ARLINGTON, Texas – Senior writer John Oehser examines five key plays from the Jaguars' 28-23 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in a 2023 Preseason Week 1 game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Saturday
1. Fuuuuuuuumble. After a stop-and-go start, the Jaguars got a major momentum boost on Logan Cooke's first punt of the preseason. Cooke, one of the NFL's best punters in recent seasons, got off a 61-yard punt on 4th-and-4 from the Jaguars 16 after the Jaguars' second series. Cowboys returner KaVontae Turpin returned the punt seven yards to the Cowboys 31, where Jaguars wide receiver Tim Jones – one of the team's top special teams players – stripped the ball and forced a fumble. Cornerback Gregory Junior recovered the bouncing fumble in a crowd at the Cowboys 42 to set up the Jaguars' first touchdown drive. "That's our first thing: Think takeaways," Junior said. "It's amazing, man. It's just going out there and everybody running to the ball, just 100 percent effort. That speaks for itself."
2. Lawrence to Kirk – and to Jones. The Jaguars' first two drives of the preseason ended in an interception and a punt without a first down. The offense gained immediate momentum after the early special teams turnover, driving 42 yards and taking a 6-0 lead when Lawrence passed nine yards to wide receiver Christian Kirk for a touchdown crossing in the back of the end zone. The pass came on fourth-and-three from the nine. Lawrence followed the touchdown with a two-point pass to wide receiver Zay Jones to give the Jaguars an 8-0 lead with 4:40 remaining in the first quarter. "A little frustrated from having the turnover early, but I think we finished well, the starters who were in early," Lawrence said. "Besides that one throw, I thought it was pretty clean. From an offensive perspective, some things we need to work on. You can't turn the ball over and put our defense in that situation. But I think we know that was just a bad throw by me. We'll get better and that's a good thing."
3. Another fuuuuumble. The Jaguars' maintained control of the game for much of the first half – and maintained their early 8-0 lead because of a timely turnover forced by the defense. Cowboys backup running back Rico Dowdle took a pass from backup quarterback Cooper Rush to the Jaguars 2, where inside linebacker Shaq Quarterman and Junior combined on a tackle. Junior stripped the ball from Dowdle, with veteran reserve safety Daniel Thomas recovering at the Jaguars 1 to keep the Jaguars' lead at eight with :08 remaining in the first quarter. "It felt good," Junior said of being involved in two of the Jaguars' three takeaways Saturday. "It is something you worked on, all season and in OTAs (organized team activities) and stuff like that, just being able to play fast. It felt good." Said Lawrence, "It's great to see our defense had some big takeaways. That was great to see us get our hands on the ball, get the ball back, give us some extra possessions. That was really, really cool."
4. Taaaaank – and the big guy. The Jaguars extended the lead in the second quarter with two big plays from players who have played well in 2023 Training Camp. First, rookie running back Tank Bigsby – a third-round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft – ran for 34 yards around left end to give the Jaguars 1st-and-10 at the Jaguars 46. "I had fun learning the new game speed," Bigsby said. "I came off the sideline and told [running back Travis] Etienne [Jr.], 'Boy, they move fast.' He said, 'It will slow down.' Everything slowed down." Quarterback C.J. Beathard two plays later threw deep to Jacob Harris, a 6-feet-5 third-year wide receiver who has excelled throughout camp and whose diving, one-handed, 42-yard reception gave the Jaguars first-and-goal at the Cowboys 4. Beathard's two-yard keeper three plays later gave the Jaguars a 14-0 lead with 7:41 remaining in the second quarter.
5. Ruuuuumbling. This is more about the Jaguars' running game overall than about one particular play, though a second-half highlight for the Jaguars did come midway through the third quarter when veteran running back D'Ernest Johnson – a 2023 free-agent signee from the Cleveland Browns – ran off left end for 26 yards on first down to the Cowboys 22. That drive ended when third-team quarterback Nathan Rourke threw incomplete under pressure on 4th-and-9 from the Cowboys 15. Three Jaguars running backs had runs of more than 10 yards, with starter Travis Etienne registering a 13-yarder in the first quarter and Bigby running for 34 from the 12 in the second. Bigbsy led the Jaguars with 52 yards on nine carries, and the Jaguars for the game rushed 36 times for 145 yards and two touchdowns.
5a. Escape artist. Perhaps the game's most memorable play came late in the fourth quarter, when Rourke extended a one-score lead to 28-16 with a 21-yard touchdown pass to running back Qadree Ollison. Rourke, who signed with the Jaguars after playing two seasons in the CFL, on the play narrowly avoided a would-be sack before passing to an open Ollison on the right side of the end zone. "It's a bit of a blur," Rourke said. "I just knew I needed to have a little bit of time, to buy some time. It was a longer route. We had to buy some time to able to get a completion and then had to buy some time in the pocket. Qadree did a really good job with the scramble rules and I just tried to give him a chance. I'm glad it worked out." Added Rourke of the play in his first NFL game, "It's fun," Rourke said. "It's why you play. It's why you're out here."