DETROIT, Mich. – Senior writer John Oehser examines five key plays from the Jaguars' 25-7 the Detroit Lions in a 2023 Preseason Week 2 game at Ford Field Saturday:
1. Deep from C.J. to Jones. After two scoreless Detroit possessions and one by the Jaguars to start the game, backup quarterback C.J. Beathard gave the Jaguars the game's first momentum with a perfect 48-yard touch pass to reserve wide receiver/special teams ace Tim Jones. Rookie running back Tank Bigsby, who has shined throughout 2023 Training Camp, rushed around left end for 17 yards on the ensuing play. "It's important just to get reps and continue to grow as a player, to get better as a team just get growth on the field," Bigsby said. "It was amazing to get the opportunity and just continue to work hard and continue to put my head down and get better each and every day." Kicker Brandon McManus, a 10-year veteran who signed as a free agent in the offseason, converted his first field goal attempt with the Jaguas to end the drive. The 40-yarder gave the Jaguars a 3-0 lead with 6:15 remaining in the first quarter.
2. Fuuuumble. The Jaguars controlled momentum much of the first quarter – until the Lions intercepted Beathard to end the third Jacksonville series. The Jaguars got the momentum back immediately when defensive lineman Jeremiah Ledbetter – who had a sack and a pressure early in the fourth quarter – forced a fumble by Lions quarterback Teddy Bridgewater after a six-yard loss on second-and-eight from the Jaguars 31. Third-year linebacker Caleb Johnson recovered the fumble to end the Lions' drive and returned it 33 yards to the Lions 28. The Jaguars turned the ball over on downs at the Lions 21.
3. Still showing up. Veteran wide receiver Jacob Harris has looked good throughout Jaguars '23 camp, a trend that continued in the second quarter Saturday. Harris, a 6-feet-5, 211-pound receiver, got open on a crossing pattern and caught a 23-yard pass that turned a second-and-14 from the Lions 49 into a first down at the Lions 26. Bigsby, who rushed for 70 yards on 13 carries Saturday, followed Harris' reception with an 11-yard run to the Lions' 15. McManus' second field goal in as many attempts – a 28-yarder – gave the Jaguars a 6-0 lead with 4:53 remaining in the second quarter. "We played so many of our younger backups – and even some of those third-string guys today – and I thought they played really hard," Pederson said.
4. Piiiiick. Second-year cornerback Gregory Junior, like Harris and Bigsby, has stood out throughout '23 camp and the preseason. He also continued to do so Saturday, following a Preseason Week 1 performance in which he recovered a fumble and forced another with an interception that set up a Jaguars touchdown. Lions quarterback Nate Sudfeld overthrew a pass on first-and-10 from the Lions 31 that Junior intercepted and returned 37 yards to the Lions 19. With the ball thrown almost directly to him, Junior said with a smile that his main thought was "Don't drop it. It wouldn't have been good if I would have dropped it. I just looked it in." Beathard three plays later on third-and-six from the 15 threw into the flat to wide receiver Parker Washington, who got away from a Lions defender and scored on a 15-yard touchdown pass to give the Jaguars a 12-0 lead with :25 remaining in the second quarter. "The coach is always harping on takeaways," Junior said. "It's just going out there just playing fast and just having fun. It's just part of it."
5A. D'Ernest … TD. The Lions' first touchdown came midway through the third quarter. The Jaguars' third-team offense and reserve responded immediately, with veteran running back D'Ernest Johnson and rookie quarterback Nathan Rourke keying an 11-play, 82-yard drive. Rourke completed four of five passes for 35 yards on the drive, with Johnson's 17-yard run up the middle giving the Jaguars a first down at the Lions 12. Johnson's one-yard touchdown run pushed the Jaguars' lead to 18-7 with 2:04 remaining in the third quarter. "Every time you get on that field, you want to do your best and make a play," said Johnson, a fifth-year NFL veteran who played with the Cleveland Browns the past four seasons "You're not just trying to show film for the Jaguars, but for 31 other teams out there. I was just trying to do the best I could. I've been in this situation before. Whenever my number is called, I'm just going out there, just capitalizing on the opportunity."
5B. Breaking away. Rookie wide receiver Elijah Cooks, like Harris trying to make the roster at a deep position, had one of the Jaguars' biggest plays of the day when he caught a slant over the middle from Rourke and turned second-and-11 from the Jaguars 27 into a 47-yard pass and a first down at the Lions 26. "I feel pretty good," Rourke said. "It was good to get a go against another opponent and obviously the guys did a really good job." That connection set up Johnson's second rushing touchdown, a 15-yarder with 13:35 remaining in the fourth quarter that gave the Jaguars a 25-7 lead.