, the Titans amassed 214 yards while running the football and that effectiveness on the ground opened up some clean passing lanes for Mariota, who is looking more and more like a professional quarterback, especially on a brilliant 36-yard TD pass to Kendall Wright off a classic play-action look that had the entire Jaguars defense biting.
A former Heisman winner himself, Mariota was nearly perfect and showed a pocket presnece that has been all too inconsistent early in his career, completing 18 of his 22 throws for 270 yards and two TDs.
Obviously the second half was just extended garbage time and the Titans predictably let down a little bit but the bigger narrative is that all of a sudden Mike Mularkey’s team is 4-4 and have nearly won as many football games this season as they have over the previous two when they were on top in just five of 32 tries.
Furthermore, the Titans are one-half game back of a flawed Houston team in a bad division so when it comes to the AFC’s worst foursome and discussing who will be left standing, it might be time to ask why not Tennessee?
The Jaguars, meanwhile, showed up unprepared and uninterested despite getting a visit from concerned owner Shad Khan earlier in the week, a very bad look for the embattled Bradley.
“You treat every week like a one-game season, and it is the most important game we ever played,” struggling Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said before the game.
You almost have to hope that was lip service because if the Jags actually brought their “A” game to Tennessee, well then they have even bigger issues than we all thought.
Bortles couldn’t do anything until his classic fool’s gold numbers after things were long decided despite the fact that the Titans were without two starters in their secondary, cornerback Perrish Cox and safety Rashad Johnson.
Meanwhile, days after it looked like Bradley was losing control of his team during a home loss to Oakland, things only picked up speed on the road.
This is the kind of setback that will have Khan taking stock in what is going on at the top of his program so instead of starting in on this film on the flight home, Bradley may want to spend his time in a more productive fashion by updating things on Linkedin.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SB Nation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America.