JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Chris Johnson was a nonfactor. Jacksonville’s revamped defense shut him down and was the difference in the season opener.
Maurice Jones-Drew scored in his return from knee surgery, and Jacksonville used a flawless start and some clutch plays late to edge Tennessee 16-14 in the season opener Sunday.
Johnson, who joined the team a little more than a week ago following a holdout, ran nine times for 24 yards and caught six passes for 25 yards.
Jacksonville dominated most of the first three quarters, but Tennessee made it close with a pair of second-half touchdown passes from Matt Hasselbeck to Kenny Britt.
The Jaguars converted a key third down on the ensuing drive. Mike Thomas made a leaping grab on Luke McCown’s pass over the middle for a 26-yard gain. Jacksonville took time off the clock, then pinned Tennessee deep with a 44-yard punt downed at the 3-yard line.
The Titans still had a shot, but Dwight Lowery intercepted Hasselbeck’s deep pass.
The difference was Jacksonville’s retooled defense, which forced seven punts, corralled Johnson and pressured Hasselbeck.
The Jaguars committed $112 million to acquire linebackers Paul Posluszny and Clint Session, safety Dawan Landry, nickel cornerback Drew Coleman and defensive end Matt Roth. And they got an immediate return on their investment.
Roth sacked Hasselbeck on the first play and forced a three-and-out. Jacksonville seized the momentum from there, putting together an 11-play drive that ended with Jones-Drew running untouched on a 21-yard score. It was a perfect start for the Jaguars, especially after such an awkward week that included the stunning release of veteran quarterback David Garrard.
Jones-Drew had several chances to essentially put the game away in the third period, but he was stuffed on three runs near the goal line. The Jaguars settled for a field goal and a 13-0 advantage.
Tennessee sliced into the lead with a fluky score on the ensuing play. As Leger Douzable crunched Hasselbeck from behind, he somehow got rid of the ball and lobbed a pass to Britt near the sideline. Britt eluded several defenders, including linebacker Clint Session who seemed to have him in his sights, and went 80 yards for the score.
Josh Scobee’s 45-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter made it 16-7 for some cushion down the stretch.
But the Titans kept coming.
Hasselbeck hooked up with Britt again with 3:34 remaining. On third-and-goal from the 2, Britt hauled in Hasselbeck’s fade pass over Rashean Mathis’ outstretched arms and got both feet down in the corner of the end zone. Officials reviewed the play and determined it was a good catch.
Jacksonville pinned Tennessee deep with the punt, but Hasselbeck got the team near midfield before Lowery intercepted the deep ball intended for Britt. The Jaguars traded for Lowery during final roster cuts.
Making his Titans debut, Hasselbeck completed 21 of 34 passes for 263 yards. He had a few passes dropped, but avoided any major errors until the final play.
McCown, chosen the starter five days ago, was asked to do less for the run-centric Jaguars. He was 17 of 24 for 175 yards, and fumbled away a snap.