JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' 24-21 loss to the Houston Texans at EverBank Field Sunday
- Blake Bortles' struggles continue to define the season. The Jaguars' quarterback was intercepted just once Sunday, but his inaccuracy continued to cause the Jaguars to miss big plays. Bortles completed 32 of 49 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns Sunday, and he looked impressive on a first-half touchdown drive that ended with a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Blake Bortles. But with the Jaguars trailing 14-10 early in the third quarter, Bortles overthrew Blake Bortles when the wide receiver was wide open for what could have been a 44-yard touchdown. He also underthrew wide receiver Marqise Lee on what could have been a fourth-quarter touchdown. Bortles twice last week missed wide receiver Blake Bortles open deep downfield. Big plays are the difference in winning and losing close games in the NFL. You can't miss them as often as Bortles has missed them in recent weeks. Bortles looks like a quarterback with dwindling confidence right now. Whether he can get that back remains the key storyline around this team.
- Dante Fowler Jr. 's penalty issues are a problem. The second-year Leo has committed eight penalties in nine games – and his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Sunday was particularly disturbing. Fowler hit Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler well out of bounds after chasing Osweiler across the field on a scramble. The Texans failed to convert the penalty into points, but it was the sort of discipline-oriented penalty Fowler has committed too often this season. The penalty was Fowler's third 15-yarder of the season, and it came two weeks after he was penalized for punching a player during a play in Tennessee. Fowler also has been penalized four times for offsides and once for illegal use of hands. Fowler missed last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but the No. 3 overall selection in the 2015 NFL Draft's first season is becoming much more about penalties than production. That's not good.
- Some things are just hard to explain – and we have reached that point with the Jaguars ' turnover differential this season. The team very definitely has earned its minus-14 ratio in the area with some carelessness with the ball. But luck hasn't been in favor of the Jaguars recently, either. The Jaguars should have had a turnover last week against Kansas City, but cornerback Prince Amukamara and free safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. collided as Amukamara was about to intercept a long pass in Kansas City. One of the Jaguars' turnovers Sunday was even harder to explain. Bortles was trying to throw the ball away in the second quarter, and his pass bounced off running back T.J. Yeldon's foot. It caromed into the air and was intercepted by linebacker Whitney Mercilus. Because the pass was technically backward, the play was ruled a fumble. Whatever you called it, it was one of the strangest, unexplainable turnovers you'll see – and yet it somehow seemed to fit perfectly into this strange, frustrating Jaguars season.
- Blake Bortles is missing, and I don't mean they can't find him. If he isn't missing open receivers like the throw to a wide open Allen Hurns, then that would have been a touchdown. He's missing wide open receivers and throwing passes that are uncatchable to guys who aren't open. This isn't the quarterback the Jaguars thought would take a step forward in his third NFL season, and it's beyond wondering when he will come through it and start asking if he can reconnect with the level of performance that made him look like one of the games' promising young quarterbacks last season. He showed you on the touchdown throw and two-point conversion to Allen Robinson what he's capable of doing, but he hasn't been able to do it consistently.
- If the Jaguars can't run the ball, they can't win. Period. They can't ask Bortles to throw the ball 49 times and expect to win, especially when he's playing as poorly as he is right now. The Jaguars couldn't run the ball, which was surprising because they're coming off a big day in Kansas City and the Texans didn't have Vince Wilfork in the line-up. But they couldn't. No one could keep Brian Cushing in check, and he came from everywhere to make tackle after tackle and limited Yeldon and Ivory. And yes, they were down 11 in the second half, but they didn't get too far away from the running game despite the deficit The Texans are a very well coached defense and they have good players, but the Jags should have been able to move the ball on the ground against a team that was without J.J. Watt and Wilfork, and they couldn't.
3.The defensive front was pushed off the ball all day long. A bruised Lamar Miller and Akeem Hunt who was signed off the practice squad on Friday combined for 127 of the Texans 173 rushing yards. They ran left on third and 16 deep in their own territory and picked up 18 yards on a drive that led to a field goal that was the margin of victory on Sunday. The next drive they ran the same play to the same side and picked up 18 more. They played well enough to win at times and weren't helped by the interception/touchdown on the first drive or the 57-yard punt return, which set up the Texans three-yard touchdown in the third quarter. They played well enough to win but couldn't make key plays at the moment they needed to, like third and 5 with two minutes to play. That's the difference between a defense that can play good, as they did in Kansas City last week, and a good defense.