JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars’ 16-13 loss to the Washington Redskins at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday
1. A question posed to Jaguars quarterback Cody Kessler following yet another offense-challenged loss Sunday had what by now is an obvious answer. The question: What can fix the offense? The answer: whatever ails this offense likely won’t be fixed until the offseason. The Jaguars failed to score an offensive touchdown Sunday, meaning they have scored no meaningful offensive touchdown in three games since inserting Kessler into the starting lineup over longtime starter Blake Bortles and turning play-calling duties over to Quarterbacks Coach Scott Milanovich after dismissing Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. The Jaguars on Sunday produced 192 total yards, with Kessler passing for 57. Because the Redskins sacked Kessler six timed for losses of 37 yards, the Jaguars had 20 passing yards Sunday. A beat-up offensive line. A receiving corps struggling to get open. Kessler’s hesitancy to throw downfield. A running game struggling nearly as much as the passing game. A lot ails this offense, and there’s a lot to do in the offseason.
2. The Jaguars’ special teams should have been the feel-good story of the 2018 home finale. Wide receiver Dede Westbrook’s 74-yard punt return for a touchdown marked a huge momentum change, giving the Jaguars their first meaningful touchdown of the month – and a 10-3 halftime lead. That capped a big-time half for the Jaguars’ special teams, with defensive end Lerentee McCray’s partial block of a punt setting up a second-quarter field goal and a 63-yard punt by rookie Logan Cooke pinning the Redskins at their 18 late in the first half. The Jaguars’ defense forced the Redskins to punt after Cooke’s field-flipping punt, and Westbrook returned it up the right sidelines for the Jaguars’ first special-teams touchdown of the season. Given the Jaguars’ offensive struggles, they entered Sunday’s game probably needing a score – or at least a momentum-turning play – from their offense or their special teams. Westbrook’s play was just that. As it turned out, the Jaguars’ offensive struggles are severe enough even the special teams’ most-impactful game of the season wasn’t enough.
3 .Given the circumstances facing both teams, this had potential to be a sloppy game. Redskins-Jaguars fulfilled that potential in a big way with two injury-riddled offenses struggling throughout. The Jaguars not only failed to score an offensive touchdown, they managed just 11 first downs – and Kessler’s fourth-quarter interception not only ended a potential game-winning scoring drive, it set up the Redskins’ game-winning field-goal drive. Kessler, who was sacked or forced to run on 12 of 29 drop backs, also completed just three passes to wide receivers – all to Westbrook for 21 yards. The Redskins’ offensive struggles were nearly as extreme, with Josh Johnson – their fourth starting quarterback in a month – running on 12 of 37 drop-backs. The player of the game for the Jaguars was probably Westbrook, but serious consideration should be given to Cooke, who had the best game of his rookie season with five punts for 52.4 yards and three inside the 20.
1. I didn’t endorse the quarterback change after the Buffalo loss, and I would still play Bortles if making the call. Kessler has shown nothing Bortles couldn’t do, and doesn’t appear to have Bortles’ pocket instincts to get clear of trouble and create positive yardage. The offensive output in three games with Kessler starting: one touchdown, five field goals. Still, it’s tough to watch this offense with four starting linemen on the sideline; the one remaining Week 1 starter – A.J. Cann – is playing on a sore hamstring. The unit created no push against the Redskins defensive front and allowed six sacks. Maybe Kessler could be a serviceable quarterback if he had more time, but he didn’t against Washington – and it’s hard to see him having more in Miami Sunday or in Houston in two weeks. Though he might not be the long-term solution, Bortles wasn’t the Jaguars’ problem in 2018. Injuries on the offensive line, to tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, to wide receiver Marqise Lee and running back Leonard Fournette crippled the offense. If that isn’t abundantly clear to you by now, it never will be.
2. Cooke’s 63-yard second-quarter punt was big for two reasons. One, it flipped the field from the Jaguars 10-yard line. After the returner muffed it, it set the Redskins up at their own 18-yard line – a long way from what seemed a chance for Washington to get good field position and perhaps a field-goal opportunity. Cooke flipped the field when his team needed it, which is something the Jaguars have been waiting to see from the strong-legged rookie all season. The other reason is the punt was big: Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone was able to use his defense and timeouts to force a Washington punt, which turned into Westbrook’s first NFL return touchdown. It’s a good sign for the special teams that they’re making plays when the offense can’t. Don’t forget a couple of field goals from kicker Kai Forbath, who signed on Friday.
3. Turnovers have been a killer all season long, and they killed the Jaguars again Sunday. Kessler’s interception with 2:31 remaining dropped the Jaguars to an NFL worst minus-11 in the turnover ratio. The Redskins’ game-winning field goal that followed dropped the Jaguars to 4-10. They have lost nine of their last 10 games.