SAN FRANCISCO—The Jaguars' 20-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers is a tale of two fourth-down plays: The 49ers converted a fourth-and-one play late in the first half by completing a 30-yard pass; the Jaguars were sacked on a fourth-and-two red-zone play, trailing by 17 points at the start of the fourth quarter.
Yes, it was a tale of two plays, and it was the worst of times both times for the Jaguars.
In what was a matchup of two bold head coaches, Mike Singletary's players made the plays when it counted the most and Jack Del Rio's players didn't. Leading 10-0 just inside the first-half's two-minute warning, Singletary challenged his players on a fourth and one at the Jaguars' 47. Quarterback Alex Smith froze the Jags defense with a play-action fake and then pitched a strike to tight end Vernon Davis, who made an over-the-shoulder grab as he looked back into the sun.
Three plays later, Smith completed a four-yard touchdown pass to running back Frank Gore and the 49ers had a comfortable 17-0 lead against a sluggish-looking Jaguars team.
Any chance the Jaguars had of a late-game comeback hinged on the fourth-and-two they faced on the first play of the fourth quarter. Del Rio needed three scores and might've ordered a field goal attempt had Josh Scobee not been off his game. Del Rio went with a pass play but David Garrard never got it airborne. He was sacked and stripped of the ball, in what was, by and large, the play that clinched the win for Singletary's team, 5-6.
Forget about total yards, which the Jaguars won, 357-284. Forget about the Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Frank Gore battle, or the Jaguars' 18-15 edge in first downs. All of that was meaningless. This was a game decided by sacks and big plays. The 49ers had six of the first and several of the other. The Jaguars had none of either.
"We were just not able to execute in critical areas; missed field goal (attempts), turning the ball over in the red zone," Del Rio said. "We were able to slow down Gore. The other part was to make sure we took advantage of a young quarterback; hit him, harass him. We didn't do that."
Even kicker Josh Scobee had a bad day, missing on two short field goal attempts and causing his coach to lose confidence in him.
"I just wasn't feeling real comfortable about the way Josh was striking the ball," Del Rio said in explaining why he opted to go for the first down on fourth and two instead of attempting a field goal that would've cut the deficit to 14 points.
What is it about the West Coast that has caused the Jaguars to lose two games by the combined score of 61-3?
"Everybody wants to talk about the road trip. I don't think that had anything to do with it," Del Rio said.
The 49ers came out throwing from a spread formation. Five of their first six plays and 31 of their first 40 were pass attempts. Smith attempted 41 passes, but 29 of those were in the first half as the 49ers were building their lead. Yes, they got conservative in the second half as they protected their lead.
Del Rio saw the 49ers' willingness to pass as a result of the Jaguars' ability to stop Gore on the ground. Gore rushed for a mere 33 yards.
"They tried to run it, got in third and long and then spread it and threw it. They couldn't get it going so they picked it up a little bit," Del Rio said.
What the 49ers did best and the Jaguars did worst was convert third downs. The 49ers were eight of 16 on third down; the Jaguars were three of 12.
Garrard did not make excuses for the Jaguars' poor performance on offense. He was brutally honest in his assessment.
"Today was an opportunity wasted. Third down, red zone; we didn't show up on either one. Third down and red zone; we were just pathetic," Garrard said.
Asked if the Jaguars should've run the ball more often, Garrard said: "I just think we should've played better, plain and simple. We didn't show up like we were supposed to. We took a step back."
At 6-5, the Jaguars are tied with the Steelers and Ravens for the second spot in the wild-card race. The schedule remains favorable, with three consecutive home games coming up and a game in Cleveland to end the season.
"We'll pick ourselves back up and go on with our season and hope to get it restarted at home next week against the Texans," Del Rio said. "We have to protect him better. David got hit too much."
Even Scobee was forced into self-examination.
"It's the NFL. Bad games happen. You have to bounce back. It's frustrating, though. On the first (kick), my plant foot slipped on me. On the second (miss), I hit the middle of the ball. It's just not me," Scobee said.
The loss follows a season-long pattern of having to recover from big losses. Can the Jaguars do it one more time?