JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines five key plays from the Jaguars' 30-16 loss to the Houston Texans in a 2021 Week 15 game at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday
1. Oh no. The Jaguars continued a troubling trend Sunday, and it led to a touchdown and an early Texans lead. The Jaguars' defense forced a Texans punt on the game's first possession, but Jaguars defensive lineman Adam Gotsis was called for illegal hands to the face – a five-yard penalty that gave Houston an automatic first down at the Texans 37. The Texans drove methodically from there, converting three first downs before Texans quarterback Davis Mills found wide receiver Brandin Cooks open in the middle of the field for an easy 22-yard catch-and-run touchdown. That gave Houston a 7-0 lead with 6:39 remaining in the first quarter. The Jaguars in a recent-two game stretch – November home losses to Atlanta and San Francisco – had six special teams/defensive penalties extend opponents' drives on third- or fourth down. "First drive we're off the field; we get a penalty that doesn't need to happen," Jaguars Interim Head Coach Darrell Bevell said. "We have to clean those things up. We've got to make sure the guys understand that because, again, we're killing ourselves and it's going to continue to happen unless we clean that up."
2. Oh, no (again). Special teams cost the Jaguars big Sunday. Not only did the penalty on Gotsis lead to a Texans touchdown, but their subsequent inability to cover a kick gave the Texans momentum and a double-digit lead late in the first quarter. One play after Jaguars kicker Matthew Wright's 22-yard field goal pulled the Jaguars to within four, Texans defensive back Tremon Smith broke a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The return gave the Texans a 14-3 lead with 1:26 remaining in the first quarter. Jaguars safety Rayshawn Jenkins sustained what appeared to be a serious ankle injury on the play and was immediately ruled out.
3. Zip and rip. The Jaguars' special teams errors ensured a deficit throughout the first half, but the offense showed encouraging signs on multiple possessions – particularly their early field-goal drive and a second-quarter touchdown drive. The touchdown drive was one of the Jaguars' most impressive in recent weeks, with quarterback Trevor Lawrence playing with confidence and running back James Robinson running effectively. Lawrence completed three of five passes for 42 yards on the drive and Robinson rushed four times for 29 yards. Robinson's one-yard touchdown run came with a Jaguars fan dressed in a Lawrence jersey and wig dancing in the corner of the end zone. More significantly, it capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive and pulled the Jaguars to within 14-10 with 12:09 remaining in the second quarter.
4. Uh-oh. Despite the Texans controlling taking an early 11-point lead, the Jaguars had a chance to tie or cut into the lead late in the first half. They drove into Texans territory in the final two minutes, facing 3rd-and-2 at the Texans 39. A one-yard run on an inside handoff from shotgun formation by running back Dare Ogunbowale made it 4th-and-1 at the 38, with Lawrence sneaking over center from there and getting stopped for no gain. The Texans moved quickly on their ensuing possession, moving 29 yards on five plays. Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn's 51-yard field goal on the final play of the half pushed the Texans' lead to 20-10. "It was tough there," Lawrence said of the failed sneak. "We ran it on the 5-yard line earlier in the game on 3rd and short, and it was the same formation, similar look, so I think they knew it was coming. They gapped us out, made it pretty tough. And then the linebackers did a good job, also, flying up on the snap. So wasn't a ton of space. They covered both A-gaps. That always makes it tough on a quarterback sneak."
5. Closing time. The Jaguars never led Sunday, marking their sixth consecutive game without holding a lead. But they trailed just 23-16 with just over two-and-a-half minutes remaining and the Texans facing 3rd-and-9 at the Jaguars 43. The Texans lined up in an empty-backfield formation with three receivers to the left of Mills, who threw a quick screen to Cooks. With Jaguars safeties Andre Cisco and Andrew Wingard blocked early on the play, Cooks raced untouched for a 43-yard touchdown reception and a 30-16 Texans lead with 2:22 remaining. "The last one is a huge play in the game, and after the whole game, after everything that happened, there's a chance for a one-play opportunity," Bevell said. "If the defense makes the play, then the offense gets a chance to go win the game, an opportunity to make it. If we got a stop, the offense got a chance to go win the game, we give up a touchdown. We've got to clean that up, and we've got to learn how to win."