The Tennessee Titans gave it all they had with a roster that probably isn't playoff worthy. The Jacksonville Jaguars needed one big play to pull out the AFC South championship in a hard-fought game, and it wasn't star quarterback Trevor Lawrence who provided it.
The Jaguars dialed up a safety blitz at the right time on a key third down in the fourth quarter. Rayshawn Jenkins hit Titans quarterback Joshua Dobbs from behind, the ball came out and it was returned 37 yards by Josh Allen for a go-ahead score with 2:51 left. The Jaguars got a stop after that and they're going to the playoffs with a 20-16 win, which boosted their record to 9-8.
Jacksonville will be the fourth seed in the AFC playoffs. It's just the fourth division championship in Jaguars history, and the second since the 1999 season. The Jaguars got the first overall pick of the NFL draft in 2022 after a disastrous year with Urban Meyer at coach, and now they're going to the playoffs with new coach Doug Pederson. It was a great turnaround, even within this season. The Jaguars were 3-7 after a loss to the Chiefs on Nov. 13, and won six of seven after that.
It was a tough outcome for the Titans, who finish the season 7-10 after a 7-3 start. They played hard on Saturday night and had a shot for the win. They were close to making the playoffs with Dobbs, who was making his second NFL start. One key mistake cost them.
It wasn't pretty for the Jaguars. They squandered some chances. They were pushed around at times by a Titans team that had a lot of fight in the win-and-in regular-season finale. But the Jaguars got the play they needed to win. Lawrence is going to the playoffs for the first time, and he can thank the defense for that.
Titans set the tone early on
The Jaguars started slow. The Titans got a field goal to take a lead. Then the Jaguars ran a tricky play that turned into a nightmare. Lawrence flipped to Jamal Agnew on a reverse, and the lateral was errant and it resulted in a fumble. The Titans recovered and took advantage, driving for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
A 54-yard kickoff return by Agnew woke the Jaguars up. Lawrence hit Christian Kirk for a 25-yard touchdown and finally there were some signs of life from Jacksonville at 10-7.
The Titans got 3 points back before the end of the half to make it a 13-7 lead. Dobbs played well, Derrick Henry had 71 very hard-fought rushing yards at halftime and the Titans were in line for an upset and the AFC South title.
The Jaguars had a long drive to start the second half and then Lawrence made a big mistake. On third down, Zay Jones was wide open in the back of the end zone. Lawrence badly overthrew him. It was an easy touchdown that was missed, and the Jaguars had to settle for a field goal.
It was a struggle for the Jaguars. The Titans had a lot to do with that, but there were plenty of unforced errors for Jacksonville.
Game was tight into the fourth quarter
The Jaguars couldn't get anything going on offense for most of the night. When they got a big interception and returned it to the Titans' 25-yard line, the offense couldn't pick up a first down and the Jaguars settled for a field goal. The next two drives were three-and-out.
The Jaguars offense couldn't do anything, but the defense came up with an enormous play for Jacksonville's first lead of the game. Jenkins, whose pick-six in overtime finished an upset of the Dallas Cowboys, hit Dobbs from behind. Allen picked up the loose ball and returned it for a touchdown. It was a close call on whether it was incomplete or a fumble, but it was ruled a fumble after a replay review. With 2:51 left, the Jaguars led 20-16.
The Titans had to score a touchdown on their next drive to win the AFC South. Dobbs helped lead the offense into Jaguars territory. Then Allen sacked Dobbs, forcing a fumble. The Titans recovered but it was suddenly third-and-12, and then the Titans took a false start penalty. Two completions after that couldn't pick up a first down and the Jaguars took possession with 1:30 to go.
Lawrence and the Jaguars will probably go to the playoffs many times together. The young quarterback and the offense weren't great on Saturday night. But it was still a huge win for the franchise thanks to a huge play by the defense.