JACKSONVILLE – In a weekly feature for the 2023 season, NFL Media and Jaguars Media analyst Bucky Brooks breaks down the Jaguars' performance in a 34-31 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville
- The Jaguars blew an opportunity to seize control of the division and move into the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a poor showing against Cincinnati. Despite the stadium's buzz, energy and electricity, the Jaguars did not show up with the urgency and intensity expected from a Super Bowl contender. The lackadaisical attitude was reflected in their inconsistent effort, shoddy tackling, poor execution and overall lack of focus against a team that has reached the AFC Championship Game each of the past two seasons. The disappointing performance continues a trend of subpar play at home in "big" games (SEE: Kansas City, San Francisco and Cincinnati). Moreover, it extends a narrative that the Jaguars are pretenders – not contenders – in a talented AFC field.
KEYS TO VICTORY
- The Bengals controlled the action from beginning to end behind a backup quarterback playing lights-out football. Bengals quarterback Jake Browning put up his first 300-yard game in his second career start against a Jaguars defense that had played reasonably well most of the season. The Bengals' QB2 was nearly flawless (he completed 32 of 37 passes for 354 yards with a touchdown) against a unit that seemingly had no answers for his pinpoint throws from the pocket. With the Bengals also finding success on the ground behind running backs Joe Mixon and Chase Brown (the duo combined for 129 rushing yards on 28 carries), the Jaguars never seized control of the game. As the offense struggled to finish drives due to an ineffective running game (25 rushes for 71 yards) – and a series of mistakes and miscommunication errors in the passing game – the Jaguars did not deserve to win a prime-time matchup on Monday night.
- The reported high-ankle sprain will overshadow a solid performance from the franchise quarterback. Lawrence was dealing like a Vegas blackjack dealer from the pocket despite losing his favorite target (wide receiver Christian Kirk) on the Jaguars' first offensive play. Although the loss of Kirk thrust a couple of backups (Parker Washington and Tim Jones) into prominent roles, Lawrence continued to pick apart the Bengals' secondary with "dimes" to wide receiver Calvin Ridley, wide receiver Zay Jones and tight end Evan Engram on an assortment of short-to-intermediate throws all over the field. While the effort was eventually undermined by communication errors and faulty execution from the offensive line and perimeter playmakers, Lawrence showed up ready to show out against the Bengals.
- Backup quarterback C.J. Beathard nearly orchestrated a magical comeback after being pressed into duty following Lawrence's injury. The veteran played through some bumps and bruises to complete 9 of 10 passes for 63 yards in the fourth quarter/overtime. He was a holding penalty away from leading the Jaguars to a game-winning drive that would have erased the team's poor performance and kept the team on track as a contender.
- The Jaguars' offense could not find its rhythm against a defense struggling prior to the matchup. Although Lawrence had the passing game rolling, the inability to run the ball – particularly on short-yardage downs – kept the offense from controlling the action. The offensive line was overpowered and overwhelmed at the line of scrimmage, and the loss within the trenches was the deciding factor in a game against prideful Bengals squad.
- The defense took an "L" against a Bengals offense guided by a backup quarterback coming off a poor showing in Week 12. From the game plan to the execution to the poor tackling, the defense was not ready to play – and it showed up in a prime-time game on a national stage. The defensive front could not control the running game, and the secondary could not keep up with Bengals wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase and Co. on the perimeter. With the Jaguars unable to win key matchups across the board, Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell was forced to utilize a conservative game plan that enabled Browning to operate comfortably from the pocket while guiding the Bengals to an unexpected win on the road.