JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned in the Jaguars’ 20-15 victory over the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Sunday…
1.The Jaguars are unbeaten. Somewhat lost in the quick-trigger reaction to Sunday’s 2018 regular-season opener: the important fact that the Jaguars are 1-0. No, the Jaguars were not perfect against the Giants. Yes, issues must be addressed. But this was a game against a good team that came down to a few plays at the end. That’s often how games between good NFL teams are decided; the Jaguars on Sunday made those plays. Winning in the NFL is hard, particularly on the road. The Jaguars won Sunday. That mattered more than anything else.
2.The Jaguars are alone in first place. The Jaguars won Sunday. The Colts lost to Cincinnati Bengals, 34-23. The Titans lost to the Miami Dolphins, 27-20. The Texans lost to the New England Patriots, 27-20. That means the Jaguars are 1-0 and the rest of the AFC South is 0-1.
3.The defense is good again. OK, we didn’t learn this, but the Jaguars’ defense confirmed this once again on Sunday. The defense allowed a 68-yard run to Giants running back Saquon Barkley in the fourth quarter Sunday. Aside from that, it was big play after big play after big play from a defense that not unsurprisingly looks elite once again.
4.Leonard Fournette’s status is uncertain. Head Coach Doug Marrone expressed optimism after Sunday’s game regarding the hamstring injury that kept running back Leonard Fournette out throughout the second half. What does optimism mean? We’ll see.
5.Blake Bortles knows his role … Bortles and the offense appeared to err on the side of extreme caution Sunday, with the idea being to give the Giants no easy opportunities or short fields. This isn’t sexy quarterbacking and won’t endear him to many observers. But he went the second half without an interception and the Jaguars won. This team considers that a success.
6. … and he’s still who he is. Bortles threw an early interception. He responded with an impressive drive for a touchdown. He threw a few really good passes. He made some big plays with his legs. He got the Jaguars out of trouble a few times. He won.
7.Myles Jack is star-bound. Jack had the look all offseason of a player ready for a breakout season. Was it really a major surprise that it was Jack who intercepted Giants quarterback Eli Manning for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown in the regular-season opener?
8.Yannick Ngakoue makes an impact. The third-year defensive end finished without a sack Sunday, but don’t think that means he was a non-factor. His fourth-quarter pressure led to the low pass that defensive tackle Abry Jones deflected and that Jack intercepted and returned for a touchdown. Ngakoue makes the impact plays that change games.
9.Barry Church came up huge. The Jaguars’ strong safety registered two tackles for loss and a pass defensed with six tackles Sunday. “I’ll take it,” he said afterward, looking at the stat sheet. He played big when it mattered, coming up with a huge tackle in the first half on a red-zone stand that forced a field goal and defensing a pass late in the fourth quarter that helped stop the Giants’ last best scoring threat.
10.Penalties are an issue. The Jaguars committed 11 for 119 yards. As linebacker Telvin Smith put it, the Jaguars were penalized for more yards than Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had receiving. As Head Coach Doug Marrone put it, “If you keep on that track, that stuff will bite you in the ass.”
11.This team is going to play to its defense. We actually learned this throughout last season, but we saw it again Sunday. When this team is leading, it’s often going to take the approach offensively of protecting the ball at all costs and allowing the defense to win the game. That appeared to lead to a somewhat conservative approach in the second half Sunday. Given the quality of the Jaguars’ defense, it’s the percentage play.
12.Special teams appear improved. Rookie punter Logan Cooke had a couple of shaky moments, but he also had four punts inside the 20 – and he had a strong effort on his final punt of the game that turned into a muffed punt and a game-clinching recovery by Jaguars linebacker Donald Payne. This overall appeared to be a good game for the coverage units; the Jaguars wanted to improve that area in the offseason. So far, so good.
13.D.J. Hayden was a good signing. OK, this is a quick-trigger reaction. But the veteran nickel corner who signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in March had a huge debut Sunday. A fourth-quarter tackle on Barkley that prevented a first down. A pass breakup that ended the Giants’ last real scoring opportunity. That’s good stuff.
14.The Jaguars are unbeaten – and they’re in first place. Both are worth remembering. Really.