HOUSTON, Texas – Senior writer John Oehser examines five key plays from the Jaguars' 37-21 loss to the Houston Texans Sunday in a 2021 Week 1 game at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.
1. Taylor goes deep. After neither team moved effectively on their first drive, the Texans took a 7-0 lead on their second possession – a 14-play, 84-yarder with the key play coming on 3rd-and-9 from the Jaguars 42. On the play, Jaguars defensive end/linebacker Josh Allen and defensive end Jihard Ward got pressure – but Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor got the pass off deep and veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks caught the pass over Jaguars safety Rayshawn Jenkins. Both came down with the pass, but officials ruled it a reception and Texans running back Mark Ingram II scored on a one-yard run three plays later to give the Texans a 7-0 lead with 6:39 remaining in the first quarter. Cooks changed the game for the Texans, catching four passes for 128 yards and setting up two Texans first-half touchdowns. "He extended the play," Head Coach Urban Meyer said of Taylor. "A couple of times he just launched the ball and those guys made plays. I've always thought he was a heck of a player. He had a good day. When a quarterback can hurt you that way … he did a good job."
2. Missed opportunity. The Jaguars showed life immediately after Ingram's touchdown, with quarterback Trevor Lawrence driving them quickly to the Houston with completions of 33 and 15 yards to wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. Lawrence threw slightly behind veteran wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. on 3rd-and-5 from the Texans 37, and Chark – who later caught a beautiful 41-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence in the third quarter – dropped the catchable pass to set up a 55-yard field-goal attempt by kicker Josh Lambo. Lambo missed the kick wide left with 4:44 remaining to allow Houston to maintain a 7-0 first-quarter lead. That led to a 55-yard Texans drive that ended when Taylor passed seven yards for an easy touchdown to running David Johnson for a 14-0 lead with 2:25 remaining in first quarter.
3. A big early first down. This play perhaps was possible to overlook, but it helped the Jaguars change momentum – and gain their collective footing – early in the second quarter. The Jaguars faced 3rd-and-17 from their 29 on the first play of the quarter when Lawrence found Chark open near the left hashmark; Chark leaped high for the pass and made the reception for a 27-yard gain to the Texas 44. Running back Carlos Hyde's 13-yard run gave the Jaguars a first down at the 31. Texans defensive tackle Maliek Collins was called for roughing the passer on third-and-19 from the Houston 40, which gave the Jaguars a first down on the Texans 25. Lawrence passed 22 yards to tight end Chris Manhertz two plays later, cutting the Texans lead to 14-7 with 12:25 remaining in the half. Not a lot went right for the Jaguars on Sunday, but this was an impressive early moment for the young quarterback. "We did some good things," Lawrence said. "We had a couple of good drives, hit some big plays. There are a lot of good things. We've got to keep doing those and learn from the bad."
4. Rookie interception(s). Lawrence threw two ill-advised interceptions in the second quarter, with the second one costly – though not ultimately disastrous. After a 40-yard field goal by Joey Slye gave the Texans a 17-7 lead, Lawrence and the Jaguars offense drove to the 50. On 2nd-and-13, pressure from the interior defensive line forced Lawrence to scramble. He escaped pressure by running to his left then threw back across the middle of the field. The pass, intended for wide receiver Devin Smith, sailed high and was intercepted by safety Justin Reid. After the Jaguars defense forced a punt, the offense took possession at its seven. Lawrence on 2nd-and-9 from the 8 threw deep to Chark, but Texans cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III read the throw for an easy interception that he returned to the Jaguars 7. The defense again held the Texans, with Slye's 26-yard field goal giving the Texans a 20-7 lead. "Turnovers – it's all me," said Lawrence, who threw a third interception in the third quarter. "You're not going to win many games with three turnovers, especially when the margin is minus three. It's not good. You've got to watch them, correct them and move on."
5. And another looooong pass. The game was still relatively in doubt late in the second quarter, particularly after the defense held the Texans to three points on the two possessions that followed Lawrence's second-quarter interceptions. But with the Texans leading 20-7 in the final minute, Taylor escaped a would-be sack from second-year linebacker/defensive end K'Lavon Chaisson and rolled to his left. He threw high and far down the field, with Cooks catching a 52-yard pass for a first down at the Jaguars 8. Taylor on the ensuing play threw without pressure to wide-open wide receiver Danny Amendola, with Amendola scoring untouched for an either-yard touchdown pass – Taylor's second of the game – and a 27-7 lead with eight seconds remaining in the half. The Jaguars never got closer than 20 points again.