CINCINNATI, Ohio – It finally happened.
And when it happened, when the Jaguars' defense at last started forcing takeaways …
Well, it really, reallyhappened.
"We finally started stacking them up," cornerback A.J. Bouye said, adding: "When one player eats, we all eat."
The Jaguars, after forcing two takeaways – one defensively – in the first six games of the season, on Sunday forced four in a 27-17 victory over the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. All the takeaways came in the second half, with the Jaguars intercepting Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton on three consecutive fourth-quarter drives.
"It was awesome," linebacker Myles Jack said. "We just have to keep it going. It's what Jaguars defense is all about. We create turnovers. We play physical. We've been playing good defense. We just haven't been able to get those turnovers we needed.
"Once we're able to create that, it puts our offense in easier situations to do their thing. It's a great feeling."
Jack's interception with 8:40 remaining stopped a Bengals drive on the Jaguars 10-yard line with the Jaguars holding a 17-10 lead. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue intercepted Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton on the ensuing series and returned it 23 yards for a touchdown. Safety Ronnie Harrison's interception ended the Bengals' ensuing drive and set up a field goal by Josh Lambo.
Head Coach Doug Marrone called the week leading to Sunday perhaps the team's best of the season when it came to creating turnover opportunities in practice. Marrone said he mentioned it to defensive coordinator Todd Wash, who told him defensive players may have gotten more hands on more balls than in any previous week this season.
"I crossed my fingers and said, 'Gosh, I hope that's something that's good," Marrone said. "I think we did. I think we had some opportunities today."
Bouye said the Bengals effectively prevented the Jaguars' corners from making plays on the ball with double moves, and he credited Jack and Harrison with making plays.
"It's going to happen," Bouye said. "Some games, you don't get opportunities. You can't force them. That's one thing we didn't do today. We didn't try to force them. One week, we won't have any and one week we'll have a lot. It's maintaining it and playing good, sound ball."
Said Jack, "We just have to continue emphasizing it. It has to be in the air. We have to speak it into existence. We have to keep conversating about it. That's what we really did coming in. We wanted to start fast and create turnovers. It sounds simple, but it's not as easy as it is."
Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette rushed for 131 yards on 29 carries Sunday, his third game over 100 yards rushing in four weeks. Fournette now leads the AFC in rushing through seven games, with 715 yards on 144 carries. "They couldn't stop us; we knew that," Fournette said. "You could tell they didn't want to tackle." Fournette was asked when he felt as the Jaguars had "broken" Cincinnati physically. "First drive," he said. "They didn't want to tackle the first drive. This game shouldn't have been close. We felt it. We just have to execute better."
Marrone on Sunday lauded the play of nickel corner D.J. Hayden – not only against Cincinnati, but throughout the first seven games of the season. Hayden's hit on Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd forced the first of the four second-half takeaways and stopped a Bengals third-quarter drive with the Bengals leading 7-6. "I really think he's playing at a high level," Marrone said. "He's playing as well as a guy I've been around playing nickel. He's practicing really well and he's playing really well. … He makes a lot of plays. That one was a really important play in this game." Marrone also noted a tackle Hayden made on a screen pass one play before Ngakoue's touchdown, calling it a "hell of a play" that set up the ensuing play. "He's making plays all around that are causing an effect for us to play better," Marrone said.
The Jaguars' slew of injuries at linebacker Sunday was such that safety Jarrod Wilson was lining up as the nickel weak side linebacker late in the game. "We almost made a call and then said, 'Oh, he doesn't know that call,'' Marrone said. "We feel fortunate to have someone like J-Dub [Wilson] who can do that.'' Starting weak side linebacker Najee Goode sustained a toe injury early Sunday, with backup weak side linebacker Quincy Williams sustaining a hamstring injury and third-teamer D.J. Alexander sustaining a foot injury. Marrone said Goode and left tackle Cam Robinson both sustained turf toe injuries Sunday. "You never know with those," Marrone said.
Bouye: "It was big. A team that hasn't won a game yet [such as the Bengals], you can't really sleep on them. I'm not saying it's a trap game, but they have good weapons. We did a good job of trying to limit them. We've got to gain momentum going into the bye week."
Wide receiver Chris Conley: "It's huge. In this second quarter of the season, you have to decide what you want your team to be, what you want your identity to be. This is sort of a transition point for us. We have to put some things together. All the stuff you work on has to translate at some point to the field. This week was a good step in that direction."
Fournette: "It was a must. We're trying to get to .500 before the bye. It's going to be a fight each and every game. We have to continue to get better. We've made up our minds, collective as a group, to come out and fight. As long as we give it our best, at the end of the day, the outcome is going to depend on us."