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View from the O-Zone: Opportunity lost

Posted Oct 1, 2017

Oehser: The Jaguars missed on a very achievable mission against the New York Jets Sunday – and considering what could have been, that was too bad

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.  – The Jaguars missed on their mission.

And considering what could have been, that’s too bad.

The Jaguars on Sunday lost to the New York Jets, 23-20, in overtime in front of 77,562 at MetLife Stadium. It was a bizarre game that was as winnable as it was losable for both teams, but because it was very winnable for the Jaguars at game’s end it will be one they no doubt regret.

But the style and details of this one perhaps weren’t quite as important as the end result.

That’s because the Jaguars did what they very much didn’t want, didn’t need and didn’t expect to do Sunday. They lost.

Because they lost, they’re not alone in first place in the AFC South.

And they’re 2-2 through four games rather than a very attainable, goal-achieving 3-1.

“Our goal is to win each quarter of the season,” Jaguars quarterback Blake Borltes said after a rough game in which he completed 15 of 35 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown with a batted-ball, points-allowing third-quarter interception.

“We have each quarter broken down into four games and we went 2-2 in the first quarter, so it’s a loss.”

Defensive end Calais Campbell agreed.

“This one definitely stings a little bit, because we feel like we had it,” Campbell said. “At the end of the day, you learn from it. The 24-hour rule – you move on.”

Here’s what’s notable about those quotes:

There was no resignation in them, just as they were was no expectation this week among players that they wouldn’t play well and win. No, the Jaguars expected to win Sunday. They’re talked like it. They just didn’t play like it.

And because they didn’t, they missed a chance to win a second consecutive game, to improve to 3-1 through the first quarter of the season, to assure themselves of at least a tie for first place in the AFC South on the first day of October.

Just think of that.

After too long spending too far away from such things, the Jaguars could have been in first place in October with a victory Sunday. Instead, they missed a serious opportunity.

So, why did it happen? What went wrong Sunday where so much had gone right in two of the first three weeks of the season?

A few things:

*The offense. After an oh-so encouraging opening drive Sunday, the offense was anything but encouraging after that. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette continued an eye-opening, muscle-flexing start to the season, but aside from that this was a rough day offensively.

*Bortles. His day echoed that of the offense. He was sharp early, but struggled after that – and a third-quarter tipped-pass interception by defensive Kony Ealy looked too much like a lot of awkward tipped-pass interceptions off Bortles. It’s not fair to say the play cost the Jaguars the game, but it led to a point-blank field goal in an overtime game, so …

As for the defense …

Well, analyzing that unit is tougher.

Yes, the defense nearly saved this game. Two fourth-quarter takeaways – an 81-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Myles Jack and an interception by A.J. Bouye that led to a field goal and nearly a game-winning touchdown were the sorts of plays this defense has come to expect from itself. And the pass rush continued to be effective with five more sacks to run the season total to 18.

But the defense also allowed touchdown runs of 75 and 69 yards overall. The Jets averaged eight yards a carry. They rushed for 256 yards overall.

That’s not elite stuff and the Jaguars’ defenders knew it in the post-game locker room.

Here’s what Sunday doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean the Jaguars aren’t capable, or improved. It doesn’t mean they’re the “Same Old Jaguars” anymore than a Week 2 loss to Tennessee meant that a couple of weeks back – though that almost certainly will be the refrain from many observers in the coming days.

It also means the Jaguars still have some proving to do – to observers, to doubters. And yes, perhaps even to themselves.

This is still a team that can play defense. This is still a team with a lot of young parts, and young talent. As frustrating as Sunday may have been – and it no doubt was frustrating – it’s still very much a team learning to win. Lessons in the NFL can be hard. Sunday was that kind of lesson.

What the Jaguars must do now is what they did after a Week 2 loss to Tennessee: regroup. They must follow the lead of Head Coach Doug Marrone and not “get too high or too low.” They must remember that the NFL season more often than not is a season of highs and lows, dips and rebounds. That’s true even for contending teams.

And the Jaguars at 2-2 can still be a contending team.

But that’s for another day, because that’s what lies ahead for this team. As for Sunday, the Jaguars missed on their mission.

And considering what could have been, that’s too bad.

 

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