JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned from the Jaguars' 27-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona
1.The Jaguars are still tied for first place …Sunday hurt, but it doesn't remotely mean the Jaguars are out of the postseason chase. They remain tied for the AFC South lead with Tennessee at 7-4, and it feels like the division could come down to the regular-season finale in Nashville, Tennessee. Hasn't it felt that way for a while now?
2.The winning streak is over.The Jaguars' winning streak ended at four games, but the past month showed they could stack victories and get themselves squarely into the playoff chase. For a team that hasn't been there in a while, that made November important.
Images of the Jaguars Week 12 matchup with the Arizona Cardinals.
3.The fight is on.The Jaguars hold the fifth of six playoff positions. The Buffalo Bills are 6-5 and hold the sixth. The Baltimore Ravens are 5-5 and can move into the sixth with a victory Monday. The Jaguars play three games at EverBank Field in the next three weeks – against Indianapolis, Seattle and Houston. They need to win two of the three to feel good going into the final two games. Nothing has been clinched. Nothing.
4.The offense is struggling big way …The Jaguars stayed in the Top 10 in total offense though 10 weeks, but that statistic partially hid what was obvious in recent weeks – that the offense is struggling. Sunday's output: 219 total yards, 1-of-12 on third downs. It's rare to win with those numbers.
5…. and that means the receivers …Rookie wide receiver Dede Westbrook made a couple of plays Sunday, but for the most part this unit struggled with Marqise Lee dropping a key pass with 33 seconds to play and Keelan Cole failing to catch a well-thrown deep pass in the second quarter. This team must hit big plays offensively, and that's as much about receivers catching balls as it is the quarterback throwing accurately.
5. … and the offensive line …Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was sacked three times, and he avoided several more sacks with his mobility and ability to escape pressure. Jaguars running backs rushed for 29 yards on 12 carries. This line misses right tackle Jermey Parnell (out three games, knee) and left guard Patrick Omameh (out two games, quadriceps). Sunday was rough on this front. Really rough.
6. … and yes, it means quarterback Blake Bortles.Bortles was under pressure throughout and it was hard to imagine the Jaguars being in the game with a less-mobile, less-crafty quarterback. Still Bortles' interceptions historically have come at the worst time – and Sunday was no exception. The Jaguars were on the fringe of field-goal range in the final three minutes when he failed to see safety Tyrann Mathieu, who intercepted the pass to end the drive. The Jaguars escaped such a crushing moment against the Chargers. They could not against the Cardinals.
7.The Jaguars need Bortles right now.This might seem counterintuitive to No. 6, but make no mistake: While Bortles has thrown key late-game interceptions in two of the past three games, his escapability is saving this line a lot right now. Bortles also has thrown the deep pass well much of the past month. Bottom line: The Jaguars can't win consistently if Bortles keeps making late-game mistakes, but they probably wouldn't be in games late without him.
8.Stacking the box is still working – and the running game is really struggling.The Jaguars rank No. 1 in the NFL in rushing, but this has not been a dominant running game in recent weeks. The Chargers held the offense under 100 yards rushing two weeks ago, and running back Leonard Fournette managed just 25 yards on 12 carries Sunday. The going is rough – and if the Jaguars are to make a run for the postseason, the offense needs to figure this out.
9. The defense isn't perfect …The Jaguars' defense pressured Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert throughout, but couldn't qui-i-i-i-i-ite get to him enough to turn the game in their favor. They also allowed Gabbert to throw to the sidelines twice on the final drive to stop the clock. The offensive struggles are putting tremendous pressure on the defense. For the first time in more than a month Sunday that pressure was too much.
10. … but it's still really good.Yes, the unit allowed 27 points, but it also made two mammoth fourth-quarter plays to get the ball back for the offense – a sack/fumble by Yannick Ngakoue that end Calais Campbell returned for a go-ahead touchdown, and a big-time interception by safety Barry Church. The Church interception came with the game tied, 24-24, and should have set up the game-winning points. The defense also allowed just one drive of more than 50 yards. That's winning defense in the NFL.