The Jaguars believe the time is coming when their quarterback and the offense will be the anchor for a winning franchise.
On Sunday in a 23-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, the offense was more like an anchor for three quarters – negating a winning effort from a defense that recently has started flexing on its opponents.
"The defense played great, that's two weeks in a row," said Jaguars rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, clearly bothered by his lost fumble on what he believed would be the game-winning drive in the final minutes.
"I love the way our defense is playing. If they keep doing that, we're going to have a chance to win every game. Us, as an offense, have to take some responsibility and put the right foot forward. We're going to stick together and we'll do that, but we definitely need to play better."
Little worked for the Jaguars offensively in the first half, which was most apparent on three consecutive drives on which defense held and offered the offense outstanding field position on the Jaguars' 38, 37 and 43-yard lines.
Instead of closing the 17-6 deficit, the Jaguars went three-and-out on all three drives – and finished the half with three first downs and 36 passing yards.
"The most disappointing part of the whole day was to me when our defense … the plan to win and that field position chart that we live by … we were living by it," Jaguars Head Coach Urban Meyer said. "We were punting the ball down in there, holding them, getting the ball back about the 40-yard line and we didn't do anything with it. That's a problem."
The tide turned on the first play of the fourth quarter when Lawrence found wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. for a 23-yard gain to the Colts' 42-yard line. An 18-yard run by running back James Robinson took the ball to the Indianapolis 15, and tight end Dan Arnold made a big 14-yard catch in traffic on 3rd-and-11 to set up Robinson's 1-yard touchdown plunge.
Arnold took the shovel pass on the two-point conversion to make it 20-17, Colts.
"I thought guys made plays," Lawrence said of the difference between the first three quarters and the touchdown drive to start the fourth. "There were a few contested catches and tight windows all that. I made some throws I missed in the first half and that was why we had that long drive where we ended up scoring. That was huge to get us back in the game."
Which brings us back to Sunday's central theme – a strong defensive effort unfulfilled by an ineffective offense. The defense after Robinson's touchdown held the Colts to another field goal, leaving 2:26 on the clock and the game within reach at 23-17.
Lawrence got his team to 1st-and-10 at the Colts 46. They needed a touchdown, and had momentum plus a time out and 1:02 with which to work. Lawrence, feeling pressure, tried to sprint forward out of the pocket. He was stripped of the ball and the Colts recovered to end the threat.
"Frustrated, obviously, with myself," Lawrence said. "We had no doubt we were going to go down the field and we were putting a good drive together. I just have to take care of the ball. We have a lot of belief right now in that locker room and I'm pretty hard on myself. We had all the belief on the sideline. That just stings when you end the game that way. I'm disappointed in myself."
Tight end Dan Arnold saw it in his quarterback's eyes, making a point to find him on the sideline.
"What I was saying to him at the end of the game was that he's got a lot of football ahead of him," said Arnold, who has quickly become Lawrence's favorite target. "He's not going to be defined by these moments where he turns the ball over at the end of the game. It's going to be how he responds to it."
"I gave him an anecdote of myself when I was a second-year player in New Orleans, and I dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone of the NFC Championship Game. There was a lot of the offseason where I let it define me but then I just made a decision that I'm going to move on from it and I'm going to become a great football player. I don't have any doubt he's going to do that and become a tremendous football player."
Colts running back Jonathan Taylor looked like the game's best running back in the first quarter Sunday with runs of 34, 20 and 8 yards on his way to a 93-yard quarter that included a four-yard touchdown run. But he wasn't a factor the rest of the way, gaining only 23 yards on 11 carries over the final three quarters to finish with 116 yards. That effort, to corral the NFL's leading rusher, was central to the Jaguars' rally. "I just think we tackled better," Meyer said. "We weren't knocked out of the gaps."