JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned in the Jaguars' 24-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, Sunday
1.Change has come. The Jaguars on Monday morning relieved offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett of his duties. Head Coach Doug Marrone will speak to the media at 2:45 Monday to address his replacement and other issues.
2.The time had come for change on offense. The Jaguars, after ranking sixth in the NFL in total yards and first in rushing last season, rank 21st and 15th in those categories this season. As concerning: An ineffective passing offense that produced 64 and 107 net yards in the last two games, respectively. The Jaguars have allowed nine sacks in the last two games, and quarterback Blake Bortles threw two critical interceptions Sunday. Injuries and ineffective play at quarterback hurt this season, and the feeling clearly was something had to change.
3.The Jaguars are sinking fast … The Jaguars' seven-game losing streak is the NFL's longest. How fast can things change in the NFL? The Jaguars less than two months ago were 3-1 and leading the AFC South. That's fast.
4…. and the No. 1 overall selection is in range. What would have seemed absurd early in the season now is a real possibility. The 3-8 Jaguars are tied with the New York Giants and New York Jets for the NFL's fourth-worst record, but they are only one game "behind" the three teams with the worst record: the 2-9 Arizona Cardinals, 2-9 Oakland Raiders and 2-9 San Francisco 49ers.
5.Bortles' struggles are very real … Bortles has had many rough games in five seasons as the starter. Sunday ranked with the roughest: two costly interceptions, 31 yards passing at halftime, less than 100 yards passing until the final drive. Bortles appears to have regressed in recent weeks, and his confidence seems very low.
6. … and so is the noise around him. Head Coach Doug Marrone for a second consecutive week was asked Sunday if he considered replacing Bortles with backup Cody Kessler. His answer was no. It's hard to imagine it won't be a topic this week.
7.The run offense has made an appearance. The Jaguars rushed for a season-high 226 yards Sunday. This followed a 179-yard rushing performance last week in a loss to the Steelers. Jaguars backs hadn't combined to rush for 100 yards in the first nine games of the season. They now have done it twice in two weeks.
8.Leonard Fournette is becoming a weapon again. The Jaguars' second-year running back had his best game of the season Sunday, rushing for 95 yards on 18 carries. Significant, too: Fournette in the last two games has had one of the best two-game stretches of his career. He appears to be running with confidence and improved vision compared to his rookie season. That bodes well for the future.
9.Composure is a problem. Fournette's performance was wiped away when he was ejected for fighting along with Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson late in the third quarter. With Fournette in the game in the first half, the Jaguars finished two red-zone drives with rushing touchdowns by Fournette. Without him in the second half, they moved backward from the 1-yard line and the game's momentum changed. He said afterward the loss was on him. Unfortunately for him, he was right.
10.Penalties remain a serious issue for this team … The penalties that plagued this team early in the season returned in an ugly way Sunday with 10 for 90 yards. Penalties were particularly harmful as the game turned in the third quarter following Fournette's ejection. A five-yard illegal motion penalty on tight end James O'Shaughnessy turned second-and-goal at the 2 into second-and-goal at the 7. A holding penalty on wide receiver Keelan Cole in the next play negated a touchdown by wide receiver Dede Westbrook and turned second-and-goal at the 7 into second-and-goal from the 17. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue was penalized 15 yards for face mask on the ensuing drive, and safety Barry Church was penalized for unnecessary roughness a play later. That's four penalties for 55 yards in a span of less than two-and-a-half minutes. Instead of being ahead 21-14, the Jaguars trailed 21-14. Wow.
11. … as does turnover margin. The Jaguars had made strides in recent weeks at improving one of the NFL's worst turnover margins. They had three takeaways and no giveaways last week in a loss to Pittsburgh. Turnovers killed the Jaguars again Sunday. They had two giveaways – interceptions thrown by Bortles – and the defense failed to force Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen into a momentum-altering turnover.
12.Pass protection is an issue. Bortles' pocket awareness hasn't been great in recent weeks, but the Jaguars allowed three more sacks and multiple pressures Sunday. The Jaguars aren't doing much right in the passing game in recent weeks, but protection is part of that group effort.
13.The Jaguars are finding new ways to lose. This happens to struggling teams – and it's certainly happening to the Jaguars. They squandered a 16-point second-half lead in a loss to Pittsburgh last week. This week? They found a way to turn first-and-goal at the 1 into no points – then allowed a three-play 62-yard drive on the ensuing series. The Jaguars went from having a chance to take a seven-point lead to trailing by seven points in the span of a few minutes. That's disheartening stuff. How to get it fixed? Stay tuned.