This week the Jaguars were looking for a win against Miami but more than that, legitimacy in the NFL.
After a much ballyhooed offseason with money spent on free agents, a retooled defense and draft picks expected to be impact players, the Jaguars looked like last year’s team in the season opening loss to Carolina. Not much offense, lackluster drives and pretty good defense that couldn’t get off the field on third down.
To start the game against the Dolphins, it was a very different team with a very different mindset that took the field. Blake Bortles looked like a different player and Allen Robinson made the plays he missed last week as they took the ball downfield on the opening drive in 10 plays, over 82 yards and scored to make it 7-0. It’s the first time the Jaguars had scored a TD on their opening drive in 8 games.
Next offensive possession, they came right back down the field including a 52 yard Bortles to Robinson completion and kicked a field goal to make it 10-3. The Jaguars had more first downs (8) than the Dolphins had plays (7) in the first half. They outgained Miami 168-52 in total yards. In other words, they looked like the team we saw in the preseason on offense, blending the run (with T.J. Yeldon) and the pass to keep the defense off balance and make some big plays.
While Miami seemed to gain their footing in the second quarter, the Jaguars responded with a 46 yard TD catch by Robinson from Bortles to make it 17-6. At 17-13 and under 2 minutes to play, it looked like the Jaguars might just kneel on the ball and go to the locker room with a four point lead. Instead, they let Bortles wing it. After throwing an near interception on first down, the Jaguars gained enough yards, helped by a pass interference call to let Jason Myers attempt a 58-yard FG. Myers has the leg and showed some moxie by hitting it solid and online, hitting the crossbar and bouncing over for three points and a 20-13 halftime lead.
Without a lot of pass rush, the Jaguars defense couldn’t hold off the Dolphins in the opening drive of the second half, eight plays, eighty yards and Miami tied the game at 20.
After that it was a lot of back and forth with a couple of drops by Rashad Greene stalling a drive in the 4th quarter. Greene somewhat redeemed himself with a nice 24-yard punt return but Bortles and the offense couldn’t do anything with it.
If you’ve been a Jaguars fan in the last couple of years you have a bit of a fatalistic outlook no matter the game situation. So despite playing tough and being in this game, the expectation was for them to make some mistake to cost them a chance at winning.
So with under three minutes to play, free agent acquisition and former Dolphin Jared Odrick had a big series with a sack near the goal line and forced a punt. The Jaguars got the ball at their own 24 with under two minutes to play. And this is where quarterbacks make their money. A couple of good passes, the second a 19 yard out to Allen Hurns put the Jaguars in Dolphins territory. An offensive pass interference call on Marqise Lee pushed them back to midfield.
A Hurns catch, a Yeldon run and a stupid unsportsmanlike on Olivier Vernon gave the Jaguars first down at the Dolphins 20.
A couple of Yeldon runs and Jason Myers came on to kick a 28-yard field goal (shorter than an extra point this year) to give the Jaguars a 23-20 lead with 40 seconds to play.
The North End Zone was rocking like it was 1999.
A nice defensive play by Telvin Smith on 4th down ended Miami’s chances and the Jaguars got their first win of the year in dramatic fashion.
If last week’s loss was more than just one loss in the column, this week’s win might be just the opposite. After looking inept and out of their league last week, they were questioning themselves and their teammates as to who they really were going to be in 2015. They could have just skulked into the corners of the locker room and let the season play out as the lapdogs of the NFL or they could have done just what they did against Miami: Come out and fight. Head Coach Gus Bradley’s “rush to maturity” comments seemed prophetic as you might say the Jaguars grew up this week.
They learned a lot about themselves this week and in this game and while they’ll be a decided underdog in the next two weeks on the road at New England and Indianapolis, they at least established, if only to themselves, that they’re a legitimate NFL team each week when they take the field.
Last week I was wondering if this team had to learn how to not lose before it learned how to win. This Sunday they did both.