TROUBLE UP FRONT
The hope was a healthy offensive line would be an effective offensive line.
Throughout much of Sunday that wasn't the case.
Eben Britton and Cameron Bradfield returned from ankle injuries to start at left guard and right tackle, respectively, and while that gave the team its starting offensive line for the first time since the regular-season opener, the Jaguars allowed six sacks on Sunday.
Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert also scrambled three times, and threw under pressure several more in a 27-10 loss to the Bengals at EverBank Field.
"That may have been more of our objective, to throw," Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said. "But when you do that, you have to be able to protect. They (the Bengals) did a good job. They did. I give them credit."
The Jaguars ran running back Maurice Jones-Drew just 13 times, attempting 40 passes. Gabbert completed 23 of 34 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown, but also threw his first interception of the season.
Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins, one of the NFL's best interior pass rushers, finished with two sacks, two tackles for loss and three pressures. Tackle Domata Peko had a sack and a pressure.
Britton was replaced at halftime by rookie free agent Mike Brewster.
"You can only help so many guys up front," Mularkey said when asked if having a back help with pass protection might have helped. "Sometimes, you're going to have some one-on-one matchups, and you have to find a way to block them.
"It's hard to protect inside. We can chip guys on the outside (defensive ends). When you have guys having a good a day on our interior guys, it's hard to protect those guys."
PLAY OF THE GAME
The Jaguars had outplayed the Bengals at times and were only down by three when the clocked showed 2:00 for the two-minute warning at the end of the first half. With the Bengals facing 2nd-and-11 on the Jaguars 43, Jacksonville had a chance to get a stop and stay within one score. Instead, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw deep to wide receiver A.J. Green, who made the catch just before he was pushed out of bounds by cornerback Rashean Mathis. The play went for 42 yards to the Jacksonville 1, and Dalton's sneak two plays later gave the Bengals a 17-7 halftime lead. The Jaguars never got closer than a touchdown again.
The Bengals led by three points after a first quarter marked by Jaguars missed opportunities. The Jaguars had a chance at point-blank possession when linebacker Kyle Bosworth intercepted Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, but Bosworth fumbled the ball back to Cincinnati at the Jaguars 9. Later in the drive, Mathis couldn't hold a would-be interception for a touchdown. Bengals kicker Mike Nugent's 35-yard field goal made it 3-0 at the end of the quarter.
The Bengals turned in a dominant period, and by the end of the half they held a 198-100 yardage advantage. A 1-yard pass from Dalton to Chris Pressley made it 10-7, then Dalton scored on the 1-yard sneak with 1:11 remaining in the half to make it 17-7.
The Jaguars scratched their way into the game in the third quarter, averting something close to disaster when defensive tackle C.J. Mosley recovered a fumble by BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the end zone. That kept the score 17-7, and the Jaguars had one of their better drives of the season on the ensuing possession. A 21-yard field goal by Josh Scobee cut the lead to 17-10.
The Bengals pulled steadily away in the fourth quarter, with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Dalton to Green essentially clinching the victory. The Jaguars never moved past their 32 and Nugent's 35-yard field goal with 12:38 remaining closed the scoring.
"I'm not worried about that (the team's talent level). I've seen a lot of good things that can happen. I've seen drives. We just have to keep doing what we're doing, do it better. I said that last week. We're capable of doing better than we're doing. I believe that. A lot of it is making plays. "
"It's up to me to execute the passing game."
"We just didn't have enough opportunities to run the ball. I always think we should run the ball. That never changes. They made plays and we had opportunities to make plays and we didn't."
STAT OF THE GAME
The Jaguars converted two of 11 third downs. They now have converted two of 20 third-down opportunities at home this season. Each conversion on Sunday came on a 14-play, 77-yard drive that ended with a 21-yard field goal by Scobee that made it 17-10, Bengals.
OFFENSIVELY . . .
The Jaguars put together two efficient drives on Sunday, but the theme afterward was about inconsistency. The Jaguars produced a 13-play, 77-yard drive that spanned the first and second quarters, then drove 77 yards on 14 plays in the third quarter. Aside from those drives, the Jaguars had 58 yards. "It's on my shoulders," Gabbert said. "I've got to get the offense executing at a higher level."
DEFENSIVELY . . .
The defense missed several opportunities early, and when it did come up with a big play, it gave the ball back to the Bengals when Bosworth intercepted and fumbled on the first drive. Mathis' dropped interception also hurt. For the day, the Jaguars allowed 138 yards rushing and 244 passing and did not register a sack. They held the Bengals to 2-of-11 on third downs, but in key moments, the Jaguars couldn't get Cincinnati off the field often enough.
The Bengals controlled the final three quarters to the extent that it's difficult to point to one play, but a moment early in the second quarter did swing momentum. The Jaguars led 7-3 and had stopped the Bengals on the previous drive. On 4th-and-1 from the Bengals 34, Cincinnati lined up to punt but snapped directly to Cedric Peerman. He ran 48 yards to the Jaguars 18 and four plays later, Dalton passed to Pressley for the go-ahead touchdown.
Gabbert's going to take a lot of criticism after this game. Credit him for taking the blame afterward; he must improve. Although he completed 23 of 34 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown, he threw his first interception of the season and the offense went stagnant following a 77-yard drive in the third quarter. At the same time, the offensive line must protect better. Much better. This is a group that had its starters in the game on Sunday and allowed Gabbert to be sacked six times, sometimes so quickly it would have been hard for anyone to make a play. He also scrambled twice, and threw under duress, and a lot of the day, it was hard to imagine what play the Jaguars could have called and been successful with protection breaking down so quickly.
Wide receiver Laurent Robinson sustained a blow to the head and left the game in the third quarter. It's the second consecutive week he has left the game with a blow to the head.
*The Jaguars failed to register a sack for the third time in as many games. That's the first time since 2009 the team has gone three consecutive games without a sack. "We all know we have to do a better job getting there," Mularkey said. "That's been the objective since Day One."
- Among the former Jaguars players at alumni weekend: Bryan Barker, Tony Boselli, Kyle Brady, Mark Brunell, Fernando Bryant, Danny Clark, Marco Coleman, Donovin Darius, Don Davey, Todd Fordham, Paul Frase, Chris Hanson, Mike Hollis, Greg Huntington, Willie Jackson, Damon Jones, Jeff Kopp, Jeff Lageman, Chris Luzar, Lonnie Marts, Keenan McCardell, Marlon McCree, Rob Meier, Will Moore, Tom Myslinski, Todd Philcox, Jimmy Redmond, James Roberson, Micah Ross, Paul Spicer, Marcus Stroud, Fred Taylor, Patrick Venzke, Dave Widell and Maurice Williams. Also on hand but either coaching or broadcasting during the game were Tony Boselli, Jeff Lageman, Tom Myslinski, Marlon McCree and Paul Spicer.
*Bradfield and Britton started for the first time since Week 1, which meant the Jaguars had 21 of 22 starters available Sunday, with linebacker Daryl Smith (groin) the only starter out. Bosworth started a fourth consecutive game for Smith. Defensive end Austen Lane (foot) and running back Rashad Jennings (knee) also returned.
*Jaguars' inactives Sunday: cornerback Kevin Rutland, Smith, linebacker Brandon Marshall, guard Herb Taylor, offensive tackle Daniel Baldridge, defensive end George Selvie and defensive tackle Jeris Pendleton.
The Jaguars will play the Chicago Bears at EverBank Field Sunday.
For a second consecutive home game, the result wasn't pretty. There were bright moments, but not enough. Mularkey talked afterward of staying the course, and that's what teams must do in difficult times. Rash changes in midseason stink of panic, and that's not what this staff is about. Staying the course is what you must do, and this team will continue to believe. Still, it won't be an easy week around EverBank. It never is at 1-3.