NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' 42-20 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday
1. This was disaster.That's where you must start with this one – and not just because of the one-sided score. There's no avoiding the obvious now: The Jaguars' chances to make the postseason and salvage this season now depend on a miracle too far-fetched to expect. That that last sentence is true shows how quickly a season can turn from good to bad in a 16-game NFL season. The Jaguars, remember, were 4-4 a few weeks back with a chance to move into the postseason conversation with a victory over the Houston Texans in London. That game got away in the second half, as did a similarly big game in Indianapolis two weeks later. That made Sunday in Nashville a must-win, desperation situation. Instead, the Jaguars lost a third consecutive AFC South game in one-sided, uncompetitive fashion – and set up a final five-game stretch of searching for meaningful storylines. Are the Jaguars officially eliminated? No. But it's absolutely time to wonder aloud about how quickly a season that once looked potentially promising went so bad so fast.
2. The game plan wasn't surprising; it also wasn't effective enough.No one will criticize the Jaguars for not using running back Leonard Fournette Sunday, with the criticism instead likely directed at quarterback Nick Foles (more on Foles later). Fournette, after a season-low eight attempts in a loss at Indianapolis last week, carried 12 times in the first half Sunday and finished the game with 91 yards and two touchdowns 23 attempts. The Jaguars emphasized Fournette early and he rushed for 42 yards on 12 first-half carries. The Jaguars moved inside Titans territory twice, but stalled each time – punting on the game's first possession and settling for a 49-yard field goal in the second quarter. Fournette ran hard and appeared to get the yardage available; he also was hurt by a questionable holding penalty on center Brandon Linder that negated a 34-yard run to the Titans 38 and forced the Jaguars to punt again. The issue on Sunday wasn't Fournette as much as a passing offense that continued to struggle with Foles making his second consecutive start after an eight-game absence. Foles looked tentative in the pocket at times and finished completing 32 of 48 passes for 272 yards and no touchdowns. This team has been ineffective early offensively the past three weeks, and that has been as much of an issue as a struggling run defense.
3. A bad day for the run defense. Again.It's perhaps inaccurate to say the run defense cost the Jaguars the game Sunday. But that's only because so many areas could be said to have cost them this game. The Jaguars were marginally effective in the area early Sunday, holding Titans running back Derrick Henry to 26 yards on nine first-half carries. But any progress stopped in the third quarter, with Henry rushing for touchdowns on 74 and seven yards on back-to-back plays early in the third quarter. Henry finished with 159 and two touchdowns on 19 carries, the Titans as a team finished with 219 yards rushing. That marked the third consecutive game the Jaguars have allowed their opponent more than 200 rushing yards – and fourth such occurrence in their last seven games. When you can't stop the run in the NFL, it's difficult to stop anything – and equally difficult to win. The Jaguars have shown in recent weeks they can't stop it, and it remains the No. 1 reason what seemed like a potentially good season a month ago has turned into a disaster.**
1. Three games to decide the season.There is something wrong with the DNA of this football team. In December of 2017 the Jaguars had three critical football games against the Colts, Seahawks and Texans. They won them all and those victories moved them from the verge of the playoffs into the AFC South title. A month ago, the 2019 Jaguars were 4-4 and faced a very similar situation, three key games all against the South that if they won them all would have put the Jaguars right in the thick of the South race and at the very least in the Wild Card conversation. Tonight, as they board their charter flight home to Jacksonville, their season is scheduled to conclude against the Colts on December 29. This team not only lost all three games but was throttled in the process unable to stop the run and unable to keep pace on offense. They scored only 13 points against the Texans, Colts and Titans when the games were still to be decided. I'm not suggesting they didn't play hard but let's face it, they were non-competitive in November with their season on the line.
2. If the pass defense is 'Sacksonville' what are we left to call the run defense?For the first time in franchise history a defense has allowed four teams to run for more than two hundred yards against them and for the first time in franchise history they have allowed three consecutive teams to gash them on the ground. That they were all AFC South teams during a three-game stretch to decide their season is just salt in an open wound. I thought perhaps they were going to tighten up in the second half, as they held the Titans to just 66 in the first half but that 75-yard touchdown run by Derrick Henry blew away any hope of being 50% better this week and staying in the game. There is no avoiding a reorganization of this defense from the inside out, scheme and players as priority No. 1 next winter.
3. The quarterback issue is a non-starter.Scream all you want for Gardner Minshew to return to the line-up it isn't going to happen. At least not in 2019. Nick Foles isn't playing well and he isn't playing horribly but at some point in the second half it felt just like it did last season when the Jaguars couldn't move the ball or score. Wasn't it supposed to be different this fall? They signed Foles to a huge contract and when they did they committed themselves to at least two seasons and more than likely three. Sending him to the bench in favor of the rookie quarterback would make some folks happy but it would create a murky situation in the locker room and with the owner who committed $88 million to the 30-year old quarterback. The salary cap says Foles will be here no matter who the coach is. If I'm the owner and the men who make long term decisions, I need to see Foles so my people can figure out how to build a team around him.