Passing game catches on as Titans win rematch with Jaguars

Saturday, December 24, 2011 at 5:50pm

When the Tennessee Titans opened the 2011 season with a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars they had basically one offensive threat. Wide receiver Kenny Britt accounted for nearly half of their 292 total yards and scored their only two touchdowns.

There were 13 games between that one and the rematch, which took place Saturday before a sellout crowd at LP Field.

It was apparent just how far the offense has come in that time based on its approach and execution in a 23-17 triumph. A pass-first approach that resulted in one franchise record and a couple of personal bests was enough to build an early lead and then to withstand three turnovers — two of them in the fourth quarter.

Whether or not the franchise can make it all the way to the postseason remains to be seen. Tennessee (8-7) still is in the hunt for the final AFC wild card spot although it will take more than just a victory Jan. 1 at Houston in order to get it.

“We came out gunning, and it worked,” tight end Jared Cook said. “… We moved the ball around a lot and everybody kind of got involved. The whole offense was clicking.”

Cook set the franchise record for receiving yards by a tight end — and for the second straight week established a personal best — with 169 yards on eight receptions. Pro Football Hall of Famer Dave Casper set the previous mark of 150 yards back in 1980.

Wide receiver Damian Williams also established a career-high with eight receptions as the Titans took advantage of a Jacksonville secondary that since the opener had lost to injury three of its starters (and several backups) in the secondary.

“Give those guys credit,” safety Dawan Landry, the one starter who managed to stay healthy, said. “They came out and executed their game plan, kept us on our heels a little bit and made plays when they needed to.”

In all, the offense threw the ball 40 times and ran it 25. Of its 20 first downs, 14 came on pass plays.

However, unlike other contests this season, including the first one against the Jaguars, the shortage of handoffs was not due to a lack of productivity. It was a product of the plan, which was presented to the quarterbacks at a regular Saturday morning meeting.

“You never really know what we’re going to focus on,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who threw for 350 yards, said. “[Offensive coordinator] Chris [Palmer] presented it in the morning … and we were pretty excited about it. I just think it was great. It was a lot of fun. Jared Cook played well. Our receivers played well.

“… It wasn’t perfect. It could have been a lot better. We got a little sloppy. … [But] I’m really happy for our team.”

Cook quickly emerged as a primary threat.

Six of his eight catches, including a first quarter, 55-yard touchdown reception that made it 10-0, came in the first half. He watched the ball go elsewhere for most of the second half until a 29-yard reception on third-and-5 with fewer than four minutes to go helped the Titans hold the ball for the final 3:41 of the contest.

Nate Washington caught just four passes — he was targeted 11 times — but averaged nearly 18 yards per reception. His 25-yard catch in the second quarter came one play before Tennessee’s final touchdown.

“They’ve had some injuries in the [secondary] so we felt it was important to come out throwing the football — making plays, getting Matt into the game and getting the receivers into the game,” coach Mike Munchak said. “[Then we] filtered the run in from there.”

Chris Johnson rushed for 56 yards on 15 carries. Rookie Jamie Harper added four carries for six yards, including a 1-yard touchdown run.

Harper also fumbled, though, with 5:38 to play, which led to Jacksonville’s final touchdown and some late drama. Hasselbeck also threw two interceptions for the second straight game and the third time in the last five. One of those interceptions led to a Jaguars’ field goal.

“We’ve made great strides with Kenny out,” Hasselbeck said. “It was unfortunate, he was supposed to be a big part of our offense this year. But guys have stepped up … and have had the best years that they’ve ever had.”

Saturday, a couple of them had the best games they’ve ever had.