JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- If Lonnie Marts and Gary Walker of the Jaguars harbor any resentment over their awkward departures from the Tennessee Titans, they won't let many people know it this week.
Earlier in the season -- before the Titans established themselves as a threat to the Jaguars and the entire NFL -- it was easier to vent.
Back then, in Walker's eyes, the Titans were the ingrates who wouldn't make him a decent free-agent offer. To Marts, they were the club that stabbed him in the back.
Sunday, Jan. 23
Tennessee at Jacksonville, 11:35 a.m. (CBS)
Tampa Bay at St. Louis, 3:15 p.m. (FOX)
Sunday, Jan. 30
at Atlanta, 6:25 p.m. (ABC)
With the AFC title game approaching, they're just another opponent, a final mountain to climb to get where they never could when they were with the nomadic franchise then known as the Oilers.
''I am excited about playing them again, but I'm excited because of the fact that I've never been to a Super Bowl,'' Marts said. ''That's all they represent to me now, is a chance to go to the Super Bowl.''
Still, it's the notion that they were unwanted in Tennessee, and that the Titans have prospered without them, that make Marts and Walker such intriguing characters.
''If that's how they feel, I can't say anything about it,'' Marts said. ''Good for them. Good for the Jags. We're in the same position, too.''
Walker insists it wouldn't have taken much to keep him in Tennessee. His contract expired after last year, and he says a decent offer from the team that drafted him out of Auburn in 1995 probably would have done the trick.
''That's all it is, is a business,'' Walker said. ''I'm happy here now. That whole thing about leaving Tennessee is behind me.''
Marts would have liked to have stayed too, but he was ungracefully shoved out the door.
The Titans didn't make a decision on the 10-year veteran until the beginning of training camp, when most teams are running out of salary-cap room.
Marts also had two kids and a pregnant wife. Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin scanned the waiver wire and couldn't believe what he saw.
Back in September, when the wounds were still fresh, Marts left no doubts about the bitterness he felt over being dragged along for two seasons with the shifting franchise, then waived just when it was ready to settle in a permanent home.
''Since the day I got there, it seemed like they started trying to replace me,'' Marts said in September. ''They recruited me hard. I picked my family up and moved there. Why recruit me so hard to come there and then turn around and try to replace me?''
In this case, however, it seems both teams benefited from the changes.
Walker finished with a career-high 10 sacks for the Jaguars and brought a sense of consistency to a defensive line that had been plagued by injury in its first four years.
Marts made an unexpected shift from the outside to middle linebacker, helping the Jaguars solve one of their long-standing weaknesses. He was third on the team with 112 tackles. The Jaguars moved from No. 25 in the league on defense to No. 4.
The Titans improved, too. Their defense recorded 24 more sacks, four more interceptions and, most importantly, helped produce five more victories than last season.
They signed free-agent lineman Jason Fisk and threw him into a rotation at defensive tackle. Joe Bowden took Marts' spot at outside linebacker. Tennessee also drafted Defensive Rookie of the Year Jevon Kearse, who gave the Titans a pass-rush threat they hadn't had in years.
Coughlin says the Titans got better, but not necessarily because of the departures of Walker and Marts.
''It's combinations of people,'' Coughlin said. ''It's chemistry. It's how a team comes together and fits together. With people coming and going, teams change. You know you're going to have to build like that and try to improve, and you take your hat off to those who have.''
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