It wasn’t the view Jones-Drew wanted, certainly not the one he expected.
Jones-Drew got the message, though. Loud and clear. The Jacksonville Jaguars are going to be cautious with their star player, even if it means upsetting the 5-foot-7, 210-pound bruising running back.
Jones-Drew ran for 97 yards and a touchdown in his return from knee surgery, and the Jaguars took advantage of a fast start and some clutch plays late to beat the Tennessee Titans 16-14 in the season opener Sunday.
The victory prompted warm and fuzzy feelings in the locker room — for everyone except Jones-Drew.
“He wasn’t happy,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “He ended up carrying the ball 24 times, which is OK. We got up early in the second half and he already had 21 carries. I’m not wild about the prospect of him taking it 35 times in the opener, so that was my call. We had talked about a play-count for him.
“He’s so competitive and he’s not happy about it. But that’s going to happen as we monitor and try to keep him to a certain number of reps as we go throughout this season. Hopefully he can channel that energy in a positive way for us. It’s not about any one person here. We want to utilize our best players. It’s about the Jacksonville Jaguars winning football games.”
Jones-Drew had a 21-yard touchdown run on the team’s opening possession and even carried the ball on six consecutive plays late in the third quarter.
But coaches turned to Karim for much of the final 17 minutes. Karim ran 14 times for 33 yards, a 2.4 yards-per-carry average that had Jones-Drew itching to get back on the field.
“I feel like I could have played more,” said Jones-Drew, who had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in January. “Last year I played on one leg. Now I have two. … That was the coach’s decision. They made it and I had to abide by it. We talked about it and they know I’m very unhappy about that.
“Every player on this team wants to play and I felt like I had more in the tank, more to give to the game, to my teammates and I just couldn’t give it to them because I was on the sideline.”
Jacksonville’s game plan was to run the football early and often. Not only is it what the Jaguars do best, but quarterback Luke McCown was starting his first game in four years and Tennessee was playing without defensive ends Jason Jones and Derrick Morgan.
The Jaguars ran 47 times for 163 yards. They dominated most of the first three quarters, shutting down Titans running back Chris Johnson, forcing seven punts and applying steady pressure on Matt Hasselbeck.
Johnson, who joined the team a little more than a week ago following a holdout, was pretty much a non-factor. He ran nine times for 24 yards and caught six passes for 25 yards.
The Jaguars were up 13-0 and could have enjoyed a bigger lead if not for having to settle for field goals. Tennessee made it close with a pair of second-half touchdown passes from Hasselbeck to Kenny Britt.
“They came out of the box with the crowd and the enthusiasm and they got points on the board and we didn’t,” new Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “We were flat early and there’s no reason for that.”
The Titans finally got things going late. They made it 16-14 on Britt’s second score.
Jacksonville did just enough to hold on. Mike Thomas made a leaping grab on McCown’s third-down pass over the middle. The 26-yard gain helped Jacksonville take time off the clock. The Jaguars ended up punting, but they pinned Tennessee at the 3-yard line. The Titans still had a shot, but Dwight Lowery intercepted Hasselbeck’s deep pass in the closing seconds.
“The smarter play probably would have been to hit Chris and see what he could do and hopefully spike it and give our field goal team a chance,” Hasselbeck said. “I’m sure the coaches will come up with some positives, but right now it’s hard not to focus on the negatives.”