ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' 28-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field in Orchard Park Sunday
Oehser …1. Give Blake Bortles credit – because the third-year quarterback did a lot right on Sunday, turning in one of his better performances of the season and avoiding the costly turnovers that previously defined his season. Bortles completed 13 of 26 passes for 126 yards. But while his yardage wasn't eye-catching, he played in control and threw two second-half touchdowns passes. His 20-yard touchdown third-quarter touchdown pass to wide receiver Marqise Lee was one of his better throws of the season, and Bortles seemed confident and in command much of the game. He also had at least two significant gains dropped, including what would have been at least a 25-to-30-yard pass to wide receiver Allen Hurns in the first half. Bortles showed good pocket awareness and his running on read-option and scrambles helped keep several drives alive. Bortles has cost the Jaguars several games this season. He didn't cost them Sunday, and probably played well enough to win.
- The Jaguars' special teams … well, the unit hardly could have hurt the Jaguars more in recent weeks. The Jaguars dominated the first half statistically and led 7-0 – until the Jaguars' special teams allowed yet another long, momentum-changing punt return. With just over a minute and a half remaining, Bills wide receiver Brandon Tate returned a punt 43 yards up Buffalo's left sideline to give the Bills 1st-and-10 at the Jaguars 22. Buffalo running back LeSean McCoy's seven-yard touchdown run made it 7-6 five plays later. Long punt returns changed the game's momentum in Jaguars losses to Kansas City and Houston in Weeks 9 and 10, and Detroit returned a second-half punt for a key touchdown last week. That followed a three-week stretch in Weeks 7-9 in which Jaguars punt returners lost fumbles. You can't win in the NFL giving away points and momentum every week on special teams.
- The Jaguars' defense is for real, but it wasn't quite real enough Sunday. It's the reality of the NFL that a big play or two can spoil an otherwise memorable day and rarely has that reality been more real for the Jaguars. The defense, which had played at a high level much of the last month to enter Sunday ranked seventh in the NFL in yards allowed, turned in a dominant first half by allowing Buffalo 63 total yards – 25 rushing. That was impressive considering the Bills entered Sunday ranked No. 1 in the NFL in rushing offense. The Jags also sacked quarterback Tyrod Taylor four times in the first half and finished with five sacks. But the defense also allowed McCoy a 75-yard run on the first play of the second half and a 62-yard pass from Taylor to Sammy Watkins later in the third quarter set up another Buffalo touchdown. The Jaguars allowed 304 total yards. One-hundred-thirty seven came on two plays. Without those two plays, Sunday was one of the Jaguars' best defensive efforts in memory. With them, it was their sixth consecutive loss.
- The Jags came to play on a cold day with nothing even close to a playoff berth at stake. True, the players ' careers are at stake every Sunday, but it would have been easy for them to mail one in. The intensity level was set by Malik Jackson and Telvin Smith, who pushed their defensive teammates on every play. Gus Bradley talks a lot about the character of his football team, and I admit I get tired of hearing those platitudes when the losing just keeps coming, but they showed up on Sunday. Bradley is right and their character is strong. Mired in a six-game losing streak, with only January vacations to plan and a head coach on a very hot seat, you will hear all kinds of experts and insiders deriding this team, but don't buy it. They're not a very good football team, but they will fight you anytime, anywhere and with anyone on their roster.
- Free agency is a crap-shoot most of the time, and it showed us why today. More than $20 million in salaries were off the field with Jared Odrick, Julius Thomas and Dan Smith. Mix in Tashaun Gipson who was hit with a long pass interference penalty and was out of position and responsible for LaSean McCoy's 75 yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half and it drives home the point. Now, Malik Jackson is playing at a very high level and worth every penny, but he is the exception and not the rule. Dave Caldwell had little choice but to spend money and sign players. Winning in the NFL is made possible by good drafting in April and not big signings in March, which was made clear today. The best players are guys like Telvin Smith, Myles Jack, Allen Robinson, Marqise Lee and the guys the Jags drafted.
- It seemed as if the Jags offensive game plan was trying too hard not to turn it over and might have been better served looking down the field. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns had only 4 catches for 35 yards. Hurns did have a big drop that killed a promising first quarter drive, so perhaps on a windy day, they decided to stay conservative. But the defense was clobbering the Bills in the first half and Chris Ivory was on the sideline with a hamstring issue, so going down the field seemed like a better idea from my vantage point on the sidelines. I get that on a windy, cold day they wanted to stay in the game and not kill themselves with turnovers, but an adjustment was screaming to be made in the first half.