I ran into a well-respected media member this week in Jacksonville who greeted me with a smile and a handshake saying, “I’m ready for it to be over.” Everybody gets to that point during the season, and although the Jaguars were technically still in the playoff hunt, my colleague had seen enough.
At some points during the first half against the Saints, you got the feeling the Jaguars felt the same way. With Drew Brees hobbled because of a torn plantar fascia, it didn’t matter against a depleted Jacksonville defense. It seemed no matter what Brees decided to do on any play, it worked.
“The grit, the effort, all that stuff was there but the precision wasn’t there,” Gus Bradley said after his team’s 38-27 loss to New Orleans and Drew Brees. “When I was in Seattle and faced New Orleans, the word ‘precision’ came up all the time. We can talk precision but today we felt it.”
They opened with an 80-yard TD drives capped by a Brees TD pass to take a 7-0 lead. Brees found Jonathan Cyprien singled up on the tight end but the Jaguars safety had his back to the QB and couldn’t get turned around in time,
Brees followed that with a 71-yard TD pass capping a 98-yard drive to make it 14-0. Brees was looking for Nick Marshall matched up on defense and found him, hitting Brandin Cooks for the long TD. While Bradley likes Marshall’s athletic ability and his grit, he doesn’t have the speed or the ball skills at the position to match up against the best receiver on the other side of the ball. If a quarterback can find him in the defensive backfield, you can be sure he’ll start picking on him because he’s a liability.
Not sharp in the first half for the second week in a row, Blake Bortles got a bad break throwing an interception on the next Jaguars possession. On a play that should have been called pass interference as the defender jumped over Allen Robinson, the ball was batted to a defensive lineman who grabbed it for the Saints. Forty-three yards later they made it 21-0 on a Tim Hightower 1-yard run. I know he’s just in his second year in the league but sometimes Bortles makes throws that make you scratch your head. It seems to take him a bit longer to get something in his brain before making the same mistake more than once. In this case he threw it to Allen Hurns who was covered, who he stared down, and who the defender had the play figured out. That led to a Saints FG that made it 24-0.
If this was supposed to be a track meet between two teams struggling on defense, the Jaguars offense was still sitting in the starting blocks.
Finally the Jaguars got on the board with a TD on their next possession. They got Jonas Gray on the field and he proved to be a spark, picking up 23 yards on his first carry. The drive ended with Marqise Lee catching the first TD of his career. Even though the card says go for two there, it’s the wrong time to chase points. I think this is where Gus the Head Coach has to step in and say, “Kick it.” But he chased the points and failed making it 24-6. Not that the PAT is a given in the league any more but the risk of not making the two-point conversion when it comes to momentum, confidence and rhythm outweighs the reward to get the extra point there. Bradley said went for two in that situation to try and build momentum but, “We didn’t execute it.”
Once again, the second half looked much different for the Jaguars. Taking the kickoff, the Jaguars scored on 11 plays, Allen Hurns grabbing a 6 yard TD from Bortles to make it 24-13 after the Jason Myers PAT.
No matter, the Jaguars defense, depleted by injury and not talented enough in key spots to make any stops, gave up a quick TD to the Saints, Brees hitting Travaris Cadet for 44-yards. A blown coverage, either by Marshall or Sergio Brown made the TD look easy. 31-13 Saints.
Right back at it, the Jaguars scored their longest TD of the year two plays later (the first, a 25-yard run by Gray again was called back for holding). Bortles hit Allen Robinson for 90-yard TD to bring the Jaguars back to 31-19. They again went for two and didn’t get it, Bortles still trying the fade route that he’s not very good at. Not sure why they keep calling that play.
Without Jared Odrick in the lineup because of a knee contusion, the Saints ran the ball effectively and kept the Jaguars off balance, moving it efficiently down the field. They scored on another Hightower run to make it 38-19.
Again going with the 2-minute offense, the Jaguars scored their final TD of game on a 20-yard slant to Allen Hurns to bring it to 38-27. Hurns has more TD catches than any non-drafted player in his first two years than any other in NFL history.
In this game the Jaguars gave up more yards than in any other game during the Gus Bradley era. The Saints had more than 500 yards of offense for the third straight meeting with the Jaguars, also an NFL record.
His 34 TD passes added to his Jaguars record and Bortles also set the Jaguars record for consecutive games with a TD pass at 15, surpassing Mark Brunell.
Before kickoff, the Jaguars had been eliminated from playoff contention by a Houston victory. It didn’t seem to impact how they played; they just got beat by a quarterback who knew what he was doing.
“We can talk about precision,” Bradley said, “But they just experienced it,” he finished, pointing to the Jaguars locker room.
In order to fix this problem the Jaguars will need a pass rush. And to get a pass rush, they’ll need better players. Even Bradley admitted they’d be looking to upgrade.
“Maybe we can be more strict,” he said of his dealings with the players. “Maybe we have to challenge them harder. We need guys who can play with that kind of precision.”
“When a guy’s number is called, has to make the play. We need to look at it and then if they’re not doing it, hard decisions have to be made.”