JACKSONVILLE -- Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars’ game against the Indianapolis Colts at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday
1.This defense was big time – and then some. Was the defensive performance Sunday in a 6-0 over the Colts the Jaguars’ best of the season? Definitely. The best in franchise history? An argument could be made. Wherever it ranked, this was a big-time, elite, historical performance. The Colts entered the game scoring 33.1 points in their last eight games; quarterback Andrew Luck had thrown at least three touchdown passes in eight consecutive games. The Jaguars’ shutout meant they now have shut out the Colts for six consecutive quarters including a 29-26 loss in Indianapolis last month. Who was the defensive star of the game? Pick one. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue had one of his best games of the season with a sack and a huge stop on Colts running back Jordan Wilkins in the first half to prevent a touchdown at the Jaguars 1. Linebacker Telvin Smith forced a fumble that led to a field goal, cornerback D.J. Hayden had a first-quarter interception and cornerback Jalen Ramsey played through a knee injury to limit wide receiver T.Y. Hilton much of the game – and to make an otherworldly play at game’s end to keep tight end Erik Swoope in bounds and end the Colts’ final drive at the Jaguars 25. This victory won’t save the season. But it will and should be remembered for being a game in which the Jaguars played defense as well as they have in some time. Maybe ever.
2.This offense was … well … just enough. The Jaguars made big changes offensively this week. The results were much the same even with the team moving from Blake Bortles to Cody Kessler at quarterback and quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich calling plays after former offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s dismissal. Kessler completed 18 of 24 passes for 150 yards, checking down to running backs much of the game. The Jaguars’ running game – after surging to two of its best games of the season the past two weeks – struggled without starting running back Leonard Fournette, rushing for 79 yards on 27 carries behind a beat-up offensive line. Kessler targeted wide receivers 11 times, completing eight passes to the group for 81 yards. Head Coach Doug Marrone, who said early in the week the moves at coordinator and quarterback were made to boost a struggling passing offense, said after the game Kessler will remain the starter. He also said the passing game still must make the necessary and desired improvement.
3.This team has heart. If a common theme ran through a jubilant Jaguars locker room Sunday, that was it. It was fair to wonder if the Jaguars would play with emotion Sunday. It was also fair to wonder if it would play with a common goal. They had, after all, lost seven consecutive games and are all-but eliminated from playoff contention; a team in that situation easily could play without motivation. This Jaguars effort on Sunday was anything but heartless. Jaguars players from end Calais Campbell, to end Yannick Ngakoue to cornerback A.J. Bouye talked in the locker room afterward about there very definitely being much for which to play the rest of the season. “It’s easy for people to throw in the towel in this situation,” Campbell said. “But this team has so much character. With all the mistakes we made, we have a lot of fight in us. You saw that today. We’re not done. We’re going to keep playing ball. We’re going to leave it out there.”
1.There aren’t enough adjectives to describe what the defense did today. You’re talking about shutting down an offense that averaged 35 points over their last six games, that’s hard to do and it’s harder when you’re facing an elite quarterback playing as well as he has in years. Andrew Luck couldn’t get his offense in any gear and was looking over his shoulder at both Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell who were in his way all afternoon. Mix in the contributions from guys like Duwane Smoot and Taven Bryan when the protection rolled to ninety-three and ninety-one and you get a greater understanding of why Luck just seemed off today. Don’t forget the performance of Jalen Ramsey who missed practice all week, AJ Bouye who played like he was in the Colts offensive meetings this week and rookie safety Ronnie Harrison whose fourth down sack was the play of the game. Three sacks, two take-aways and three incredible fourth down plays and you see why I’m struggling to make this a quick thought. The bottom line is it’s damn near impossible to shut out an elite quarterback in today’s NFL and the Jaguars just did.
2.You didn’t have to be an expert to know that last Monday’s bloodletting in Jacksonville was simply window dressing. I get that Blake Bortles isn’t the guy to get the Jaguars to where they want to go and this season hasn’t been the guy to get them back to where he got them last season. But Cody Kessler showed nothing that changed my opinion that Bortles is the best chance this team has to win, nothing. To be fair, he’s playing without Leonard Fournette who is their best player and has a back-up tight end, three back-ups on the offensive line and two players who are on the injury report week in and week out. BUT….and it’s a big BUT…so did Bortles who completed 68 percent of his passes against those Colts in November and threw two touchdowns and would have led the come from behind win had Rashad Greene not fumbled the ball in the final two minutes. Bortles is a better quarterback, a better athlete and a better option. Similar goes for the move to replace Nathaniel Hackett for Scott Milanovich. See anything that resembled change? Neither did I but who thought it would look different with all the featured players missing from the line-up. Leonard Fournette better play like he did in Buffalo before he was ejected if the Jaguars are going to get their offense going in Nashville.
3.The Jaguars don’t play smart football. A guy I respect told me this early in the seven-game losing streak and his words have sadly been proven true. Sunday it seemed as if he was prescient. I couldn’t believe it when, after the Jaguars got the Colts off the field on a first quarter drive, Tashaun Gipson jumped up and started mouthing off to tight end Eric Ebron. First because there was nothing to say, second because you’re showing rookie Ronnie Harrison what ‘NOT’ to do third because head coach Doug Marrone lamented the number of dumb personal fouls earlier this week and finally because the offense had zero juice and you can’t needlessly put them in the spot of playing from behind because you’re playing football without your wits about you. How about the tackle CJ Revis made on the Colts punt return man well after he made a clear-cut fair catch signal, then there was the move by rookie defensive tackle Taven Bryan on the field goal in the second quarter when he attacked at the snapper, which isn’t allowed, and gave the ball to the Colts first and goal. The Jaguars have to play smart football the next few weeks if they want to keep the winning feeling they’re enjoying right now.