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Jaguars Extend AFC South Lead With These Five Key Plays

Five Key Plays That Secured Jaguars' AFC South Leader Title | 2023 Week 12
Five Key Plays That Secured Jaguars' AFC South Leader Title | 2023 Week 12

HOUSTON, Texas – Senior writer John Oehser examines five key plays from the Jaguars’ 24-21 victory over the Houston Texans in a 2023 Week 12 game at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday

1. Boink. Sunday's "keyest" play was essentially the last play – and it was a play over which the Jaguars had no control. Texans' kicker Matt Ammendola's 58-yard field-goal attempt bounced off the crossbar back into the field with :29 remaining, with Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence kneeling the clock to :00 on the ensuing play. Lawrence said he watched the final kick, calling it "stressful" and adding: "It looked short, and he hit it real high and then it just kept going. It's crazy." Added Jaguars Head Coach Doug Pederson, "When he hit it, I wasn't sure if it was going to make it or not. I guess I'm just glad it didn't." Two key plays on the drive: An early-drive sack by outside linebacker Josh Allen for a 15-yard loss and Allen/outside linebacker Travon Walker combining for a nine-yard sack three plays before Ammendola's attempt. "If you let 'em, get some yards there and they're kicking a 50-yarder, that's a big difference," Lawrence said. "That won us the game and our defense really stepped up."

2. Him again. Calvin Ridley has made an impact for the Jaguars all season. That has been particularly true lately – and the veteran wide receiver was key to the Jaguars retaking the lead in the third quarter Sunday. On the first play of the possession after the Texans took their first lead, Lawrence found Ridley open on the right side of the field for a 45-yard gain to the Houston 30. Two interference penalties on Texans safety Tavierre Thomas helped give the Jaguars first-and-goal at the one. Lawrence then found Ridley open in the back middle of the end zone on consecutive plays – one of which was a touchdown and the other of which was a two-point conversion that gave the Jaguars a 21-14 lead with 4:29 remaining in the third quarter. "He really just seems to get more comfortable with the offense, get more comfortable with Trevor," Pederson said of Ridley, who caught five passes for 89 yards Sunday. "We've been able to move around a little bit more and create some space for him and comes up big every week. That was another good performance today."

3. So close. The Jaguars came oh-so-close to taking a two-touchdown lead late in the first half. This came after Lawrence found wide receiver Christian Kirk for a 57-yard gain on third-and-eight from the Jaguars 42 with :10 remaining in the half. That play gave the Jaguars first-and-goal at the one with :01 remaining. Pederson opted against the field goal. Lawrence pitched to running back Travis Etienne Jr., who was stopped by linebacker Blake Cashman and cornerback Desmond King for no gain. Pederson called it "a real easy decision. I was going for it the whole way. You make a play like that and you kind of get them on the ropes. Credit the Houston guy, he made a great play defensively. He stopped Travis in the hole. A great play by them, but I would do that again."

4. Screeeeeeeen, then reeeeach. Jaguars running backs keyed a second-quarter touchdown drive, with backup running back D'Ernest Johnson particularly key. Johnson on second-and-four from the 50 caught a screen pass from Lawrence and turned it into a 42-yard catch-and-run gain to the Texans' eight-yard line. This came one play after a six-yard run by reserve rookie running back Tank Bigsby and after Etienne rushed for three yards with a six-yard reception early in the drive. Lawrence capped the drive with a one-yard run for a 10-0 Jaguars lead with 9:43 remaining. Also key: A pass interference penalty on Texans safety DeAndre Houston-Carson defending wide receiver Jones in the back of the end zone on third and goal from the five on the play before the touchdown.

5a. Early converting. They came early, but two first-drive third-down conversions felt important in a hostile situation for the Jaguars. The Jaguars, after forcing a Texans punt on the game's first possession, took possession at their 13. Lawrence on the ensuing drive twice converted third downs – on a 10-yard pass to Jones on third-and-six from the Jaguars 44 and an 18-yard pass to Kirk on third-and-11 from the Texans 47. The drive stalled at the Houston 22, with kicker Brandon McManus converting a 40-yard field goal for a 3-0 Jaguars lead with 5:54 remaining in the first quarter.

5b. Rambling, rumbling. After the Texans cut the lead to 10-7, the Jaguars pushed the lead to six largely because of a big play from an expected source. Lawrence on first-and-15 from the Jaguars 20 threw to a wide-open tight end Luke Farrell. The third-year veteran ran free down the right sideline then carried multiple Texans defenders to the Texans 38 for a 42-yard gain. McManus' 48-yard field goal capped the drive and gave the Jaguars a 13-7 lead with 2:24 remaining in the half.

5c. Quick pick – and six. After a first half in which neither team committed a turnover, the Jaguars committed the game's first when cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. intercepted a pass by Lawrence intended for tight end Evan Engram. The Texans then drove 46 yards, with quarterback C.J. Stroud's one-yard run on third-and-goal giving Houston its first lead, 14-13, with 8:10 remaining in the third quarter.

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