JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars’ victory over the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday was one of the surprises of the season’s opening weekend.
It put a big dent in the narrative that the team is tanking in 2020 and showed that the Jaguars, despite a roster that includes 16 rookies and seven other players in their second seasons, could potentially be troublesome in the AFC South instead of the doormat most predicted.
The surest way for the Jaguars to change the national storyline and show Week 1 wasn’t a fluke is to beat the Tennessee Titans in Nashville on Sunday.
Nissan Stadium has been an awful place for the Jaguars since their last victory there in 2013. They’ve lost the past six meetings, including two embarrassing losses on national television, and have averaged just 19 points and have been outscored by an average margin of 11.2 points in those games.
“I think you always kind of get these streaks and things and people try to correlate things year after year, but I think in reality every year is a new year,” quarterback Gardner Minshew said. “Every week’s a new week. I think a lot of time these trends are more superficial than anything actually tangible. I think it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to. We obviously don’t want any streaks like that. But it’s [playing in Nashville] something we’re all looking forward to.”
The Jaguars’ last victory in Nissan Stadium was Gus Bradley’s first as a head coach. Will Blackmon’s strip sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick and 21-yard fumble return with 2:32 to play sealed a 39-27 victory on Nov. 10, 2013. Since then, it’s been, well, a Nashville nightmare.
They’ve been beaten by Charlie Whitehurst, who has just two victories in his career as a starting quarterback, in 2014 and Marcus Mariota, who scored on an 87-yard touchdown run, in 2015. They were embarrassed on Thursday Night Football in 2016, falling behind 27-0 at the half and eventually giving up 494 yards of offense. The loss cost offensive coordinator Greg Olsen his job two days later.
Then there’s Derrick Henry. The running back that grew up in a small town 25 miles north of Jacksonville has demolished the Jaguars in the past three meetings in Nashville. Henry had a 66-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the Titans’ 15-10 victory in 2017 and then demolished the Jaguars in 2018 and 2019.
Henry ran for 238 yards and four touchdowns – including a 99-yarder in which he broke three tackles – in a 20-7 victory two years ago and ran for 159 yards and two scores, including a 74-yarder, in last year’s 42-20 victory. The Jaguars, by the way, were down 35-3 midway through the third quarter in that game.
Henry has rushed for 714 yards and nine touchdowns and has nine receptions for 143 yards and one TD in eight career games against the Jaguars. In his four games against the Jaguars in Nashville he has 508 yards and seven touchdowns and six catches for 119 yards and a TD.
Coach Doug Marrone has decided to take the approach of ignoring what has happened at Nissan Stadium the past four years. Partly because each loss has no impact on the succeeding one, just as last year’s victory over the Titans in Jacksonville will have anything to do with what happens in this year’s game at TIAA Bank Field on Dec. 13, but also because he’s got a very young team in 2020. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, the Jaguars had the second-youngest 48-man roster in Week 1 with an average age of 25 years and 252 days – 15 days older than Miami’s roster.
“That’s one of the things I’ve changed this year,” Marrone said. “I used to do that. You kind of look back and you look at things, whether it’s positive or negative. Last week, right before the game, someone told me, ‘Hey, you know the team you’re playing [Indianapolis] really hasn’t won here [in their past five trips]?’ and I’m like, ‘What does that mean? That doesn’t mean crap.’
“Before I used to look at things like that when you have a lot of guys returning and stuff, but I think, with this team, it’s such a different atmosphere, such a different team and such a young team. … This is our first road game, and I’m really curious to see how our young guys on our team play on the road. I mean it’s the first time we’re going on the road, so I’m more concerned just about the operation of that and trying to get into some type of structure for them so this way we can go up there and play well.”
One of those young guys is Minshew, who has never played a game in Nissan Stadium (Nick Foles was the quarterback in the Jaguars’ 42-20 loss in his second game back from a broken collarbone). So are the 16 rookies on the roster, which includes starters RB James Robinson and CB C.J. Henderson and key contributors WR Laviska Shenault, WR Collin Johnson, LB K’Lavon Chaisson and DT Davon Hamilton.
None of them were part of those embarrassing losses, so why should that impact them?
“You can only focus on what’s in front of you,” Minshew said. “I think you learn from the past and use the things that have happened to you, but in reality we have a ton of guys this year on this 53 that have never played up there. Have never been with us when we’ve gone to play. So it’s a new experience, a new team, bringing up.
“They [the Titans] play really well in that building. They play with a lot of confidence, [have] older guys that mix things up well, and they’re very talented. So it’s definitely a unique challenge.”
One that, if they meet, will not only put them alone in first place in the AFC South but also show the rest of the NFL things could be starting to change in Jacksonville.