Marrone says Jaguars won’t rest starters against Titans
The Jacksonville Jaguars say they’re all-in for Sunday’s regular-season finale.
The Tennessee Titans have no choice but to be all-in. They either win or risk missing the playoffs for the ninth consecutive season.
No, this game won’t be sponsored by the World Series of Poker. Nor will Phil Ivey or Phil Hellmuth act as the referee. But if either one were to appear at the 50-yard line of Nissan Stadium in Nashville to conduct the pregame coin toss, it might be fitting.
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Both teams want to win for different reasons. Jacksonville (10-5) would like to go into its first-round AFC wild-card round home game with the positive momentum that a victory provides. Coach Doug Marrone said as much when asked about the possibility of resting multiple starters, since his team is no longer in play for a first-round bye.
“There wasn’t any wavering from anyone of what we want to do and what we want to accomplish this week,” Marrone said. “When the players come in (Wednesday), we are talking about how we are going to play to win. I am not even thinking about what happens beyond that. That’s the way we are going to go about our business this week.”
The Jaguars, who ended their 10-year playoff drought last week when Tennessee (8-7) continued its December slide with a come-from-ahead, 27-23 loss at home to the Los Angeles Rams, would also like to avenge a 37-16 Week 2 home loss to the Titans.
Doing so might ensure Jacksonville of avoiding a playoff rematch with Tennessee, which is probably locked into the second wild-card with a win unless Baltimore loses at home to Cincinnati.
While the Jaguars know they are playing next week regardless of what happens, the Titans have no choice but to approach this as a playoff game. That might be why running back DeMarco Murray is considering playing despite a third-degree MCL tear suffered late in the fourth quarter against the Rams.
Murray is considered to have a high pain threshold, which could be why coach Mike Mularkey isn’t discounting the possibility he could suit up and play. It seems incongruous that Murray could be effective with a knee that might not allow him to cut at full speed or even hold up to a good hit on what will be a cold late afternoon.
“I am not going to rule him out just yet,” Mularkey said. “Knowing DeMarco, based on some of the other things he’s had happen to him and how quickly he responds to treatment, I’d say he is day-to-day right now. And just hope for the best, maybe in a limited role.”
Murray has not played as well this year, but has still amassed 659 yards and six touchdowns on the ground while catching 39 passes for 266 yards and another score. If he’s unable to go, second-year pro Derrick Henry will probably carry most of the load for the running game.
Henry leads the team with 693 rushing yards and five touchdowns, but isn’t considered as much of a threat in the passing game. Given that the only backup to him is David Fluellen, who has only four attempts for 21 yards, it’s hard to imagine that Henry will getting many breathers in a game of this magnitude.
Tennessee will need every body – healthy or otherwise – to fully test a Jaguars’ defense that ranks second in points against and first in sacks. That includes last week’s 44-33 defeat to San Francisco, which has looked like one of the NFL’s best teams in December behind quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Jacksonville’s offense has blossomed as well, ranking fifth in the NFL in points per game and leading the league in rushing. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette needs just 29 yards to pass 1,000, and his presence has taken some pressure off quarterback Blake Bortles.
Until tossing three interceptions against the 49ers, Bortles was playing perhaps the best football of his career during December, finally looking like the franchise quarterback the team envisioned. He enters Week 17 with 3,529 yards and a 21-11 touchdown-interception ratio despite a steadily-changing cast of receivers due to injuries.
Bortles might get to attack a secondary that could miss cornerback Logan Ryan (ankle) for a second straight game, although his chances of playing are certainly better than they were last week.
“I’m hoping by the end of the week he is practicing,” Mularkey said of Ryan.