They said we couldn’t do it but we did it! We just beat the reigning Super Bowl champions and a 10-3 team on the road. Everybody bet against us and we proved them wrong. Now we’re headed into the final two weeks of the season and we are so ready to Storm the South! That AFC South title is ours, we can already feel it. Titan Up.
Fans of the Tennessee Titans were just a wee bit optimistic on Christmas Eve morning as the 7-6 Titans were getting ready to play the 2-12 Jacksonville Jaguars in Jacksonville. The Titans had the defense to best Kansas City, the offense to beat Denver, and the optimism of Marcus Mariota and company. The game was as good as won, they thought.
The Titans were coming off of a 3-13 losing season, with the worst record in the NFL in 2015 as they began the 2016 season in September. A Week 1 loss to the Vikings did not show promise for these young players. However, they turned their season around and won big games, besting powerhouses such as the Detroit Lions, the Green Bay Packers, and yes, the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Denver Broncos. A 7-6 record tied them for 1st place in their division with the Houston Texans, but they were behind by divisional wins. In the second-to-last week of the season, the Titans need a win against the Jaguars (also in the AFC South) before heading home for the finale against the Texans; winner take all.
As the game started, the Titans won the coin toss and elected to defer the football until the second half; it all started as Jacksonville’s ball. The Titans defense has been making crucial stops all season and are ranked 8th overall on 3rd downs. However, something was not clicking in the defense as they allowed one of Jacksonville’s few opening-drive touchdowns all season. After Jason Myers’ extra point was good, the Titans offense took the field.
Marcus Mariota had a stellar November as the AFC’s top-performing quarterback. He struggled a bit in the cold versus Kansas City and again against the Denver defense, but he has remained poised and mature as the leader of this team. However, something was not clicking for him either. He and running back, Demarco Murray, lead the Titans to a 3-and-out and to punt the ball away. The defense got their jobs done, though, and forced the Jaguars to settle for a field goal and only 3 points.
The game continued in a similar fashion with the Jaguars dominating the Titans in an uncharacteristically powerful way of play, and the Titans coming up short. Hope was still in the air for Titans fans, though, as the deficit was not too wide. The taste of postseason was still on everyone’s tongue as the Titans rallied to close the gap, first 10-7, then 19-10, and finally 25-17. The game was not lost yet… until the unthinkable happened.
After the play, ten Titans got up while one remained on the field. Marcus Mariota was hurt. Not all NFL fans are aware, but Mariota is not a weak quarterback. In the past, Titans fans have joked about players under center walking off the field for a broken nail. Not Super Mario(ta). He has always been the quarterback to get back up and walk it out or shake it off. He might sit on the sidelines for a play, but he only stays down when it’s serious. The trainers came onto the field to look at his injury. As the air cast was fitted to his ankle and the cart came wheeling out of the locker room, Titans fans everywhere felt their hearts sinking in their chests. All of Everbank Field stood up to applaud Mariota as he stood up on the field and was carried away. Titans fans tried to remain hopeful, but their beacon was nowhere to be seen.
It wasn’t long before backup quarterback, Matt Cassel, threw a touchdown pass to Delanie Walker, resident pro-bowler. Soon the hashtag #WinForMarcus appeared on Twitter and the Titans were fighting for more than just a playoff spot. However, the Titans could not pull it off despite their best efforts and fell to the Jaguars 38-17.
Not long after the game was over, the news that Marcus Mariota suffered a fractured fibula and would require surgery was released. What was looking like a promising season and potential playoff berth quickly became a lump of coal in all Titans fans and players’ stockings.