Titans Pick Up Gut-Check Win Over Jaguars as Marcus Mariota – and Defense – Save the Day

lewan-taylor-180923

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Titans knew they'd be in a backyard brawl here on Sunday.

When the final second ticked off the clock here at TIAA Bank Field, they were the ones left standing following a gutsy 9-6 win over the Jaguars.

And a familiar face was standing there with them, holding the game ball in the locker room – quarterback Marcus Mariota.

"Nobody gave us a chance to win this game," Titans safety Kevin Byard said. "We knew it was going to be a dogfight. All offseason we've been hearing Jacksonville this, Jacksonville that. Well, people need to start paying attention to us. We won the game. But now, we know we can't let up. We have to keep it going."

It was a gut-check win for the Titans, who saw Mariota come off the bench and lead the way on a day when the defense rose to the occasion over and over.

The Titans have now beaten the Jaguars 5 out of the last 6 games, including a sweep in 2017. The Titans and Jaguars, both 2-1, are now tied atop the AFC South.

"We had a refuse to lose mentality," defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said. "All three phases came out here and played their tails off. We know a lot of people doubted us. All I have to say is: 'Keep watching."

There was plenty of good to watch from the resilient Titans on Sunday.

With shades of Steve McNair's performance in a 2000 game in Pittsburgh – when he came off the bench and guided the Titans to a win – Mariota stepped in for an injured Blaine Gabbert on Sunday and led the team to a hard-earned victory.

Mariota completed 12-of-18 passes for 100 yards in the contest while also running for 51 yards on seven carries. His biggest run of the game came late, when he bolted for 15 yards and a first down in the closing minutes on a third down play.

Mariota did it wearing a glove on his right hand, and following a week when he was limited in practices because of an elbow injury that still has him feeling numbness in his fingers, and prompted coaches to start Gabbert. When Gabbert suffered a concussion early, however, Mariota stepped in.

"We knew it wasn't going to be easy, coming down here on the road, against a good football team," coach Mike Vrabel said. "We talked about making it a four-quarter game. … Any time you can get a division victory on the road, it's huge."

Vrabel gave Mariota a game ball after the game.

"Fantastic," Vrabel said of Mariota. "It was cool for me to be able to give Marcus a game ball in the locker room, to be able to stay focused throughout the week. He cares about his team immensely and he wants what's best for the team. You saw him come in there and give us a spark. … and really seal the deal for us at the end of the game."

Players also praised Mariota, who gave credit to the team's defense.

"That's just a wolf being a wolf, man," tackle Taylor Lewan said of Mariota. "I'll follow that guy anywhere."

"He's one of the toughest guys I know," center Ben Jones said. "He's a true competitor, and he would do anything for this team. I love that guy to death."

Mariota, who missed last week's game vs. Houston after being injured in Week One, praised his teammates.

"There is no greater feeling that winning on Sundays," Mariota said. "The process that you go through, he amount of time you put in throughout the week. It is nice to come out and get it done.

"I am just happy for this team. The work, week in and week out these guys put in, it is nice to see it rewarded. … It is a crazy game. When it comes down to it, I am really happy for these guys. Our defense played incredible, and gave us a chance to win in the end."

Take a look at the best photos from Tennessee's 9-6 victory at Jacksonville on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018 at TIAA Bank Field. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)

The Titans took a 9-6 lead with 4:06 left on a 28-yard field goal by kicker Ryan Succop, which capped off a 12-play, 65-yard drive engineered by Mariota.

And the defense, as it did all day, made it hold up.

Gabbert was knocked out of the game after a hit in the first quarter. He headed to the locker room with the team's medical staff, where he was immediately evaluated for a concussion. Gabbert was injured after taking a shot to the head by Jaguars defensive lineman Malik Jackson, before being slung down by Jaguars defensive lineman Calais Campbell. He was eventually downgraded to out, and did not return.

Enter Mariota, wearing a glove with two fingers exposed. Mariota stepped in and finished off a drive that ended with a field goal by Succop that gave the Titans an early 3-0 lead with 4:59 in the first quarter.

The Titans were stingy on defense throughout against a Jacksonville team that beat the Patriots 31-20 in Week 2. The team got a few big stops early, including one on a fake punt by the Jaguars that was sniffed out by a number of Titans.

Later, defensive lineman Austin Johnson and linebacker Wesley Woodyard stepped up for a big stop on 3rd and 1. It was a slugfest in the sunshine, with neither team able to muster up much on offense.

The Titans and Jaguars went to the half tied 3-3 after a missed field goal by Succop at the halftime horn.

The Titans put together a nice drive on their first possession of the second half, and capped it off with a 36-yard field goal by Succop to take a 6-3 lead with 10:01 left in the third quarter. Mariota connected with Corey Davis, Darius Jennings and Taywan Taylor on the drive as receivers began to make catches, and plays.

The Titans led 6-3 after three quarters, but the Jaguars tied it 6-6 with 10:48 remaining on a 38-yard field goal by kicker Josh Lambo.

Then came a big drive orchestrated by Mariota, and a suffocating defense that held the Jaguars to just 12 first downs and 232 yards of total offense.

Things won't get any easier.

The Titans face the defending Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, next Sunday at Nissan Stadium.

"This is a huge, win" Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "Jags vs. Titans – we knew it was going to be a tough game. Now, we are going to enjoy it as you can see from the locker room environment. But come tomorrow, it's on to the next.

"Now we have another good team coming to our house next Sunday and we have to be ready."

The Tennessee Titans take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 3 of the 2018 season on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018 at TIAA Bank Field. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)