ORCHARD PARK. N.Y. – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars’ game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday
1.A microcosm? Maybe. It’s cliché to call something a microcosm, but it seemed to fit when applied to the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth in a 24-21 Jaguars loss to the Bills Sunday. A pass from struggling quarterback Blake Bortles to wide receiver Donte Moncrief – Bortles’ first completion of the game to a wide receiver – appeared to give the Jaguars a 30-yard touchdown and a 21-14 lead. But the play was instead ruled a completion to the 1-yard line, setting off a remarkable series of events – all of which hurt the Jaguars. First, running back Leonard Fournette was ejected with Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson for fighting immediately after Moncrief’s reception. The Jaguars’ offense then was penalized twice – with one nullifying a touchdown by wide receiver Dede Westbrook – and eventually lost 23 yards, setting up a field-goal attempt that Josh Lambo missed from 42 yards. The Bills then drove 68 yards aided by two 15-yard penalties on the Jaguars – face mask on defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and unnecessary roughness on safety Barry Church. Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s 14-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter gave the Bills a 21-14 lead they never relinquished. It was a striking loss of composure – and one symbolic of what is now a two-month, seven-game, season-defining losing streak.
2.Run to win … well, almost. The Jaguars provided a glimpse of what might have been in the first half Sunday, rushing their way back from what had been a 14-0 deficit with two run-dominated drives of 74 yards. Fournette capped both drives with touchdown runs, finishing the half with 83 yards and two touchdowns and finishing the game with 95 yards on 18 carries. The Jaguars finished the first half with 173 rushing yards on 21 attempts (8.3 yards per carry), the second-most first half rushing yards in franchise history (251 against the Colts in 2006). Injuries to Fournette and third-team running back Corey Grant stripped what was the NFL’s top-ranked running game last season, contributing heavily to the fall from playoff contention. Sunday’s glimpse of the running attack came too late to save the season, but it did serve as a reminder for how the Jaguars wanted to play offensively – as well as a reminder of what might have been this season.
3.Tough, tough, tough day for Bortles. Bortles did little to silence his many detractors Sunday, turning in one of his toughest days of what in recent weeks has become a brutally tough season. Bortles completed 12 of 23 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown, struggling until the 29-yard pass to Moncrief that gave the Jaguars a first down at the Bills 1 late in the third quarter. Bortles also was intercepted twice, throwing well behind wide receiver Keelan Cole late in the first half – a pass that led to Cole deflecting the ball to Bills linebacker Matt Milano for an interception that cost the Jaguars a chance to take a halftime lead. Bortles at halftime had 31 passing yards with the interception, and 48 of his passing yards came on the Jaguars’ late fourth-quarter touchdown drive that ended with a 13-yard touchdown to Westbrook. That cut the Bills’ lead to 24-21, but the drive felt like mop-up yards. Was this Bortles’ toughest game of a tough season? Yes, probably. Marrone was asked afterward if he considered benching Bortles for backup Cody Kessler. “No,” Marrone said.
1.The third quarter meltdown sucked the air right off the Jaguars sideline. In a matter of minutes the go-ahead touchdown turned from a blessing into a curse. First and most important because the melee that ensued on the Bills side of the field cost them their best offensive player. That became painfully clear when the touchdown was overruled and placed at the one-yard line and three plays later, backed up to the 24 because of penalties and pressure, the kicker who nearly never misses, missed a chip shot. Leonard Fournette’s ejection was the turning point of the game.
2.But it wasn’t the end of the game. That came when the Bills took over at their own 32 and three plays later, two of those aided by 15-yard personal foul penalties, found themselves knocking at the Jaguars 14-yard line. Rookie quarterback Josh Allen ran around, over and through the Jaguars defense on a called quarterback draw. Allen was unstoppable for most of the day and though his 98-yard rushing yards make it seem as if he was a rookie who couldn’t pass the ball that would be incorrect. The Jaguars either couldn’t get to him or couldn’t get him on the ground and he extended plays either with his legs or with his legs so he could throw on the run. He wasn’t entirely accurate and didn’t remind anyone of Jim Kelly but he never seemed bothered by the Jaguars defense.
3.The offense is broken and from my vantage point the solution isn’t on the roster. You can fix the offensive line with what you already have and a draft pick or two. The receivers need a few more players and some work but DJ Chark and Dede Westbrook have potential and the return of Austin Seferian Jenkins and the addition of a young tight end would seem to make things right with that group also. But the quarterback position is a mystery and for all the moments since the start of 2017 where Blake Bortles looked to be able to play through whatever his limitations are…right now…I can’t see this team passing on a young quarterback at the top of next April’s Draft. The Jaguars and those players are likely to match-up. They were close with him last season but that window sure seems closed.