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O-Zone: No guarantees

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Evan from Ponte Vedra, FL:
Two questions. How did we lose to a third-string quarterback that we cut three years ago? Second, who was responsible for that absurd play-calling on the last drive? Either we run out the clock or we try to make first downs.
John: Two answers. The Jaguars lost to the Cardinals and quarterback Blaine Gabbert on Sunday for any number of reasons, with perhaps the most overriding being that the offense is struggling – and that's true of both the passing and running offense. The Jaguars' defense allowed 27 points. That's too many, but the offense produced 219 total yards and had its worst running game of the season. Quarterback Blake Bortles accounted for 62 of the team's season-low 91 rushing yards, and the inability to create positive down-and-distance scenarios helped cripple the entire offense. While the defense allowed a 52-yard touchdown pass from Gabbert to wide receiver Jaron Brown in the fourth quarter – and while the defense also allowed Gabbert to complete two big passes to the sidelines with no timeouts – to set up a 57-yard field goal by Phil Dawson – the defense also created two huge fourth-quarter takeaways and therefore really did enough to win the game. A final thought on Gabbert: Give him credit; he made some plays with his legs at key times and deserved his moment. As for the playcalling on the final drive, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said after the game he made a mistake. He said he should have run the ball and played for overtime. So, Marrone's responsible and you're right: It was a mistake that gave the Cardinals a chance to win at the end of regulation that they shouldn't have had.
Jeremy from Dodge City, KS:
Can't wait for all the fire everyone and cut Bortles emails. Let 'em flow!!
John: Hold on. OK … go.
John from Cape May Courthouse, NJ:
Terrible time management at the most critical moments of the game. T.J. Yeldon and Dede Westbrook have to stay in bounds on the potential game-winning drive. Bortles has to run the play-clock down until the last second. Force Arizona to use its last time out!
John: I see your point about Yeldon and Westbrook on the Jaguars' second-to-last drive, but those players going out of bounds there didn't feel egregious. You're trying to score and keeping the clock running felt sort of secondary. But on the last drive … yes, you either had to go for a score there and move quickly or go all out for draining the clock. The middle ground was an error, and Marrone said as much afterward.
Thad from Albuquerque, NM:
Say what you want: The Jaguars played to lose. The defense made Blaine Gabbert look like Tom Brady. Then, rather than being smart and giving themselves a chance in overtime they throw the ball for no reason AND play prevent defense with the game on the line. This is why we are the laughingstock of the NFL.
John: You were doing OK – not great, mind you; but OK – until your last sentence. Marrone mishandled the second down end of the game, and the pass rush for the most part couldn't get to Gabbert on Sunday. But Sunday's game didn't make the Jaguars a laughingstock. It made them a team struggling offensively that lost a road game to a veteran team still alive in the playoff chase. It was a disappointing loss, but not a disaster.
Joe from Duval 223:
Time for Blake to break the trend and stop throwing mind-numbing interceptions in the next few games for this team to have a chance to get to the playoffs.
John: Bortles' late-game interception on Sunday was a killer. No doubt. It's a shame, too, because he had done an admirable job overcoming a lot on Sunday. He was getting little protection, and the Jaguars had little-to-no running game. And don't forget: Jaguars wide receivers weren't exactly making huge plays above the Xs and Os to help Bortles Sunday. Yet, through savvy and toughness – and his best running game of the season – he helped keep the Jaguars in it. But all that was washed away by the fourth-quarter interception by safety Tyrann Mathieu. It's the sort of play that defines games – and careers.
Bill from Jacksonville:
Switch quarterbacks with the other team and we win that game?
John: Would the Jaguars' offensive line have run-blocked and pass-protected better if the teams had switched quarterbacks? Look, Bortles deserves plenty of heat for the late-game interception by Mathieu, but he found a way to keep the Jaguars in the game to that point. He had very little protection most of the game, and the running game didn't exist except for his read-option runs. Bortles isn't without blame for the loss, but neither should he shoulder it all himself.
Ron from Orlando, FL:
The blueprint to beat the Jaguars is very simple. Stack eight or nine in the box, stop the run and blitz often. Bortles is unable to process the field quick enough, has too long of a throwing motion and is too inaccurate to take advantage of the single coverage during a blitz. He takes too many sacks and throws short every time, forcing a turnover or punt.
John: Yes, that's the blueprint. It has been well-established. It also has been well-established that he has had accuracy issues. And the interception at the end of the game Sunday hurt. A lot. But it's tough to lay everything at Bortles' feet on a day the Jaguars' offensive line and receivers struggled as they did.
John from Jacksonville:
The final pass play for Arizona was incomplete. Although both feet were in bounds, he was bobbling the ball as he was falling to the ground. I was certain it would be reversed and in shock when the officials yet again botched one for the Jags. I'm sure you will simply brush it off like the other bad calls but it does make a difference on the outcome of the game when fighting for the division lead. The Cards deserved the win on a fair call, but not the way that one ended. Watch that replay a few times and try to tell me the officials got it right.
John: My point in "brushing off" bad calls is not to say that officiating never influences a game's outcome. It is to say that calls generally even out. That seemed to be the case Sunday. While Jaguars fans were perhaps angry at the call to which you refer, did Cardinals fans not have the right to be upset early in the game, when a quick whistle perhaps cost them a chance at a defensive touchdown? Did they not have the right to be upset when officials whistled the Cardinals for not one, not two but three roughing-the-passer penalties? Every NFL game features close calls. Fans hate the ones that go against their team. As for the call to which you refer, I didn't notice Cardinals running back D.J. Foster bobbling it – certainly not enough to overturn it. Maybe I missed it. It has been known to happen.
Mike from Jacksonville:
Outcoached, not outplayed. We looked and acted unprepared.
John: Marrone agreed with you, and said as much. He said he needed to prepare the team better and that he needed to manage the game better at the end. But while I agree the time management at game's end was rough, I didn't see the Jaguars as being unprepared. The defense held the Cardinals two first-half field goals and a 29-yard touchdown pass that came on linebacker Telvin Smith's first play out of the game. They pressured Gabbert much of the game, but couldn't quite get to him – but it just didn't feel like an unprepared unit. As for the offense, offenses have a tendency to look unprepared when they have trouble protecting and run-blocking. That was the case for the Jaguars Sunday. Is that preparation? Maybe, but the line and the receivers are struggling – certainly as much as the coaching.
Cory from North Beach:
I don't care if they are No. 1 in rushing or whatever. The offense is awful. The coordinator should be fired a long time ago. He doesn't have what it takes to make a good offense.
John: Yes, because it's always coaching in the NFL. #fireeveryone
Marc from Mehconsville:
Maybe time to pump the brakes on "playoff seeding" and sitting players for January?
John: It was already time before Sunday. The Jaguars are pretty much where they deserve to be through 11 games. They're 7-4 with a really good – often great – defense and a struggling offense. That defense has been good enough to get seven victories, and the offense has struggled enough to really cost them in pretty much every loss. That has been a winning formula more often than not, but the Jaguars' bottom line remains today what it was last week. They're a playoff-caliber team that can play with and beat any team it plays – and with five games remaining, they can still attain every goal. But to talk about "resting" players for the playoffs? Yes, that was silly. The Jaguars must get in first, and that's no guarantee that happens.

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