Sometimes it’s not about the stats, first downs, time of possession, completions, rushing yards and the like. Sometimes it’s about the eye test. And having seen every play the Jaguars have run this year, when it comes to the eye test, there’s no question they’re getting better. Health has something to do with it and the Jaguars were as healthy as they’ve been all year against the Titans. Only Toby Gerhart was out of this game because of injury.
In the first quarter against Tennessee having a healthy receiving corps showed as the Jaguars took the opening drive 80 yards in 7 plays to take a 7-0 lead. It’s the second straight game the Jaguars have scored on the opening possession. Blake Bortles threw a beautiful pass to Clay Harbor going away from him at an angle for a 59-yard gain. Storm Johnson got a one-yard carry for the TD.
With that momentum on their side, the Jaguars immediately gave up a 50-yard return by Jacksonville native Leon Washington. The defense was incredibly inconsistent, stopping the Titans cold occasionally and then letting receivers run free through the secondary with blown assignments.
All of that resulted in a 7-3 lead after the 1st quarter. Bortles is growing into the part, a real leader on offense. His footwork is key, creating both velocity and accuracy on his passes. Some were high against the Titans but the healthy receiving corps hauled them in and the Jaguars moved the ball offensively.
It came to a grinding halt as the Titans put the clamps on the Jaguars offense, pressuring Bortles and recording three sacks in the half. On defense, the Titans had receivers running free through the secondary, a sign of a blown assignment, especially in the middle of the field. They still haven’t figured out how to cover the tight end, no matter who’s in the game for the Jaguars. They started Demetrius McCray at corner but he must have looked out of place once too often and was replaced by Dwayne Gratz. McCray returned to the lineup in the third quarter. Jonathan Cyprien and Josh Evans are always a step late covering a crossing pattern and without enough pressure, that play is always open.
It was more of the same as the second half started. Open receivers combined with two third down penalties on the Jaguars kept Tennessee’s drive alive. A good stop on the goal line by Telvin Smith forced the Titans into a field goal and a 13-7 lead.
With about half of the third quarter gone is where good teams stick their foot in the ground and start to force their will on the other side. While the Jaguars are far from a good team, the Titans are no great shakes either. So this is where a game can either get interesting, or start to slip away.
The Jaguars backed themselves up with a penalty on the kick return but with a couple of key third down conversions had a good drive going as the 3rd quarter wound down. Just one score behind, any points would continue the momentum. When Gus Bradley talks about consistency, he’s talking about two failed plays on that drive that changed everything. They had Jordan Todman singled up on a defensive end, running down the field and while the ball was just a hair underthrown, Todman couldn’t make the catch. Two plays later, Bortles missed a wide-open Harbor on a simple out route about 20 yards down the field leading to a third down. Because they couldn’t covert on either of those plays, Bortles was in a third and long and went to Alan Hurns for the first down but Hurns slipped and the ball was intercepted.
So while the Titans weren’t exactly forcing their will on the Jaguars, the Jaguars couldn’t get out of their own way. Tennessee kicked a field goal to make it 16-7, a two score game.
Back on offense the Jaguars started to move the ball downfield, running and passing, some planned, some improvisation. Just when they got in some rhythm, driving toward the goal line, Cecil Shorts coughed the ball up inside the 10 and the game seemed over right there. Of all the players, Shorts is the one who’s supposed to know how important it is in that situation to cover and protect the football.
A TD pass from Bortles to Harbor with 30 seconds left brought the Jaguars within 2 and the Jaguars recovered the on-side kick. With no timeouts they moved close enough for Josh Scobee to attempt a field goal from 55-yards but it was blocked and 16-14 was the final.
It’s there, you can see it, but too many mistakes at crucial times cost the Jaguars chances to win their first game of the year.
They let this one slip away.