At 2-2, the Jaguars find themselves at an early-season crossroads. They will play two more AFC teams before their bye week. Whether or not they will be a serious playoff contender this season may be on the line.
That's the fallout from Sunday's 20-7 loss to the Denver Broncos. This one was more than a loss because of the manner in which the Broncos dominated it. The Jaguars were out-rushed 188 yards to 12. Now, the question is: How will the Jaguars respond next Sunday night on national television against the 4-0 Bengals?
Whatever the Jaguars offer in the way of a response will originate on the team's beleaguered offensive line. Right tackle Maurice Williams and right guard Chris Naeole are playing on sore right knees. The problems on the left side have been well-documented.
Denver's dominance up front on Sunday was distinct. Sensing blood in the water, the Broncos pressed the issue up front and won the majority of the battles. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, an attack-defense disciple, is likely to fashion a similar game plan.
"The fingers are pointing. We know that. We're disappointed," Williams said. "We're going to pull together. We're going to go all-out and get this fixed."
Williams and his offensive line mates are the key. The ability of the Jaguars offensive line to regroup and improve their play will probably hold the key to whatever chances the Jaguars have of making this a playoff season. Sunday's loss to Denver, however, should not fall solely on the offensive line's shoulders, coach Jack Del Rio said.
"I think it's too simple to try and hang anything on one group. I think it's a team game. When you look at the line play, there are a lot of things that go into it. If you're running the ball, the back hitting the right hole. The tight ends and running backs are involved with the line. When you're talking about the passing game, it's the timing of the receivers and the routes and the quarterbacks, the ball coming out, all of those things," Del Rio said.
"Do I think our offensive line could play better? Yes, I think they can and I think they will, but I wouldn't want to hang a performance that wasn't good enough on one group. We will take it as a team and work at it, correct it and get better together," he added.
Offensively against the Broncos, the Jaguars only had one play of significance, a 45-yard touchdown pass from Byron Leftwich to Jimmy Smith in the third quarter. It cut Denver's lead to 14-7 and gave the Jaguars hope, but they only moved across the 50-yard line one more time.
Defensively, the Jaguars played their worst game of the season. Their run-defense was gashed by Mike Anderson for 115 yards.
"Seven points is not enough to win. I felt like in the second quarter defensively we didn't do anything to get off the field," Del Rio said.
Denver began taking control of the game in the first quarter, as Leftwich was sacked by linebacker Al Wilson on a furious blitz that produced a fumble and a Denver recovery at the Jaguars 29-yard line. Jason Elam, however, missed on two first-quarter field goal attempts; the first one was wide to the left and the second one was blocked by Rashean Mathis.
The Jaguars were not able to keep the Broncos off the scoreboard in the second quarter. The Broncos scored touchdowns on drives of 80 and 64 yards, with Jake Plummer tossing touchdown passes of two yards and one yard to offensive tackle Dwayne Carswell, a former tight end.
"We started off poorly. Nothing got going," Jaguars tight end Kyle Brady said.
After a week in which Fred Taylor carried the ball 37 times, Taylor got just eight carries against the Broncos. His 14 yards rushing represent the lowest total of his career in a game in which he wasn't forced to leave with an injury.
"They got a pretty good scheme and they have some talented guys over there. I think that more than anything they wanted it more and it showed," Taylor said. "They played hard and we didn't quite grab the mental part of the game with all of the false starts. All across the board offensively, we just weren't sharp."
Sharp is something the Jaguars will have to be in their next two games. Following Sunday's visit by the Bengals, the Jaguars will travel to Pittsburgh.