Jags return fumble for TD, beat Titans for AFC South title

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Published: Jan. 7, 2023 at 10:36 PM CST
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Jacksonville Jaguars are AFC South champions for the first time in five years, a title secured when Josh Allen returned a fumble 37 yards for a touchdown that helped them seal a 20-16 victory over Tennessee on Saturday night.

Rayshawn Jenkins forced Josh Dobbs’ fumble, and Allen scooped up the bouncing ball and ran, untouched, the other way for a lead that held up against the Titans in a win-and-in game in the regular-season finale for both.

Dobbs fumbled again on the ensuing possession, and the Jaguars (9-8) started to celebrate their most significant regular-season victory in franchise history.

“This was one of those games where our defense had to win it for us,” Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. “Us guys on offense, we’re a little frustrated because we left a lot out there, But in these games, just win. Our defense picked us up today. They played great.”

Jacksonville earned the No. 4 seed in the conference playoffs and will host either the Los Angeles Chargers or Baltimore in the wild-card round next weekend.

It’s the 18th time in the last 20 seasons that at least one NFL team won its division after finishing last or tied for last the previous year.

Jacksonville closed the regular season with its fifth consecutive victory and became the fifth team in NFL history to make the playoffs with a five-game losing streak and a five-game winning streak in the same season.

“We just kept believing,” Lawrence said. “Nobody ever lost faith. Everybody believed in one another. We never started pointing the finger. We lost five games straight and we just got tighter.”

Tennessee (7-10) lost its final seven games, a skid that had just about everyone writing them off before Saturday’s finale.

The Titans rested several starters last week and essentially created a 10-day break to get healthy. They returned to their bruising brand of football and looked like they would pull an improbable turnaround — until Dobbs’ turnover changed the game.

The Jaguars were 6 1/2-point favorites, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, and a near-sellout crowd was on hand to witness what many thought would be more of a coronation than a scratch-and-claw nail-biter.

The Titans didn’t do anything spectacular. With quarterback Ryan Tannehill (ankle) out for the season, they leaned on Dobbs — an aerospace engineer who has bounced around the league — to be smart with the ball and Derrick Henry to grind out tough yards. And they relied on a defense that’s been stout against the run all year.

It worked for 37 minutes — and then it unraveled.

Henry finished with 109 yards on 30 carries. Dobbs completed 20 of 29 passes for 179 yards, with a touchdown, an interception and the fumble.

Lawrence completed 20 of 32 passes for 212 yards, with a touchdown and a fumble. Lawrence had two would-be touchdowns in the second half fall incomplete. He overthrew Zay Jones in the end zone and underthrew Christian Kirk.