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What we learned.

Posted Dec 10, 2012

Here's what we learned in the Jaguars' 17-10 loss to the New York Jets Sunday...

1. Montell Owens is good. We knew he was a good special teams player. Two Pro Bowls tells you that. On Sunday, he showed he’s a good running back, too. He made his first NFL start at running back, and when he was in the game the offense functioned fairly efficiently. When he wasn’t, it didn’t. He missed much of the third quarter with cramps, and that was when the offense turned in four consecutive three-and-outs. He finished with 91 yards on 14 carries, ran hard and apparently will start the rest of the season unless Maurice Jones-Drew returns.

2. The run defense struggles in the second half. The problem that cost the Jaguars a week ago against the Bills cost them Sunday, too. The Jets decided at halftime they were going to run, and the only question after that was what took them so long. The Jets controlled the momentum in the third quarter with the run, and by the time the fourth quarter began, they had a 10-3 lead and were on their way to another touchdown that would prove too much to overcome.

3. The Jaguars are still dropping too many passes. We keep saying it and saying it and saying it . . .

4. Cecil Shorts matters. We learned it when he played the first 12 games and we learned it Sunday in his absence. The Jaguars were one score from taking control early, and one score from tying it late. Shorts more often than not this season has provided a big play and a lot of those plays have been scores. He was missed Sunday. A lot.

5. The Jaguars have a long way to go. It’s not that the ground can’t be made up in a hurry. Turnarounds in the NFL don’t take forever. But at 2-11 with a run defense that struggles too often, a pass rush that has trouble getting sacks and an offensive line struggling to protect the passer, a lot of improvement must be made.

6. Jason Babin could make a difference. We’re not saying Babin is going to change the defense this season. Realistically, it’s probably too late for that. But that sack/fumble that Babin forced and recovered in the first half Sunday? That was impressive stuff. It was the fastest a pass rusher has gotten around the tackle and gotten home in the last two seasons for the Jaguars and the sort of play the Jaguars haven’t made nearly enough in a long time. If Babin can do that with relative consistency for another year or two, that’s a huge upgrade.

7. Big plays are still elusive. Mike Mularkey has been harping on it all year, but the Jaguars just don’t make enough plays. And breaks keep going against them, too. On Sunday, the Jaguars had a very real chance to take a 10-0 lead when safety Dwight Lowery returned a fumble 62 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. A replay reversed the call and the Jaguars never pushed the lead beyond 3-0. A touchdown there changes the complexion of the game, but as has been the case much of the season, the call at the critical time went against the Jaguars.

8. The wide receivers are thin. They’re really young, too – that’s true with Shorts and without him it’s even more so. And on Sunday, it mattered. The Jaguars had Justin Blackmon, Kevin Elliott, Jordan Shipley, Quan Cosby and Toney Clemons at wide receiver. Blackmon was by far the most tenured player in the group in terms of time with the Jaguars – and he’s a rookie making his 12th NFL start. The result? A group that had been developing into a strength in recent weeks suddenly lacked experience and continuity, and the passing game suffered accordingly.

9. Chad Henne can’t do it alone. Criticism of Henne was pretty widespread Sunday. He went 21 of 43 for 185 yards and two interceptions. Henne didn’t play great. Far from it. And he may not be a franchise guy. It even remains to be seen if he’s the starter going into next season. But considering the experience level at receiver, much more on Sunday would have been a whole lot to ask.

10. As far as “What We Learned,” there may not be that much more to learn. Yes, there are three games remaining, but many of the same things that have hurt the Jaguars all season continue to hurt. Mistakes at the wrong times. Drops. Struggling run defense. Injuries. Those things are defining the season and they defined Sunday, too.

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