Leading up to the game in Cincinnati, the Jaguars knew they’d be making some changes in their lineup and the Bengals would be a mixed bag of personnel who had gotten them to four victories this year. The Bengals are thin on the defensive line and at linebacker and their best running back; Giovanni Bernard is banged up and out. AJ Green is returning to the Bengals lineup after missing time with a toe injury. But on defense, Cincy has six first round picks among their safeties and cornerbacks.
Blake Bortles had an “attacking” week at practice according to Head Coach Gus Bradley, focusing on not turning the ball over. With a nice mix of the pass and run, the Jaguars moved the ball with only one heart-skipping moment when Bortles threw a pass right to a Cincy defensive back but Toby Gerhart, healthy, and Denard Robinson, again, moved the ball downfield leading to a Josh Scobee FB, 3-0 Jaguars. It was a little conservative when it came inside the red zone but points are points and the Jaguars took an early lead.
It wasn’t a shock when the Jaguars defense stuffed the Bengals rushing attack, forcing Andy Dalton to go to the air to try to move the ball. With a week to prepare with Demetrius McCray and Dwayne Gratz at corners and Sherrod Martin knowing he was going to play, the Jaguars defensive backfield looked well organized early in the game against the Bengals passing attack. All three made nice plays on Dalton passes to keep Cincinnati at bay. But between Green and Mohammed Sanu, the Bengals have a formidable duo heading downfield. So when they started to get on rhythm with Dalton, it was not good news for the Jaguars. Using those two and the occasional run from Jeremy Hill the Cincinnati marched down the field on a 10-play 80 yard 4:33 drive to take a 7-3 lead.
It was a few early mistakes that cost the Jaguars good opportunities. A couple of penalties on the offensive line on Zane Beadles and Austin Pasztor and a missed tackle on defense by Telvin Smith either snuffed out drives for the Jaguars or kept things going for the Bengals early. Those mistakes are the kinds of things that get you beat, the little things that are magnified when you’re at least competitive.
Good teams usually get some breaks. The Jaguars forced AJ Green into a fumble but Abry Jones couldn’t control it at the 10-yard line and Sanu recovered. It’s the kind of play good teams get and the Jaguars haven’t gotten there yet. It was a good defensive stand helped by an offside penalty against Green that wiped out his TD catch. A field goal ensued and the Jaguars trailed 10-3.
Maybe it’s because they’re young or maybe that’s just an excuse but the Jaguars small mistakes are blatant enough to keep them from succeeding and allowing the other team second, or easy chances. Telvin Smith missed a tackle that would have forced a Cincinnati punt. Then he apparently missed a block on the punt that allowed the Bengals to come up with a block in the end zone that resulted in a safety, 12-3 Bengals. And at the end of the half, Smith was called for unnecessary roughness after the punt on the final play of the half, pushing the kickoff back to the 20 to open the second half.
The Bengals made the Jaguars pay for that penalty, taking advantage of the field position gained and scored on their opening drive to take a 19-3 lead. And just when you thought that might be the game-got-out-of-hand moment, Blake Bortles ran the naked bootleg and threw a long pass to Alan Hurns for a TD. Hurns made a great adjustment on the ball and perhaps Bortles under threw it on purpose but either way the Jaguars scored to make it 19-10.
After a nice interception by Sherrod Martin where he broke on the ball in front of the receiver, it was the small things that kept the Jaguars from scoring. Denard Robinson ran through a gaping hole only to get in front of himself trying to run down field and fell after a decent but not great gain. Then on 2nd down Bortles didn’t throw the ball downfield enough for Toby Gerhart to go get it, incomplete. Incomplete on third down and they were forced to punt. The plays were there; the jaguars just didn’t make them when it counted.
Special teams bit the Jaguars again, allowing a long punt return by Adam (Pacman) Jones followed by a TD pass from Dalton to Green, again, 26-10 Bengals.
Again, the Jaguars fight back, scoring on another nice adjustment by Hurns in the end zone against double coverage made the score 26-16 and the Jaguars decided to go for two. Cecil Shorts couldn’t hold the conversion in the end zone and they were still down by 10. I know the card probably says go for 2 there but why not kick the PAT and be down by nine where a FG and a TD wins the game for you?
Still, a really nice play by JT Thomas called an interception on a Dalton fumble/pass led to a TD for the Jaguars and they’re now down by 2, 26-23 with just over 8 minutes to play. It’s the first game with two interceptions for the Jaguars in 2014. That’s where with 10 minutes to play I think you kick the PAT and have a chance to win the game. I know if you had made the 2-pt conversion you’d be playing for a chance to tie, but that’s hindsight.
No matter though because Josh Scobee kicked the ball out of bounds on the kickoff, giving the ball to the Bengals at the 40. On the first play, Jeremy Hill ripped off a 60-yard TD, breaking tackles along the way to give Cincy a 33-23 lead. Again, little things, like a kick out of bounds by a veteran player gave the Bengals a chance. And they cashed it in.
But again the Jaguars responded, marching down the field with a couple of nice catches by Hurns and a strong run by Gerhart on third down that showed what he can do when healthy. But again, Bortles threw into traffic in the end zone and the ball was intercepted ending the rally. Bad decision by Blake after looking at his first two reads and finding nobody open, in that situation, he needs to throw it into the stands and live to play another day. Instead, Cincinnati got the ball and ground the clock.
Again this week, it’s the little things that look big that got the Jaguars beat. They fall to 1-8 and head to London to face the Cowboys. Fortunes can change in this league quickly, just look at Dallas. Riding high and getting accolades as potentially the best team in the league, the Cowboys have lost two straight and probably won’t have Tony Romo in London to face the Jaguars.
If Gus wants a “take this show anywhere” philosophy, it’ll be tested this week, that’s for sure.