JACKSONVILLE, Fla. —The nation tuned in to see Marcus Mariota.
What they saw was a solid performance from the rookie quarterback, but on Thursday night, it was the Titans defense that stood out.
"That's why we're able to play 3 ½ quarters, and stick around games – (games) are not going to be blowouts, they are going to be close,'' interim coach Mike Mularkey said. "(The defense) has been impressive – the goal line (stand), the red zone, the turnovers…They have played complete football the whole year."
The Titans lost 19-13 to the Jaguars on Thursday night, but the defense did its job, sacking Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles four times and keeping Jacksonville out of the end zone until the very end. The game-winning score – a five-yard touchdown pass from Bortles to tight end Julius Thomas with 3:30 left – came after the Titans allowed a punt return to the five-yard line.
All night long the Titans defense kept the team in it.
In addition to sacking Bortles four times, the Titans also intercepted him (linebacker Zach Brown), and the defense held the Jaguars to just 4-of-13 on third down.
Time and again the defense stiffened up. When the Jaguars drove inside the two-yard line early in the third quarter, a third-and-goal stop by linebacker Wesley Woodyard from the two went for no gain, and the Jaguars settled for a field goal to make it 9-6 with 8:10 remaining in the third quarter.
The Jaguars kicked four field goals in the game.
"It's no fluke that we're ranked very high,'' said Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo, who had one of the team's four sacks. "We just have to continue to get better. All the injuries we've had, we just have to keep balling."
Brown made a heck of a play on his interception. He picked off Bortles on the 12-yard line as the Jaguars were nearing the Titans end zone in the second half.
"I was just playing man-to-man and he ran a seven route,'' Brown said. "I just happened to look back and he threw the ball. I just learned that when they run the seven run, when you undercut him you just have to fade back with him or the ball will go right over your head."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Jacksonville Jaguars Week 11 in Jacksonville. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
In addition to Orakpo, linebackers Wesley Woodyard and Avery Williamson also had sacks for the Titans. Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey also had a sack.
In the second quarter, Orakpo and linebacker David Bass combined to force a turnover. Orakpo knocked the ball out of the hands of Bortles, and Bass recovered the ball.
Bortles completed 21-of-30 passes for 242 yards in the game. The Titans held Jaguars running back T.J. Yeldon to just 54 yards on 14 carries.
The Titans just with the effort would've come in a win.
"We played bend-but-don't break,'' Woodyard said. "Every week (defensive coordinator) Ray Horton challenges us to be a championship defense, and so far we have been answering that call. We go out there and play hard for one another on the field and try and give our team a chance to win.
"But those last minutes of the game, we have to find a way to put it together and win."