JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser, senior correspondent Brian Sexton and team reporter Kainani Stevens offer quick thoughts on the Jaguars as they prepare to play the Cincinnati Bengals at EverBank Stadium Monday at 8:15 p.m.
John Oehser, Jaguars Senior Writer…
- Still a test. A defining characteristic of the Jaguars since midway through the 2022 season has been the ability to handle teams they "should" beat. Their six losses in their last 22 games have come to teams with starting quarterbacks playing at a high level: The Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes three times, the Houston Texans and C.J. Stroud once, the Detroit Lions and Jared Goff once and the San Francisco 49ers and Brock Purdy once. The Bengals, while still in postseason contention, are without starting quarterback Joe Burrow. That doesn't make them a bad team. They very nearly beat the contending Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday in their first game without Burrow, and that's something the Jaguars must heed Monday. The Bengals are a proud team that knows how to win in the postseason. The Jaguars must play Monday with the same mentality and focus that has allowed them to handle "should-win" games because the playoff-proven Bengals could be as tough – or tougher – a test than a lot of the ones the Jaguars have passed so far this season. Even without Burrow.
- Past time. We'll take a quick break from analyzing the Jaguars' present for word on a name from the past: Fred Taylor, the former Jaguars running back who on Tuesday was named one of 25 modern era semifinalists for the 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame class. While Hall semifinalist is a well-deserved honor, Taylor not yet being named a Hall finalist is now to the point of being an oversight on the part of voters. While Taylor's statistics— 11,695 yards and 66 touchdowns in 13 NFL seasons – didn't qualify him as a Hall "lock," they absolutely merit him being among the 15 finalists. Taylor is 17th on the NFL's all-time rushing list behind 14 Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson. Of that group, only Barry Sanders (5.0) and Jim Brown (5.2) averaged more yards per carry than Taylor's 4.6. Being a finalist gets you "in the room," where Hall voters discussed a player's merits. This step typically educates voters less familiar with – or too young to well remember – a player. The thought here is Taylor's credentials will fare well in such discussion. It's time for him to be in it.
Brian Sexton, Jaguars Senior Correspondent …
- A long time coming. It has been almost 12 years to the day since the Jaguars have played on Monday Night Football. While Sunday Night on NBC took center stage in the mid-2000s, MNF's new iteration with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman has returned it to prominence. Much has transpired since that last appearance against the Chargers. First, they were the San Diego Chargers in December 2011 and they thrashed interim head coach Mel Tucker and the Jaguars, 38-14. Owner Wayne Weaver attended along with Shad Khan, whom Weaver had announced the previous week was buying the Jaguars. Weaver also the previous week fired Head Coach Jack Del Rio so that Khan could put his own stamp on the team after NFL owners approved him. Since then, the Jaguars have had seven head coaches including Tucker and Darrell Bevell on an interim basis. They also have had nine starting quarterbacks and made the playoffs just twice. Yes, much has happened since the Jaguars' last MNF appearance. With Head Coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville, MNF figures to return soon. And often.
- A matchup that wasn't. This was supposed to be a marquee matchup of two of the NFL's best young quarterbacks. Burrow's injury changed that – and instead it's an opportunity for the Jaguars to play far better than they did in a widely-seen loss to the San Francisco 49ers earlier this month that had people all over the league questioning their credentials. The Burrow-less Bengals is a game they now should win. With a shot at homefield advantage and a first-round bye in the playoffs on the line, it's also a chance to prove they're ready to play the role of frontrunner. A year ago, they were chasing and the mentality they developed with their backs against the wall over the final few weeks of the 2022 season must be replaced with a different perspective. They're being mentioned with the AFC's best teams. They believe they belong there. I believe they belong there. It's up to them to make their case to a national television audience. The Bengals still have explosive playmakers but this should be a Jaguars win at home on MNF. Can they win that kind of game with that kind of pressure? If they can, it's game on in January.
Kainani Stevens, Jaguars Team Reporter/Producer ...
- The bright lights of Monday Night. For the first time since 2011, the Jaguars will play football on a Monday. Primetime exposure is sorely needed for small-market teams – and a good showing this week could make a world of difference when it comes to changing the narrative. Last year's thrilling playoff comeback showed people a bit of what this Jaguars team is capable of. It's time to deliver on Monday Night in front of a national audience.
- Offensive line depth paying off. With left tackle Cam Robinson being sent to injured reserve with a knee injury, the trade-deadline acquisition of offensive lineman Ezra Cleveland is already paying dividends. Cleveland has quickly become one of the line's most physical players. It remains to be seen what will happen when Robinson returns from injury, but at this point you can't afford to put Cleveland back on the bench.