Sexton-Oehser quick thoughts: Cardinals 27, Jaguars 24

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GLENDALE, Ariz. – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday afternoon…

1. The struggles for the Jaguars' offense are real right now.A running game that entered Sunday No. 1 in the NFL in rushing has struggled the last three weeks – and it had its most sluggish game of the season Sunday. The Jaguars rushed for a season-low 91 yards Sunday with 62 yards coming on six rushes by quarterback Blake Bortles. The passing game struggles (interceptions, drops, pressure on the quarterback) were pronounced Sunday, too – and the team continues to miss right tackle Jermey Parnell (knee, out three weeks) in a big way. Bortles' fourth-quarter interception was a gut punch, and cost the Jaguars a chance at a go-ahead field goal, but Sunday was about more than one late play. The Jaguars – partly because of a beat-up offensive line and a beat-up receiving corps – are struggling so much offensively that the team has a small margin for error in every game. On Sunday, it proved too small.

2. The defense remains for real – but it's not perfect.It's overstating the obvious to state that the Jaguars' defense had a brutally difficult task Sunday. Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert – who played for the Jaguars from 2011-2013 – finished with two touchdown passes, and his mobility proved to be a big enough factor that Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack called it the difference in the game. But while the defense did allow the Cardinals to move for the game-winning field goal – and while allowed 344 yards offense – the reality is the defense forced two fourth-quarter turnovers that should have been enough for the Jaguars to win Sunday. The struggles on offense are requiring the defense to play perfect – and when it didn't play that way Sunday, the result was a loss.

3. Blake Bortles gaveth and he tooketh away.Consider this another tough-to-process game for the Jaguars' fourth-year quarterback. His day will understandably be remembered for a fourth-quarter pass intercepted by Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu that cost the Jaguars a chance at a go-ahead field goal. It was the sort of costly mistake that Bortles has made too often in his career – and it unquestionably cost the Jaguars in a big way Sunday. But Bortles also showed phenomenal toughness and savvy Sunday; without his mobility the team wouldn't have had a running game at all – and it wouldn't have been close in the fourth quarter. The shame for Bortles Sunday was what could have been one of his most memorable games – perhaps his most memorable game, period – turned into one to forget. His grit and leadership were impressive and worthy of praise – but you simply can't make the sort of throw he made that Mathieu intercepted. It ultimately defined the game.

Sexton ...

  1. In a close game, every play counts. On Sunday in Arizona none seemed more consequential than Marqise Lee's dropped pass with 33 seconds to play. If he catches it, at the very least the Jags burn more than four seconds off the clock and more likely they gain a first down which means they're playing for overtime. The drop saved enough time to set up a few  Blaine Gabbert passes including one to D.J. Foster which was oh-so-close to being out of bounds...but wasn't. In a game measured in yards, on Sunday it was decided by inches.
  1. The Jags offensive line performed well below expectations. They couldn't move the Cardinals off the line of scrimmage in the run game and they struggled to protect Blake Bortles against Chandler Jones, who wreaked havoc in the first half no matter where he lined up or who he faced. A unit which overachieved early this season plateaued in recent weeks and appears to have lost ground after Sunday's loss in Arizona. They can only hope right tackle Jermey Parnell and left guard Chris Reed are the difference and are back in the lineup next Sunday against the Colts.
  1. The players said all week they were focused, despite the holiday and their now-defunct winning streak. They didn't arrive at kickoff with the same energy or zeal and had to play catch-up after a poor first half. That isn't the formula, and they can't lean too heavily on a rookie-laden receiving corps to make big plays down the field. They're back in a tie for first place, chasing the Titans for the AFC South title which means the pressure will increase. They'd better be ready for December because it's going to be quite a ride.

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