View from the O-Zone: “Of course, it’s frustrating…”

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JACKSONVILLE – We’ve seen this before. Way too often.

Jaguars players have seen it too often, too – and considering the familiar feel of Sunday’s home finale, it was hardly surprising the aftermath sounded equally familiar.

“It’s the way our season has gone,” defensive end Calais Campbell said in the wake of a 16-13 loss to the Washington Redskins in the final game of the 2018 season at TIAA Bank Field. 

Campbell spoke of opportunities lost, of bad bounces, of what could have been, of oh-so-close …

He wasn’t alone.

“Of course, it’s frustrating – that’s for anybody on the team,” Jaguars wide receiver Dede Westbrook said moments after Redskins kicker Dustin Hopkins’ 36-yard field goal as time expired handed the Jaguars a second consecutive loss and their ninth in the last 10 games.

Sunday’s details in a sense hardly seemed to matter, but here they are:

The Jaguars led 10-3 after Westbrook’s 74-yard punt return for a touchdown with :04 remaining in the first half. They led 13-6 after kicker Kai Forbath’s 41-yard field goal with 11:16 remaining.

They had an apparent first down at the Redskins 21 with 2:49 remaining after Cody Kessler passed 14 yards to Westbrook, but that was negated by offensive pass interference on wide receiver Donte Moncrief. Redskins cornerback Fabian Moreau intercepted Kessler on the next play. 

When Moreau returned it to the Redskins 45, the ensuing 31-yard game-winning drive took on an inevitable feel. A lot of things, in fact, felt familiar for the Jaguars Sunday.

The defense played well enough to win until the fourth quarter. Again.

A play or two went the wrong way for the Jaguars and the right way for the opponent. Again.

Most notably the offense struggled – really struggled. Again.

Kessler was sacked six times and threw for 57 yards. The offense finished with 192 yards and no offensive touchdowns, meaning it hasn’t scored a meaningful touchdown in three games since Kessler became the starter and quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich started calling plays following the dismissal of coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.

Head Coach Doug Marrone, as was the case last week following an equally ineffective offensive performance in a 30-9 loss to the Tennessee, was asked if he considered returning to former starter Blake Bortles. He said he did not.

Job security, as also as been the case in recent weeks, again was a post-game topic for Marrone Sunday. He said he has not received assurances from either Owner Shad Khan or Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin that he will return next season. 

“I’ve never coached where that’s happened one way or the other,” Marrone said.

As for Sunday’s postgame locker room, that was subdued. Having been eliminated from the postseason with the loss to Tennessee, the time for anger and outbursts has long since passed. 

The game’s major Jaguars news involved starting running back Leonard Fournette, who returned kickoffs for the first time in two NFL season – and who also played a reduced role late in Sunday’s game in favor of reserve Dave Williams. 

Fournette rushed for 46 yards on 11 carries, but a 25-yard run in the fourth quarter was his lone carry of the second half.

“That was the game plan coming in,” Fournette said.

Marrone, who said Williams’ increased role was a matter of Williams working hard and wanting to “see what he can do,” said he didn’t see the situation as a case of looking ahead to next season. He said the same of the release Friday of veteran safety Barry Church and an increased role for other young players.

Cornerback Jalen Ramsey, as might be expected, summed up the current mood midway through his postgame availability when he was asked if the team was still preparing the right way.

“You would hope that, you would think so, but we’re still coming out here losing, so we ain’t doing something,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey paused and smiled. It wasn’t a happy smile. Rather, it felt as if he was smiling for a lack of a better alternative.

“I don’t know, man,” Ramsey said. “I don’t know the answers. I wish I did, but I don’t.”

There’s little better way to sum up the current feel of the Jaguars’ locker room than that. The reality is there are  more questions than answers around the Jaguars right now, and the answers are more likely to come following the season rather than in the coming weeks.

And yes, Sunday’s final game of the season was too fitting. A beat-up offense couldn’t score enough and couldn’t move when it mattered. A defense that has played far better than most observers believe played well enough to win – until the fourth quarter, when it didn’t.  

Opportunities lost, bad bounces, what could have been …

We’ve seen this before. Way too often.

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