NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans face the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday at TIAA Bank Field.
The Titans are coming off a 20-17 win over the Texans.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, are coming off a 31-20 win over the New England Patriots.
This week, I caught up with John Oehser, who covers the Jaguars for jaguars.com. You can follow John on Twitter @JohnOehser, and join over 27,000 others.
Here's how our conversation went…
Wyatt: Hey John. I appreciate you taking the time. The Jaguars are 2-0, coming off a big win over the Patriots, a win that avenged a loss in last year's loss in the AFC Championship Game. How much are the Jaguars motivated by how last season ended, and the feeling they could've gone to the Super Bowl if not for letting a late lead slip away?
Oehser: There's a little bit of that, but I would define it more as there's a feeling among these players that it's sort of their time, sort of separate from last year. They've got a lot of young guys – Jalen Ramsey, Yannick Ngakoue, Myles Jack, and those guys are starting to look like stars. But they've also got some older guys – Calais Campbell, Marcel Dareus, Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson, all these guys who have been to Pro Bowls. And then you have Blake Bortles, who continues to look better and better, and you have Leonard Fournette, who has star quality. They are not going to be able to keep all of this together forever because of the salary cap. But they feel like they were peaking last year, they started to ascend, and they feel like they are really good coming into this season. So it is more: Hey, this is our time. We have a window here to be good, and we feel like we ought to be good. They feel like they probably should have made a step further last year, and they really feel like they should make it a step further this year. They are not saying it, because you don't say things like this publicly, but they really feel like this ought to be there year to make a run.
Wyatt: John, you and I date back to the glory days in this rivalry, including the 1999 season when these teams met in the AFC Championship Game. Do you think this rivalry is back to where it was then?
Oehser: I do feel like it, because this team won the division last year and it was a big deal. And at the same time, they got swept by the Titans. But it didn't feel like '99, because the Jaguars eventually made the AFC Championship and the Titans didn't. So it's pretty easy to look at last season if you are the Jaguars and say: OK, we had a better season than Tennessee because we made it a step further and we won the division. And there's not really a whole lot of disputing that on those two levels. At the same time, you got swept, and we all heard the talk after the games last year with Tennessee. There is that element that you don't want to get swept by a division rival, and there is going to be talking on some level leading up to this game and afterward, whoever wins. It feels to me like the rivalry is right on the cusp of getting back to where it was in the late 90s. It has to sustain a little more – it is not built on one year. But I certainly feel like things are brewing. This team was talking about Tennessee pretty fast after the Patriots game last week, and I think that is significant.
Wyatt: Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has been much-maligned in his career, but he's coming off a nice game against the Patriots, and his numbers are good this season. What have you seen from him?
Oehser: Over the last 11 games of last season, and the first two games this season, he is markedly better than he was in his first three years. Titans fans and observers probably haven't seen it, because he has had a lot of really good games over the last two seasons, but the two games against Tennessee haven't really fit into that category. My thought is the (cold) weather in that Tennessee game at the end of the season seemed to prevent him and Marcus (Mariota) from being very effective in the air, if you remember. It was sort of a game played on the ground, and I didn't think either quarterback came out of that game thinking they had lit the world on fire. But Blake, for the most part, if you look at his numbers over the last 18 games, he's had a few that haven't been great. But for the most part he is a much better player than he was in his first three years. And the notable thing about Blake, is these guys play for him. There is a feeling among the players that we really don't care what the world thinks about this guy. They have all said after every game, "Hey, that's my quarterback", sort of a play off the old T.O. thing. They wear Blake Bortles shirts. He is their guy and they believe in him, and it has very much turned into an "Us vs. Them" thing. They believe this is the guy who can take them."
Wyatt: So, what are you expecting on Sunday from a physicality and intensity standpoint?
Oehser: I don't think there is any way it is not going to be a really physical game. I think the Jaguars expect that from the Titans, and that's the way the Jaguars want to play. The interesting dynamic is the Jaguars threw the ball all over the place against New England – they weren't smash-mouth because Fournette wasn't in the game. Fournette will probably be really similar to Mariota in terms of status. He has a hamstring injury, and it played out all last week and was a game-time decision, and didn't play. I think the way the Titans want to play, I don't think there's any way this game isn't really physical whenever these teams play for a few years.
TitansOnline.com looks back at the all-time series against the Jacksonville Jaguars.