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How the Jaguars Took Charge in Week 17: Breaking Down Five Key Plays

Five Key Plays - Week 17

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines key plays from the Jaguars’ 26-0 victory over the Carolina Panthers at EverBank Stadium Sunday.

1. Methodical, effective. The Jaguars wanted clean and effective play offensively Sunday. They also wanted an early lead after not leading in nearly a month – and they got it all on the game's first possession. The Jaguars drove 43 yards on 13 plays on the opening drive – and while there were no big plays, there was efficient play from quarterback C.J. Beathard and the Jaguars' offense. Beathard, starting in place of injured starter Trevor Lawrence and making his first start in three seasons with the Jaguars as Lawrence's backup, completed four of five passes for 34 yards on the drive with two completions converting third downs. Kicker Brandon McManus' 35-yard field goal capped the drive and gave the Jaguars a 3-0 lead with 8:36 remaining in the first quarter. "C.J. has been ready all year," Jaguars tight end Evan Engram said. "He was ready all year and today I think he did phenomenal. [He] made great decisions, had command of the huddle, made plays with his arm, made plays with his feet and played with some swagger too. I had a good feeling about today and definitely had a good feeling about C.J. today. He definitely showed up for us for sure."

2. Big stops, big defense. The Jaguars' defense turned in one of its biggest games of the season – and the unit set the tone for a strong day early. First, the unit very nearly had a huge turnover – and just as nearly a touchdown – when safety Rayshawn Jenkins cut in front of a pass from Panthers quarterback Bryce Young to tight end Stephen Sullivan on the sideline on third-and-three from the Jaguars 38. One play after the near interception, Young converted fourth-and-three with a 14-yard pass to wide receiver Adam Thielen. But the defense made a huge stop four plays later when defensive lineman Roy Robertson-Harris sacked Young for a 10-yard loss on fourth-and-seven from the Jaguars 21. "It started in practice," said outside linebacker Josh Allen, who had three of the Jaguars' season-high six sacks Sunday. "We had a talk as a defense, a much needed one. I think that really sparked the 'All right, let's get back to what we do. Just go out here and play.' That was our mindset coming into the game."

3. Four for four. McManus on Sunday didn't have a huge field goal that stood out from any other. What he had was a consistent game that allowed the Jaguars to pull steadily away in the first half despite not scoring a touchdown on three red-zone trips. McManus, who had missed four of five field-goal attempts in the last four games, converted first from 35 yards on the game's opening possession. He then converted second-quarter field goals of 26 and 24 yards, with the 24-yarder pushing the Jaguars' steadily growing lead to 9-0 with 2:45 remaining in the first half. "Obviously we would have loved to score the touchdowns in those situations, but, too, to have Brandon out there and make those kicks like he did, that's good for his confidence moving forward," Head Coach Doug Pederson said. "Hats off to him. He's battled through a little adversity of his own here lately and it was good to see him respond."

4. All.The. Way. If the Jaguars inched their way to a two-score first-half lead, they big-played their way to all-but securing the victory early in the third quarter. First, the defense forced a punt on a three-and-out on the Panthers' first series of the second half. After a Panthers punt, the Jaguars took possession at their 34 .Running back Travis Etienne Jr. on second-and-six broke free over the right side of the line, then broke multiple tackles – and got multiple key blocks – on a 62-yard run down the sideline that pushed the lead to 16-0 with 11:56 remaining in the third quarter. "I just want to credit to my offensive linemen and receivers just doing a great job [on that play]," Etienne said. "It was [wide receiver] Parker [Washington] down field who made the great block for me and was able to spring me to the end zone. That is great team ball. Everyone was out there being unselfish and trying to win the game. I couldn't have done it without them."

5. ETN again. The Jaguars' final touchdown came in fitting fashion. First, the defense took a step toward securing its first shutout since 2022 Week 2 by stopping the Panthers on downs at the Carolina 15 with 6:24 remaining. The Jaguars then quickly drove to the Carolina one-yard line, where Etienne reached the ball over the goal line before fumbling. The run gave the Jaguars a 26-0 lead with 4:16 remaining and gave Etienne his second rushing touchdown of the game – his fourth two-touchdown game of the season. Safety Antonio Johnson's interception ended the ensuing Carolina series and gave the Jaguars possession with 2:52 remaining. A 12-yard run by running back Tank Bigsby on second-and-seven from the Panthers 36 allowed the Jaguars to run out the clock.

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