JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars’ playoff hopes are all but gone after back-to-back routs by division opponents. To keep them alive, they’re going to have to beat Tennessee on Sunday.
And they’re going to have to do it at Nissan Stadium, a place where bad things keep happening for the Jaguars.
They’ve lost five consecutive games in Nashville, pretty much all in embarrassing fashion. They’ve been disgraced on national TV twice, humiliated by Derrick Henry, shamed by Marcus Mariota and humbled by Charlie Whitehurst, a quarterback known more for his nickname ("Clipboard Jesus" because of his long black hair and beard) than anything he’s done on the field.
Halloween came last month, but Nissan Stadium is the Jaguars’ house of horrors.
No one seems to know why, either. It’s not the loudest stadium in the league. It’s not regarded as a particularly tough place to play. They’re not regularly selling it out, either (93.5 percent capacity, which ranks 21st in the league), and are averaging roughly 1,600 more fans per game than the Miami Dolphins, a team in a rebuilding mode.
“Nothing special about the place,” cornerback D.J. Hayden said. “Just some people won [there], some people haven’t.
“To be honest, I don’t give two s---s. Coincidence? That doesn’t mean anything about this year. We still have to go out there and take care of business.”
The Jaguars (4-6) have been unable to do that there since 2013, when Gus Bradley notched his first win as an NFL head coach thanks in large part to Will Blackmon’s 21-yard fumble return for a touchdown with 2:32 remaining. Some weird stuff has happened, too:
Whitehurst started in place of injured Titans QB Jake Locker and threw for 233 yards, the Titans sacked Blake Bortles six times and Tennessee blocked Josh Scobee’s 55-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds to win 16-14 in 2014. Whitehurst won only two games as a starter in his career. This was the first.
The following season, the Titans beat the Jaguars 42-39, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on Mariota’s 87-yard run. Tennessee rolled up 467 yards of offense to snap an 11-game home losing streak. Their last victory before the 11 consecutive losses? The 16-14 victory over the Jaguars. Mariota’s next-longest career run, by the way, is 41 yards.
The teams met on a Thursday night in 2016 and the Jaguars played one of the worst halves of football in franchise history. Tennessee led 27-0 at halftime and finished with 494 yards of offense in a 36-22 victory. That was the third time the Titans had beaten the Jaguars at home since the start of the 2014 season, and they were 1-17 against everyone else over that span. Two days later, the Jaguars fired offensive coordinator Greg Olson.
The most normal and uneventful loss in the five-game losing streak happened in 2017. The Jaguars held Tennessee to 232 yards but gave up a 66-yard catch-and-run to Henry for a TD and committed four turnovers in a 15-10 loss. The Titans clinched a playoff spot with the victory.
The Jaguars’ most embarrassing loss in franchise history happened last season on another Thursday night. Henry ran for 238 yards and four touchdowns -- including a 99-yarder in which he broke three tackles -- in a 20-7 victory.
“I’m going to be on NFL Network for life for that,” said linebacker Myles Jack, who was the third player to miss a tackle. “My kids are going to see me getting stiff-armed. My grandkids.”
To snap the losing streak in Nashville, the Jaguars will have to do what they did in the meeting in Jacksonville in Week 3: limit Henry’s damage. He had 44 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries (2.6 yards per carry) in the Jaguars’ 20-7 victory at TIAA Bank Field.
In three games in Nashville against the Jaguars, however, Henry has 349 yards and six TDs rushing and five catches for 103 yards and another touchdown.
“He had a monster game on us in Tennessee, but the game before, we did a good job against him last year [57 yards],” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “But he’s a guy you have to always be aware of where he’s at. They’re throwing the ball to him more. You don’t realize how good of a receiver he is, but also he’s just a bruiser. He’s playing at a high level and they’re coming off the bye, so they should be fresh.
“He’s always the key to winning that game, stopping him.”
Campbell is one of only four players on the Jaguars’ active roster who have won a game in Nissan Stadium. He did it in 2013 with Arizona. Linebacker Najee Goode won last season with Indianapolis. Hayden (Oakland) and cornerback A.J. Bouye (Houston) are the only players who have won twice in Nashville.
“I know the type of environment that it is in Nashville, especially when they’re on, you don’t want to go down in there,” Bouye said. “It’s also an underrated but tough environment to play in.
“It’s just really a game that we’re going to have to win in general [and not just to snap the losing streak]. They got our number the past few years.”