View from the O-Zone: A real rough opener

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette, left, takes a hand off from quarterback Nick Foles during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette, left, takes a hand off from quarterback Nick Foles during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

JACKSONVILLE – This can’t be for real.

If you’re a Jaguars observer – if you followed their storylines through an offseason of hope, hype and optimism – you must have said that a few times Sunday afternoon.

Maybe more than a few times.

The Jaguars lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 40-26 in the 2019 regular-season opener Sunday, never leading and never solving a high-powered Chiefs offense on a sweltering afternoon at TIAA Bank Field. It wasn’t the loss that was surprising as much as what went wrong. And enough went wrong – even beyond losing starting quarterback Nick Foles indefinitely – that the Jaguars afterward spoke with urgency uncommon so early in the season.

“We’re going to believe in each other,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said after the Jaguars allowed nearly 500 yards to a Chiefs offense that out-talented, out-schemed and outexecuted a Jaguars defense that played far below expectations and reputation.

“Like I told the players: I can’t speak for anyone. I can’t speak for any of them. I can’t speak for the coaches, but I make them a promise. I said, ‘I will lead this team to the best of my abilities.’ I’ll do the best job possible, and I believe in this football team, and I think that we will win games, but make no mistake:

“We do have work ahead of us, but I feel good about where this team is.”

Veteran defensive end Calais Campbell echoed that sentiment, understatedly calling the team’s first Week 1 loss since 2016 “a bad game.”

“One thing I know about this defense: We’re not going to give up 40 points a game; it’s just not who we are,” Campbell said. “Today wasn’t good enough, but I talked to the team at the end. We’ll respond.”

Such was the post-game tone. Marrone and players talked of believing and responding to adversity – and if Week 1 feels early such words, the nature of Sunday’s loss made urgency appropriate.

The Jaguars took some serious blows Sunday, enough that for a while early on this ridiculously hot day it was difficult to keep track of what was going wrong.

The biggest blow was the biggest headline. On the 11th play of his Jaguars career, Foles – who signed as an unrestricted free agent in March – threw a perfect touchdown pass to wide receiver D.J. Chark. It was the sort of play for which the Jaguars signed Foles. He stood in the pocket. He made a clutch pass. He trimmed a 10-point lead to three, and what had been a rocky start for the Jaguars suddenly felt smoother.

And then Foles was staggering to the sideline, and then he was walking not to the bench but to the tunnel. He was X-Rayed immediately, and news came after the game that he sustained a broken clavicle. He will undergo surgery Monday.

This can’t be for real…

Just as surreal was the Jaguars’ defense. The Chiefs scored on their first two possessions before Foles’ injury. They scored on their next five, too. Those are troubling statistics, but more troubling was how the Chiefs were scoring. With stunning ease.

Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 211 yards in the first quarter, 315 in the first half. He threw three touchdown passes to wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Tight end Travis Kelce caught three easy passes for 88 yards. The Chiefs finished with 491 yards offense. They scored on eight of their first nine possessions. They looked every bit like the NFL’s offense, which wasn’t surprising.

What was surprising, and concerning, was the Jaguars looking nothing like one of the NFL’s best defenses. And while the NFL is skewed toward offense these days, and while you expected the Chiefs to make big plays – and to score a lot – it was fair to expect the Jaguars’ defense to make a few of its own. The thought here was the Jaguars would win if they could force a turnover or two, or create points – or at least short fields – for the offense.

That didn’t happen. It didn’t come close to happening.

That didn’t seem real – and indeed, not much seemed real about the Jaguars Sunday. It must be stated that the game wasn’t a total loss. Not even close. Backup quarterback Gardner Minshew played well, and the entire offense must be credited for a poised performance on a day when all was going wrong around them.

Minshew’s performance should provide hope. So, too, should the fact the Jaguars will play few offenses this season remotely as good as that of the Chiefs. And Campbell, Marrone and the other Jaguars players speaking Sunday afternoon are right – there is plenty in which to believe about this team, and there are reasons it can rebound. One Week 1 loss – even a bad one such as Sunday’s – needn’t define a season.

But the reality is the Houston Texans await Sunday. The Tennessee Titans await a week after that. The responding needs to happen in a hurry. Because what happened Sunday was real.

And it really can’t happen again.

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