LANDOVER, Md. – Senior writer John Oehser, senior correspondent Brian Sexton and team reporter Ashlyn Sullivan offer quick thoughts on the Jaguars' 28-22 loss to the Washington Commanders in a 2022 Week 1 game at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., Sunday
John Oehser, Jaguars Senior Writer
1. Credit where due. First things first: No one around the Jaguars was happy Sunday, not after having a chance to win their first game under Head Coach Doug Pederson and instead squandering an eight-point fourth-quarter lead. The defense allowed two late touchdown passes after the Jaguars rallied for the lead, which you can't do and win consistently in the NFL. But if you're looking at the big picture, there was cause for optimism – and that began with the scrappiness the team showed rallying from a 14-3 halftime deficit for a 22-14 fourth-quarter lead.
"It's a group of guys who are young a little bit and still understanding some of these situations," Pederson said.
The defense played well for a long stretch, and we saw flashes of what a young offense learning to play together in the first game in Pederson's scheme may become. That doesn't erase Sunday's frustration. That doesn't mean the Jaguars don't have to protect quarterback Trevor Lawrence better. But rallying from a double-digit first-half deficit took a resolve that didn't define the last few Jaguars teams. Perhaps that makes Sunday's game a good start in the long term – even if it was disappointing in the short term.
"There are a lot of positives, and things we can take away and learn from," Pederson said.
2. He's for real. We won't ignore what the Jaguars must improve from Sunday. The offense must finish drives better. And the defense can't allow four touchdown passes a game. But if you're looking for the most obvious positive Jaguars takeaway from Sunday, look to rookie outside linebacker Travon Walker, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft. Not only did Walker register his first career sack on an impressive first-half rush, but he also turned in an eye-catching fourth-quarter interception that set up an 11-yard touchdown run by James Robinson. The interception showed the athleticism and above-the-Xs-and-Os ability that could make Walker special.
"It has to be more than one sack and one pick," Walker said. "Obviously we didn't win the game. A player like me, who they drafted No. 1, is supposed to make plays like that. I need to continue to make plays."
Brian Sexton, Jaguars Senior Correspondent…
1. The hits just kept coming. Veteran defensive lineman Duwuane Smoot's roughing the passer penalty on third down on the second Washington touchdown drive that allowed the Commanders a touchdown instead of settling for a field goal. Running back Travis Etienne Jr.'s red-zone drop late in the second quarter. Two grounding penalties on Lawrence. Kicker Riley Patterson hitting the right upright at the end of the first half. Cornerback Shaq Griffin letting Commanders wide receiver Terry McLaurin get outside and run by him in the fourth quarter. Trying to hold off the Commanders on a late 90-yard drive by rushing only four until they got into the red zone. Lawrence's really bad decision on third down with the game still in doubt.
For all the heroics of rallying for a fourth-quarter lead, the Jaguars lost because they kept making the sorts of mistakes bad teams make. Do you know how hard it is to lose when you're plus two in the turnover ratio? Really, really hard, like only an eight percent chance. Yet the Jaguars did.
2. He's No. 1. Walker put up the best Week 1 performance by a Jaguars rookie defender since linebacker Kevin Hardy posted a sack and an interception against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1996. He used his explosiveness to beat right tackle Samuel Cosi for his first sack and used his length to reach back to intercept a short pass from Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz. He did everything you could ask from a rookie in his first professional game and probably more, but it wasn't enough. It's early, but he looks pretty darn special.
Ashlyn Sullivan, Jaguars Team Reporter…
1. Comeback. All offseason, myself and fans talked about this team reaching a point where it was in games in the fourth quarter. Here you have it. Walking from the field at halftime, this game felt out of reach. Suddenly, they rallied in the third quarter and took an eight-point lead in the fourth. As I wrote this, it was a defeated locker room – but many players were also talking about liking what they saw and how little things cost them the game. This is a better team than last season. That is clear. But some issues remain. The biggest: That the Jaguars still have trouble in the red zone and converting third downs. You can't score if you can't stay on the field. That's the glaring issue for me coming out of Week 1.
2. Finish. Pederson, Lawrence and wide receiver Christian Kirk on Monday all spoke about getting to the point where they know how to finish games. "It comes down to three to five plays that need to go your way," Pederson said, adding that these plays are especially important in the fourth quarter. So when Lawrence tries to make a play that ends in an interception at the end of the game or the defense jumps offsides on a costly drive … that is why a team can't finish in Week 1. The good news? These are all adjustments that can make a difference in the next game. Pederson gave examples of how this can be coached. All it takes is one win to know how it feels.