JACKSONVILLE – The start was impressive – electric, even.
That was a main storyline for the Jaguars Thursday – more than the final score of what became a 24-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the 2018 preseason opener at TIAA Bank Field in a game with 62,354 tickets distributed.
The start was the game’s most memorable aspect for the Jaguars.
Quarterback Blake Bortles and the first-team offense started the preseason in efficient fashion, moving 79 yards for a touchdown on the game’s first drive. Bortles was accurate and poised. Running back Leonard Fournette ran with power. Multiple receivers and tight ends made first-down catches.
“We had two starters out in the o-line,” Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said at halftime, referring to right tackle Jermey Parnell and left guard Andrew Norwell missing the game with what are believed minor injuries.
“Blake makes a play with his legs at the end to score the touchdown. It’s a good way to start.”
Bortles capped the 15-play drive with a two-yard run after he converted three third downs with passes to three different receivers. Fournette converted 3rd-and-1 from the Saints 46 with a three-yard run during the drive.
Bortles’ two-yard rollout into the right corner of the end zone capped the drive, ending the night for the first-team offense. Bortles completed six of nine passes for 53 yards on the drive.
Tom Savage started at quarterback for the Saints, completing 12 of 16 passes for 91 yards for no touchdowns and no interceptions. Saints starting quarterback Drew Brees did not play.
Jaguars backup Cody Kessler completed 14 of 17 passes and a touchdown with no interceptions in two and a half quarters. He moved the second-team offense efficiently much of the game, leading the unit to two 49-yard second-quarter field goals by kicker Josh Lambo.
“We were moving the ball, but again, you’re kicking field goals,” Marrone said at halftime. “Obviously, we want touchdowns.”
Kessler led the Jaguars to another score in the third quarter with his seven-yard touchdown pass to reserve tight end Paul Orndoff giving them a 20-10 lead.
The Saints rallied in the fourth quarter, taking their first lead when running back Jonathan Williams scored on a four-yard run with 2:55 remaining.
“We’ve been working hard in camp,” Marrone said at halftime. “We still have a ways to go, but it’s a good way to start.”
Step by step:
* Bortles looked poised and efficient early. His passes gave the Jaguars four first downs on the opening drive, including three third-down conversions. One of those passes was a 16-yarder to second-year wide receiver Dede Westbrook on 3rd-and-10 from the Saints 22. Fournette rushed for 24 yards on five carries on the drive.
*The Saints made it 7-3 with a 45-yard field goal by Wil Lutz on the ensuing drive. An efficient drive by the Jaguars’ second-team offense on the ensuing series ended at the Saints 32, with Lambo converting from 49 yards to make it 10-3 with 12:25 remaining. The Jaguars’ second-team offense moved 55 yards on its opening drive.
*Lambo converted a second 49-yard field goal with 2:31 remaining in the second quarter. That gave the Jaguars a 13-10 lead with the Saints having tied the game on the previous possession with a two-yard touchdown run by running back Mark Ingram. The Jaguars’ second-team offense moved 38 yards for Lambo’s second field goal.
*The Jaguars stopped a New Orleans drive to start the second half with a fourth-down sack by linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka. Kessler remained in the game to start the third quarter, driving the offense 55 yards and capping the drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass to reserve tight end Paul Orndoff. That was the third scoring drive in four possessions for Kessler and the second-team offense.
*Jaguars third-team quarterback Tanner Lee played the fourth quarter, completing four of eight passes for 37 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
*Saints quarterback Taysom Hill’s three-yard touchdown run made it 20-17, Jaguars, with 6:55 remaining. Williams’ touchdown run gave the Saints the lead seven plays after defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth returned a fumble by Lee at the Jaguars 30.
Notable: Twelve Jaguars players were ruled out for the Jaguars before the game: defensive ends Calais Campbell, Dawuane Smoot and rookie first-round draft selection Taven Bryan, Norwell, Parnell, wide receiver DeAndre Smelter, nose tackle Eli Ankou, linebacker Brooks Ellis, cornerback Don Carey, offensive tackle Will Richardson, wide receiver Keelan Cole and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. … Hunter Dimick started with Smoot, Campbell and Bryan all out; Westbrook started in place of Cole and Josh Wells started for Parnell. Tyler Shatley started in place of Norwell. … Fowler has been on the Physically Unable to Perform list with a shoulder issue since the start of training camp. … Second-year linebacker Blair Brown was evaluated for a concussion late in the second quarter.
What’s next: The Jaguars will visit the defending NFC North Champion Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium Saturday, August 18 at 1 p.m. The Jaguars will practice against the Vikings next week.