Marcus Mariota’s longest run of the season put the Tennessee Titans in position for another road victory.
His teammates couldn’t make it hold.
Rookie Rashad Greene returned a punt 63 yards, setting up Blake Bortles’ 5-yard touchdown pass to Julius Thomas with 3:30 remaining, and the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Titans 19-13 on Thursday night.
“Obviously, the coverage was not down there in time,” interim coach Mike Mularkey said. “He was at full speed and everyone was not in their lanes yet and he ran right past everybody. It’s not good. We didn’t punt the ball well enough all night.”
The Jaguars (4-6) won consecutive games for the first time since December 2013 and gained ground in the AFC South race. They have won three of four.
The Titans (2-8) lost for the eighth time in nine games and spoiled Mularkey’s return to Jacksonville. Mularkey was fired after one season with the Jaguars, a 2-14 campaign in 2012.
For much of the night it looked as if Mularkey would celebrate a rare win in Jacksonville.
But Greene, a rookie who missed the last seven games while recovering from a torn ligament in his left thumb, took a low kick and weaved his way down the near sideline before finally getting tackled at the 5.
Bortles hooked up with Thomas on the next play, putting Jacksonville ahead 16-13. It was an easy call for Bortles, who noticed linebacker Derrick Morgan lined up across from Thomas before the snap.
“One on one with really a defensive end,” Bortles said. “That’s kind of a mismatch.”
Titans tight end Phillip Supernaw fumbled on the ensuing possession, leading to Jason Myers’ fourth field goal of the night and a six-point lead with 2:19 remaining.
“My fault on that play,” Supernaw said. “I didn’t cover the ball up enough and the guy made a good play on it. My ball security wasn’t as good as it should have been. No matter what bad happens, this team is always going to fight, like we did on that last drive.”
Tennessee had one final chance and advanced to the 23 with 5 seconds remaining. But Andre Branch sacked Marcus Mariota on the final play. Branch did his usual windmill dance as he was mobbed by teammates.
“It sounds like I am rewinding the tape every week,” Mularkey said, referring to all the late-game mistakes. “I don’t have to tell them. They watch what just took place. We knew this team has hung around all year and been in close games by getting turnovers like they did. Again, it sounds like I am repeating myself, but it feels like it.
“We have to find a way to get over that. That is my responsibility to try to get them over the hump.”
Mariota completed 22 of 35 passes for 231 yards. He also ran for a 23-yard score that put the Titans ahead 13-9 late in the third quarter. His top target once again was tight end Delanie Walker, who finished with 109 yards on eight receptions.
“We made a couple mistakes and had some sacks there at the end and that really hurt us,” Walker said. “But the big punt return really did us in. It’s frustrating to lose a game like this.”
Mariota played interception-free football for the fourth time on the road, but it wasn’t enough, especially since he was without receivers Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter.
Running back Dexter McCluster joined the injury ranks when he injured his right leg in the second half and did not return.
Both teams needed a win to stay in the mix in the AFC South.
Houston and Indianapolis are tied for the division lead at 4-5, but the Texans likely will be without quarterback Brian Hoyer at least this week and the Colts could be without quarterback Andrew Luck for multiple games.
So the division is up for grabs. And the Jaguars made the big move.
Jacksonville plays three of its next four at home and has the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the league.