Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback.
That’s what the NFL is about and looking for their 3rd win in a row and 5th overall, the Jaguars ran into one of the elite signal-callers in the game. Phillip Rivers put on a clinic, using the Jaguars defense as his plaything throwing four touchdown passes in a 31-19 win by the Chargers.
Despite move the ball up and down the field at will in the first half, the Jaguars red zone woes continued. Some of it’s play calling, other problems involve execution but whatever they point to, it’s not working.
Winning the toss and taking the ball, the Jaguars marched right down the field with a 10-play 76-yard drive that ended with a Jason Myers field goal and a 3-0 lead. Three passes from inside the 12 yard line, one incomplete, the fade that Blake Bortles just doesn’t throw very well that forced the field goal try.
Defensively, the Jaguars stopped the San Diego run and the Chargers made enough mistakes to keep themselves from driving, showing why they have two wins coming into the game.
Another drive by the Jaguars stalled at the 33 so Myers kicked his second FG of the game to make it 6-0. The Chargers had a net zero yards rushing in the first quarter. Quarterback Phillip Rivers was 5 of 7 for 75 yards.
As the offense bogged down in the second quarter, the Chargers found some rhythm. Rivers drove his team inside the 10 and completed the drive with an easy pass to Dontrelle Inman for the TD. A simple out route from the slot put Dwayne Gratz on his heels and gave San Diego a 7-6 lead.
To their credit, the Jaguars came right back. A nice punt return by Rashad Green, helped by a 15-yard hit out of bounds penalty put them in Chargers territory. A run by Bortles and a catch by Julius Thomas put the ball in the red zone but again they couldn’t do anything with it. Bortles might have had a chance to run for the first down but would have had to absorb a big hit to do so. He chose to flip it in the end zone, but was across the line of scrimmage. Another FG by Myers made it 9-7.
If you’re going to beat the Chargers and Phillip Rivers you’re going to have to convert the red zone opportunities into touchdowns and the Jaguars haven’t been able to solve that part of the field.
That’s because when Rivers gets his team into position, he converts with touchdowns. Under two minutes in the first half, Antonio Gates came out of the backfield and beat Davon House in the end zone easily to give the Chargers a 14-9 lead. It was a little bit of a different formation, a small twist on what the Jaguars had been seeing, but just enough to make House think about it and Gates was wide open.
Trying to make something happen, Bortles didn’t see Manti Te’o over the middle and threw an interception, his seventh straight game with a turnover. This one meant points for the Chargers as Rivers found Gates matched up against Jonathan Cyprien for a TD. Gates vs. Cyprien is actually no match so San Diego took a 21-9 lead to the locker room at halftime.
In a game the Jaguars seemed to dominate early, San Diego scored TD’s instead of kicking field goals and took advantage of their breaks to score 21 points and lead by twelve with 30 minutes to play. What I’m sure is frustrating to most fans is the innovation the opposing teams seem to have with their scoring opportunities while the Jaguars playbook seems mundane and predictable inside the 20-yard line. With the kind of talent they have at receiver and with TJ Yeldon at running back, it would seem the Jaguars could have all kinds of options when it comes to scoring. But they stick to their script and in this game, scored nine points in the first half.
It was much more of the same script in the third quarter. The Jaguars again drove the ball inside the Chargers 10, only to have to settle for a field goal and being down 21-12. Without crossing routes or the threat of TJ Yeldon running (apparently by choice) the Jaguars don’t have any imagination when it comes to their red zone offensive plan and it leaves Bortles looking, and looking and looking. Blake also had his second “illegal forward pass” penalty when he could have run for a first down inside the five-yard line. He’s still a little off and needs to be more aware in each of those situations.
Perhaps the difference a talented, experienced quarterback can make was never more on display than in this game. Bortles had flashes in between the 20’s but Rivers had command of his offense, and the Jaguars defense, putting up three more points on the Chargers next possession to lead 24-12.
Rivers finds the open receiver, checks down when he needs to and anticipates the moves by his receivers, putting the ball in the air long before his target makes his break. Bortles is still waiting for the receiver to come open and numerous opportunities, particularly over the middle of the field, were left out there.
In the 4th quarter, Bortles showed why the Jaguars drafted him with some toughness and a strong arm. His decision-making wasn’t great, but on 4th down from the Chargers 21-yard line, he hit Julius Thomas with a bullet for a touchdown to bring his team within 24-19. Thomas has great hands and they were on display as he caught the ball going away from him for a TD. A perfect throw and catch to make it a one score game.
But with 12 years of experience behind him, Rivers didn’t flinch and drove the Chargers right back down the field, converting a 4th and 7 by running to the marker and throwing his 4th TD pass of the game to give SD a 31-19 lead. It chewed up some clock as well, taking 14-plays, 80-yards and 6:13 off the clock.
Going for a low throw, Allen Hurns went into the turf, head first and was taken off the field on a stretcher during the Jaguars next drive. It ended with Bortles hit Denard Robinson for 6 yards on 4th and 8. Hurns’ injury was called a concussion but he was immobilized immediately and taken to the locker room.
With 1:33 left in the game, the Jaguars didn’t put anybody back and blocked a San Diego punt, getting the ball on the Chargers 14 yard line. Bortles threw up a 50-50 ball on a quasi-back-shoulder fade to Allen Robinson that ARob came down with for a TD. Myers missed the extra point but the and the Jaguars were down 31-25 with 1:21 left.
The on-side kick was clearly batted out of bounds but that’s not illegal if it’s batted sideways and the Chargers knelt the rest of the game away.
It was apparent there were 10 years of experience between Rivers and Bortles in this game. Rivers used the whole field, anticipated who was going to be open and still has enough arm to get it there when needed. Bortles is still early in the learning process and it showed. Switch quarterbacks in this game, and the outcome is reversed.
Growing with a young quarterback is sometimes what bonds a team and it’s fans. You can only hope Bortles has a growth spurt soon.