JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' 45-10 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday
1.The Jaguars need more than Mania. Perhaps rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II eventually will be a franchise quarterback. But one thing Sunday showed was that Minshew's "energy and spark" wasn't remotely enough to save this season – or to stop what is now a five-game losing streak. The defense, as we will note below, continues to give the team little chance – and if Minshew wasn't such an important story, the defense would be Sunday's major storyline. But the biggest question for this franchise over the last four weeks is what will Minshew be moving forward. Sunday wasn't a great look on that front. He showed some of the same concerns he showed in the final few games of his eight-game stint as a starter early in the season, particularly a tendency to run too quickly when under pressure and to not work the middle of the field effectively enough. The deficiencies around Minshew, particularly at tight end, mean it's too early to say he can't develop into what fans hope he will become, but defenses will continue to scheme against these weaknesses until he proves they're not weaknesses. And he remains a major area to watch in the next three games with a lot of unanswered questions.
2.The defense remains the primary issue. For all the quarterback talk among Jaguars observers this week, Sunday served as another reminder of this season-long truth – that it is the decline and subpar play of the Jaguars' defense that truly has defined this season. The Jaguars were 4-4 at the season's midway point, after which the defense allowed 26, 33, 42 and 38 points in four consecutive games with the defense allowing 200 yards rushing in the first three games of that streak. Sunday was a similar story, with the defense allowing a too-easy touchdown on the Chargers' first series to negate the early momentum of a first-drive field goal by the Jaguars. A Chargers touchdown in the second quarter was set up by a 23-yard run up the middle by running back Austin Ekeler that was too reminiscent of too many long, gashing runs against this defense. The 195 yards rushing were typical of the unit's performance in the second half of the season. The defense's talent has dropped significantly from 2017 to the present. That showed up Sunday – as it has too often this season.
3.Was there a positive? Maybe Fournette. This may have been the toughest game yet this season to find a positive for the Jaguars. They took an early lead, but quickly slipped into the same habits that have defined the last month and a half. But if you're looking for a positive from another franchise-shaking loss, look again to running back Leonard Fournette. The third-year veteran surpassed 1,000 yards for a second time in three seasons Sunday, and he continues to run hard and stay injury-free in what for him – personally, at least – has been a very good season. Fournette didn't say much about the 1,000-yard thing afterward, saying that it means nothing because it came in a loss. But it's a significant feat for a player many were questioning this past offseason. His performance doesn't remotely make this a success season for this franchise, but he should be recognized – and deserves praise – for squeezing as much as possible from a difficult situation.
1.Just when you think it can't get any worse. Philip Rivers 84-yard touchdown pass to Austin Eckler on 3rd and 10 from the Chargers 15-yard line on the opening drive of the second half says everything that could be said about this football team right now. If not that then Cam Robinson's holding penalty in the second quarter that killed a promising drive does, or the blown coverage on Hunter Henry's wide-open route touchdown or the missed tackles, or the…what's the point. This football team has fallen, the defense in particular, and it can't get up.
2.The quarterback made no difference at all. And it isn't all on him. A game opening drive gave the Jaguars a 3-0 lead. Okay, a nice start. But then the Chargers needed all of three plays to race down the field and score. He can't be expected to carry a defense that couldn't stop Los Angeles on Sunday evening or the Buccaneers last Sunday or the Colts, Titans and Texans for that matter. The Chargers big lead also erased Leonard Fournette from the game-plan which took away the best offensive player and the threat of play action. I expect him to get the starts in Oakland and Atlanta and back here to finish the season against the Colts but when the off-season program gets started, I don't think the Jaguars are any closer to knowing who their guy is at the most important position on the field. Minshew averaged 4.4 yards per completion and 5.2 yards per rushing attempt against the Chargers which tells us little. The rookie is exciting when the play breaks down, but I want to see a quarterback who can stand and deliver from the pocket like Philip Rivers did when he unleased the long touchdown pass to Mike Williams at the tail-end of the third quarter. It's sadly a position the franchise has found itself in too many times.
3.This season can't come to a close fast enough. It's painful to see a team that was supposed to contend for a playoff spot come unraveled week after week. How long ago does 4-4 seem? Only the owner knows for sure what the future holds, but we all know what the present looks like and the empty seats in the second half and the empty stadium at the end of the game would seem to indicate the customers are weary from watching. It's impossible to blame them. I am too.