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Sexton-Oehser: Back and forth

Jacksonville Jaguars' Myles Jack (44) celebrates with teammate Telvin Smith (50) after returning an interception for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton look back at the Jaguars’ 20-15 victory over the New York Giants in Week 1 and forward to Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots at TIAA Bank Field …

Oehser …

1.Reviewing the preview: When previewing Jaguars-Giants, the thought here was the Jaguars needed to run effectively in the middle, that cornerback Jalen Ramsey needed to negate Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and that the Jaguars’ defensive front needed to pressure Giants quarterback Eli Manning. The Jaguars ran effectively early Sunday, and Ramsey didn’t cover Beckham as much as many anticipated. As for the Jaguars pressuring Manning, the veteran quarterback’s ability to evade pressure along with a slick field helped negate the Jaguars’ pass rush … for a while. But in the end, Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue created the game-turning play by pressuring Manning into a low throw that defensive tackle Abry Jones deflected into the arms of linebacker Myles Jack. He returned it for a touchdown – one of several game-clinching plays by a defense that pressured Manning enough for the Jaguars to leave New York in first place in the AFC South.

2.As I saw it: The Jaguars didn’t play great Sunday. What’s significant about that is they didn’t need to play great to beat a capable team in a tough environment. A couple of concerning spots: the offense’s ineffectiveness after running back Leonard Fournette left with a hamstring injury and 11 penalties for 119 yards. But the high points more than overrode the concerns, most notably that the Jaguars played a talented offensive team on the road in the opener and never trailed, which meant they controlled the game’s tempo from start to finish. The Jaguars must improve from Sunday, but the regular-season opener isn’t about running at maximum efficiency. It’s about figuring a way to win in one of the trickiest weeks of the regular season. They Jaguars did that.

3.Looking ahead, briefly: Up next for the Jaguars: the New England Patriots. If there is a game Jaguars observers/fans have anticipated since the schedule was released – since before it was released actually – it’s this one. The Patriots beat the Jaguars, 24-20, in the AFC Championship Game in January, a game in which New England rallied from a 20-10 fourth-quarter deficit – and a game the Jaguars had multiple chances to secure during the second half. The hype will make it perhaps the most-anticipated regular-season home game in franchise history – and players will feel the energy around town this week and in the stadium Sunday. Early thought: while the Jaguars struggled offensively with a game plan that was conservative at times against the Giants, don’t expect a similar approach Sunday. Jaguars offensive coordinator Nate Hackett showed the ability to shift philosophical approach from week to week last season. The guess here is Hackett will be more aggressive – and creative – and the guess here is the offense will be more productive in Week 2 than Week 1.

Sexton …

1.Reviewing the preview: I believed the Jaguars needed to cause problems for Manning with their pass rush to take the rhythm and timing away from the Giants’ passing attack. Though the stat sheet didn’t show it, they got the job done with a variety of pressures from all angles. More than a few stand out, including the shot into the end zone toward Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. that sailed over his head – and of course, the pressure from Ngakoue on the tipped-ball interception that Jack returned for a touchdown. The Jags ran the ball – not as forceful as I expected (Fournette’s injury certainly played a part) but enough to get the job done. Finally, I thought that Beckham and rookie running back Saquon Barkley would get their yards but that the Jags had to keep them out of the end zone. They did that to Beckham. They gave up a 68-yard touchdown to Barkley, but they DID keep him out on the ensuing two-point conversion that would have cut the lead to a field goal. That made a difference late, forcing Manning to try to convert fourth down instead of going for a long-but-makeable 53-yard field goal to tie. Mission accomplished.

2.As I saw it: The Jaguars were in control throughout Sunday even if it didn’t seem that way. The Giants couldn’t move the ball without help from the visitors’ 11 penalties. On the Giants’ final drive of the second quarter, both safety Barry Church and Ramsey were hit with pass-interference penalties that cost the Jags 45 yards and moved the Giants into easy field-goal range. On the Giants’ first drive of the third quarter, the Jags got them off the field on third down, but a holding call on safety Tashaun Gipson gave them new life; a facemask penalty two plays later moved the Giants into range for a field goal that they also converted. That’s six of the Giants’ 15 points from four penalties. Mix in Jaguars guard Andrew Norwell’s illegal hands to the face, which negated a second-quarter touchdown catch by tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and a few false starts on the line that wrecked easy conversion attempts and you have a much closer game than it really was. The defense pointed out as much when asked about making a play when the game was in doubt. “In doubt?” Ramsey asked. “The game was never in doubt.”

3.Looking ahead, briefly: Sunday’s matchup against the Patriots is really a matchup against quarterback Tom Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick. Just look at their lineup: How many names do you know? Two or three? Maybe a fourth if you’re deep into fantasy football? Brady is the best quarterback of his generation and maybe of all time. Belichick seems to find new ways to win no matter who is lined up around his quarterback. And the Patriots just keep finding a way to win. One name you do know is tight end Rob Gronkowski, who Brady offered on Sunday “might be the best of all time.” Beating Brady and Belichick is tough; the Jaguars have never done it. The Jaguars won’t be focused on the storyline about the AFC Championship Game this week, or the whole “Myles-Jack-Wasn’t-Down” storyline; they’ll leave that to the fans in the stands. If the Jaguars focus on anything but the game, it means Brady and Belichick are one step closer to winning their ninth consecutive game against the Jaguars. I’ll say this for Brady and Belichick: they’re never caught looking at what they’ve done; they’re always focused on what’s next.

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