JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars’ game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., Sunday
1.As good as advertised. The Jaguars in a very real sense beat the Giants in the 2018 regular-season opener exactly as you might have projecting them winning – playing stifling defense throughout, getting a touchdown with the defense, then locking down the victory with big defensive stops. The defense did allow 324 total yards, but the unit absolutely was the key to this victory. Linebacker Myles Jack’s 32-yard interception return for a touchdown. A fourth-down second-half stop. Another second-half stop on third down that forced a punt. A critical stop on a two-point conversion. A first-half red-zone stand. Back-to-back pass breakups shortly after the two-minute warning that all-but secured the victory. The Jaguars did allow a 68-yard run to rookie Saquon Barkley, and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had 11 receptions for 111 yards. But aside from the touchdown, Barkley never got loose. And the Jaguars kept Beckham from turning in a big, back-breaking play. This game perhaps won’t be remembered by observers in the same vein as, say, the five-interception game against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers last season, but this was a big-time clutch performance against an experienced potent offense. And it was a big-time start to what the defense expects will be a big-time season.
2.Score another for resiliency – at least early. If quarterback Blake Bortles and the Jaguars’ offense have been defined by anything lately it has been the ability to overcome a mistake. That trait defined a key stretch of Sunday’s game. One series after Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins’ interception of Bortles led to a game-tying first-quarter field goal, Bortles drove the Jaguars 59 yards on an 11-play drive that consumed 8:04 and gave the Jaguars a 6-3 lead when kicker Josh Lambo converted a 39-yard field goal. Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette left the game late in that drive with a hamstring injury. On the ensuing drive – the Jaguars’ first of the game without Fournette – Bortles drove the Jaguars 57 yards and capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to running back T.J. Yeldon that gave the Jaguars a 13-3 lead with 2:42 remaining. The offense sputtered after that, and disappeared to much in the second half. And Bortles is going to make mistakes; all quarterbacks do. It’s his ability to respond to them that makes this team believe in him – and that trait was evident again Sunday. At least early.
3.Red – er, yellow – flag. An issue that concerned Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone in the preseason moved to forefront in the regular-season opener. That’s because the Jaguars were hurt by penalties Sunday. A lot. The Jaguars finished Sunday with 11 penalties for 119 yards, and too many Sunday came in crucial situations. A false start penalty on left tackle Cam Robinson turned 3rd-and-3 into 3rd-and-8 in the third quarter – this just a series after Robinson’s 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty improved the Giants’ field position and helped set up a third-quarter Giants field goal. Interference penalties on cornerback Jalen Ramsey and safety Barry Church led to a second-half Giants field goal. Penalties such as the interference penalties are ones of action, but too many Jaguars penalties could have been avoided – and they helped make the Jaguars’ task far more difficult than necessary Sunday.
1.This game wasn’t as close as it looked. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson and cornerback Jalen Ramsey both scoffed when I asked them in the post-game locker room about the touchdown when the game was in doubt. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins agreed when I asked him about it and echoed their sentiments. “This one’s on us; this game wasn’t even close,” Seferian-Jenkins said. “If we clean some things up this one doesn’t come down to the fourth quarter at all. We have to play a lot better, but we can play a lot better.” The veteran tight end no doubt was pointing to his first-half touchdown that was nullified by a penalty and the difficult, yet catchable ball that tight end Niles Paul couldn’t quite grab on a wet day after it was partially tipped at the goal line. A few key penalties among the 11 that cost 119 yards stand out – including the illegal-hands-to-the-face call that negated Seferian-Jenkins’ touchdown and key defensive pass interference calls on second- and third-quarter Giants field-goal drives – and, of course, the first-quarter interception. Give the visiting team credit; they won. But the Jaguars were a much better team and in control of the game from the very first series. Even if the stat sheet and your eyes tell you otherwise.
2.I didn’t know if the Jaguars’ 2018 defense could be as opportunistic as they were in 2017, but they it was on Sunday. Jackson, defensive end Calais Campbell, linebacker Telvin Smith, Ramsey and Jack all talked afterward about the series on which Jack intercepted Giants quarterback Eli Manning and returned it for a 32-yard touchdown; they all said they spoke of a touchdown before it happened. I was standing right behind them on the Jaguar’s sideline and can confirm that was indeed their conversation, but I didn’t think they would just will it into being. They were right, and it wasn’t even a stretch … though Smith reached out to deflect it and Jack was right there to corral it. A year after the defense scored a league-high seven touchdowns last season, they’re on pace for 16. Before you doubt they could do it, go back and see how many critical, game-clinching situations they took over last year with takeaways. Seferian-Jenkins said the offense was confident despite the absence of running back Leonard Fournette because the defense could deliver in the clutch. Sixteen defensive touchdowns would be an NFL single-season record With this bunch, I wouldn’t rule it out.
3.Fournette’s strained hamstring hamstrung the Jaguars offense. No doubt part of the problem on an unrelentingly wet day was the weather; I counted at least four dropped passes which would have helped. But the Giants stacked the line and played the same game plan as the Patriots had in the AFC Championship Game. We won’t know the whole story on Fournette’s injury until game time next week; you can be sure it will be questionable all week. Offensive coordinator Nate Hackett and his team will need a killer game-plan against Bill Belichick and Company to offset a defense that will fill the gaps and “MAKE BLAKE” beat them with his arm. Fournette was off to a nice start averaging 4.6 per carry with three catches for 14 yards – and he has looked ready for the season to start. Now, it appears, he’ll be hoping the clock slows down this week so he can take advantage of every second for rehab and therapy. The only way to treat a hamstring – really treat it –is rest.