JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton look back at the Jaguars' loss to the Los Angeles Rams and forward to Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts
1.Reviewing the preview.When previewing Rams-Jaguars, the thought here was the Jaguars needed: Leonard Fournette and the running game to be effective, to play good defense in the first half and to slow Rams running back Todd Gurley. The Jaguars did OK with the first, though the Rams deserved credit for slowing Fournette and the running game after Fournette's 100-yard first quarter. The Jaguars' defense allowed just one first-half touchdown (two Rams touchdowns came on special teams), and the defense played well enough throughout the game to win. As for slowing Gurley, the Jaguars were just OK there – and Gurley was very effective on a late fourth-quarter drive that secured the victory. Still, the Jaguars played well enough in these three areas to win. The outlying factor: a shockingly rough day on special teams, which tilted an otherwise winnable game.
2.As I saw it.The 27-17 loss to the Rams played out simply – and could be directly attributed to the special-teams struggles. The defense played more than well enough to win. Although the offense stalled after the first quarter, the unit generated 17 points and two more field-goal opportunities; this offense isn't going to consistently be much more productive than that. But the special teams allowed touchdowns on a 103-yard kickoff return and a six-yard blocked punt return. A 16-yard punt led to a Rams field goal. Kicker Jason Myers missed twice from 54 yards. There were other factors in the loss, but the Jaguars' winning formula – shut-down defense and effective running – worked to the tune of 249 yards allowed and 169 yards rushing. That should have been enough to win.
3.Looking ahead, briefly.When you're tied for first place in a tight division, all games are big. But the Jaguars' game in Indianapolis Sunday is really, really big. It's a road division game, and that means the Jaguars can go 2-0 on the road in the AFC South with a victory. But more than that, it's a winnable game against a team playing its backup quarterback (Jacoby Brissett) and a team that has struggled throughout the first six games of the season. The Jaguars have a chance to enter their bye week with a 4-3 record and a 2-1 division record. They have a chance to be in no worse than a tie for first place in the South through seven games. All of that would be very palpable – and would put the team in position for a second-half run. A loss Sunday wouldn't end the team's postseason hopes, but 3-4 feels much worse than 4-3.
1.Reviewing the preview. A quick look at the Rams' offensive firepower told me the Jaguars were going to have their hands full at EverBank Field. They did fine, holding quarterback Jared Goff to just 124 passing yards, only allowing one touchdown drive, getting three sacks and forcing a takeaway. The problem came in the fourth quarter when Gurley was able to rack up 45 yards and eat up half the game clock with a lead. Fournette delivered early with a 75-yard touchdown run but Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips focused on him the rest of the way and Fournette managed just one impactful run despite 130 yards on the day. That continues to be the opposition's playbook and it won't change until the Jaguars make someone rewrite it. No one could have forecast the disaster that was the special teams on Sunday … how can anyone think they would be directly responsible for 17 points? I've seen nearly 500 NFL games in my time in Jacksonville. I never have seen that sort of special-teams day and don't expect to see that again.
2.As I saw it. Sunday's game is what makes the NFL so entertaining: two 3-2 teams in the thick of the race; neither of them had been there for some time, and the team that made the fewest mistakes won. Look at what the hapless New York Giants did in Denver against that defense? How about Miami rallying from down 17 in Atlanta against the defending NFC Champions? And did you see the Steelers pounding the rock and stuffing the run in Kansas City in their upset victory? There is no dominant team and only one or two truly moribund teams. Welcome to professional football; it's very different than the amateurs who play on Saturdays. That's why it's immensely more popular.
3.Looking ahead, briefly. The Jaguars have a chance to stay on top of the AFC South with a road game against the Colts; Indianapolis is still without quarterback Andrew Luck, which makes it a winnable game for the Jaguars. Beyond Luck, the Colts don't have much that truly frightens this defense – and they're not built to handle a running game that pounds Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory at them time after time. Now, anything can happen, as we've learned recently in New York and against the Rams. But after a truly disappointing loss Sunday, the Jaguars are still in a first place time in the AFC South and have a chance on Sunday to have a winning record overall a winning record in the division and a winning record on the road heading into the bye week. If I had offered that to you before the season, you would have taken it with no questions asked. That's just another reason why professional football is the most popular spectator sport in America. I love this game.