NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans were to a point this season where nothing could be taken for granted, not even a win over a struggling opponent whose coach had become a walking distraction.
Ultimately, Sunday’s 20-0 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars at Nissan Stadium was about a lot of things.
For the Titans, it was desperation. It was a chance to regain momentum and confidence and keep a once-promising season from sliding too far gone. This good team that had failed to beat the Jets and Texans couldn’t keep losing to awful opponents and still think of itself as a good team. No excuses – be it injuries or anything else – would hold up this time.
And so while this performance wasn’t flashy, it was effective. The Titans – not healthy yet, but healthier – flexed muscles, dominated defensively, picked off Trevor Lawrence four times, controlled possession time and badly outclassed the two-win Jaguars, who’d been dealing with coach Urban Meyer’s issues on Titans week. Again.
Yes, this game, too, was about its coaches. And not just because Meyer and the Titans’ Mike Vrabel once worked together at Ohio State.
For much different reasons and on different scales, each had been the topic of headlines in the 48 hours leading up to this game.
You had to wonder how Vrabel – as a former Meyer assistant himself – viewed the recent report by NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero that had Meyer basically deeming his assistant coaches as unworthy of his brilliance. The story had Meyer calling them losers in a meeting and “challenging each coach individually to explain when they’ve ever won and forcing them to defend their resumes.”
It was only the latest example of how poorly Meyer’s first season in the NFL is progressing. The first time the Titans beat him this season, he’d spent the game week explaining an embarrassing bar video in which he seemed to grope a woman who wasn’t his wife.
As the narrative of a successful college coach losing his pro team deepens in Jacksonville, the relationship between Meyer and Vrabel hasn’t been explored much.
I’m not sure there is much of a relationship these days. Vrabel said before this season’s first meeting that they hadn’t spoken since Meyer got the Jaguars job. And Vrabel, at least publicly, isn’t reminiscing fondly about their two seasons together in Ohio.
“I learned a lot. We’re in a different point in both of our careers now,” said Vrabel curtly when I asked him in October.
For his part, Vrabel had been in noticeably ill temper this past week, though it wasn’t clear why. Speculation naturally followed after he stormed out about 90 seconds into Friday afternoon’s post-practice press conference.
You’ve probably seen the clip. Vrabel exited abruptly after being asked innocuously about newly acquired Zach Cunningham, who he’d already said he didn’t want to discuss because the linebacker wouldn’t be active for Sunday’s game.
“This is so stupid. It’s a waste of my time,” Vrabel fumed as he darted back into the Titans’ facility.
I was there. I didn’t think Vrabel’s short fuse had much to do with Cunningham.
I wanted to wait and see what happened two days later. My thought was Vrabel’s random blowup originated where I’ve found that most random coaching blowups do. He didn’t feel great about his team’s preparation.
Vrabel suggested as much earlier in Friday’s brief press conference, saying the Titans had “got off to a rough start (at practice) for what my expectations were” after a bye week. It’d make sense if Vrabel was overly concerned, amid a two-game losing streak, about the Titans being ready for the lightly regarded Jaguars and Meyer.
Sunday set up as a get-right game, and as it turns out, that’s what it was for the Titans. They were able to get right and can turn attention to some important football on the horizon in the coming weeks.
Can’t say the same for Meyer and what may be his lone Jaguars team.
Reach Gentry Estes at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.