Jags and Titans finish disappointing seasons
If you're looking for definitive statements on the future, keep right on looking.
Because by the time the game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans wraps up at LP Field on Sunday afternoon, it's highly unlikely a whole lot will have been decided beyond the teams' final records for a lost 2012.
Neither the 5-10 Titans nor the 2-13 Jaguars will be participating in the playoffs next month, pushing their respective non-postseason streaks to four and five years, and prolonging the uncertain job security of both second-year Tennessee coach Mike Munchak and first-year Jacksonville man Mike Mularkey.
Munchak comes into the schedule finale on a particularly down note after the Titans were demolished, 55-7, by the Packers last weekend in Green Bay. It was the seventh time in 10 losses that the verdict was rendered by 14 or more points -- a stretch that's also included a 51-20 humbling by the Chicago Bears and 38-10 and 38-14 losses to San Diego and Houston.
Quarterback Jake Locker, in his second year after being selected eighth overall in April 2011, was intercepted twice and sacked seven times in the Green Bay debacle. For the season, he's thrown 11 interceptions to 10 touchdowns while completing 56.2 percent of his attempts across 10 starts.
Not to mention, Tennessee hasn't beaten a team with a winning record.
"It's embarrassing to lose 50-something to 7," said Munchak, a coach with the organization since 1994 after a Hall of Fame playing career from 1982-93. "That's just not acceptable and we let it happen. Thank God we have (to play Jacksonville this week) because I wouldn't want (the Packers' game) to be our last game of the year."
The situation is similar on the Jaguars' sideline.
Jacksonville has also lost seven games by 14 points or more -- a 41-3 defeat against the Bears and a 24-3 blowout by Miami among them -- which has owner Shad Khan needing to make the call on whether Mularkey, a University of Florida product who was 14-18 with Buffalo in 2004-05, will stay or go.
A closer-than-anticipated 23-16 loss to New England last week guaranteed the Jaguars would finish with the worst record in franchise history, eclipsing the 12-loss inaugural season of 1995 that was followed by four straight playoff appearances.
Since 2000, however, Jacksonville has made the playoffs just twice and finished better than .500 only three times. This season, the Jaguars have lost five times by seven or fewer and have won just once since a 22-17 defeat of Indianapolis three months ago.
"They just haven't been rewarded with something when they've played well," Mularkey said, "and that's probably the most disappointing thing."
The lone win since the Colts game came against the Titans and marked quarterback Chad Henne's first start after replacing injured teammate Blaine Gabbert a week earlier at Houston. The ex-Dolphin threw a pair of touchdown passes in the 24-19 victory that snapped a seven-game losing streak.
Henne will be shorthanded this time around by the absence of Cecil Shorts, who sustained a concussion against the Patriots. Also out is running back Rashad Jennings, who was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder problem.
Shorts caught four passes for 105 yards and a score against Tennessee in November, while Jennings carried 16 times for 43 yards and a touchdown. Still iffy for a final-game return is Maurice Jones-Drew, who's not played in 10 games after spraining his left foot.
Barring a Week 17 stand, the Titans' defense will establish a new franchise record for most points allowed. Tennessee has given up 451 points in 15 games -- an ugly 30.1-point average that's worst in the league and a total that's nine shy of the 1983 Houston Oilers' mark of 460.
That team finished 2-14 under coached Ed Biles (0-6) and Chuck Studley (2-8).
The offense has fared little better of late under coordinator Dowell Loggains, who took over when Chris Palmer was fired following the loss to Jacksonville.
Tennessee gained 354 and 356 yards in its initial two games after the change, but fell to 294 in a 14-10 defeat of the New York Jets two weeks ago and just 180 against the Packers last Sunday.
"We have one more game, and we've got to fix it," Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner said. "We've got to come out way better than this and finish off strong. This is embarrassing."
The Titans lead the all-time series, 19-16, but the Jaguars have won three of the past four meetings -- including the five-point triumph last month in Jacksonville, in which Henne threw a pair of TD passes. Tennessee's Munchak is 1-2 against the Jaguars, while Mularkey is 1-0 against Tennessee.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
It's been feast or famine all season for Tennessee's sort-of resurgent Chris Johnson, who's been held to 50 or fewer yards six times in 15 games, while nonetheless approaching 1,200 yards for the season and turning in his best per-carry average since a 2,006-yard year in 2009.
The initial meeting with the Jaguars was one of 10 times he's failed to reach triple-digits this season, though Jacksonville's standing as the league's 31st-best rush defense should give the Titans enough cause to keep handing him the ball.
With no playoffs on the horizon and job security questionable at best for both coaches, it's easy to see how this one could disintegrate into an apathy-fest. With that the case, the pendulum swings to the team that's both at home and in possession of the game's best player -- Tennessee, and Johnson. If everything other matchup cancels out, expect him to get his yards and the Titans a narrow win.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Titans 17, Jaguars 13