LONDON, England – What We Learned from the Jaguars' 33-23 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati on Sunday …
1.Blake Bortles is a rookie …We seem to say this every week lately – so it's probably not accurate to say we're "learning" it anymore. Still, the reality is Blake Bortles is struggling with all of the things rookie quarterbacks struggle with. On Sunday, he had a couple of passes early that could have been intercepted. He got away with those. At the end of the game, a pass he tried to throw out of bounds instead went to a defender in the end zone. He didn't get away with that one, and the result was a game-clinching interception. That's the process. And so it continues.
2.Bortles is still showing signs.This wasn't his best game by a long shot. And it's true that his stat line could have looked worse – much worse – had the Bengals not dropped a couple of interceptions. At the same time, he still threw two touchdown passes – the first Jaguars rookie ever to do so on the road – and made a few plays in the second half to give the Jaguars a chance. Bottom line: There's no reason to think he won't be fine, but he has a long way to go.
3.The special teams struggles are real.The Jaguars have had three field goals blocked this season, and a lot of other near-misses. On Sunday, the issue turned to blocked punts. One early was officially ruled a tip. Either way, there was a hand on the ball when there shouldn't have been. The Bengals had a real blocked punt for a safety on the next possession. One block is bad. Two is unacceptable.* *The outside wing protectors struggled on the blocks, and then a poor punt by Bryan Anger and slow coverage allowed a key, 31-yard return by Adam Jones on the second half. All in all, a real tough day for the special teams.
4.The Jaguars are improved. /Ducks.
5.The Jaguars are improved.OK, now that we've ducked – and now that we've gotten a few of the clear issues out of the way – let's say the thing people are wearying of hearing. The Jaguars are an improved team. People get tired of hearing it. Senior writers get tired of writing it. Still, it's true. The Jaguars played poorly Sunday, then rallied from an early deficit and found a way to get back into the game against a good team. That's something that didn't happen last season.
6.The Jaguars didn't quit.This game could have gotten away from the Jaguars in the second half. Instead, they forced two second-half turnovers and scored three offensive touchdowns in the final two quarters. It wasn't enough to overcome a lackluster start, but it was a tighter finish than appeared likely at halftime.
7.Denard Robinson is for real …It's time to accept this as truth. He didn't get a third consecutive 100-yard rushing game, but he rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. That's a 5.5-yards-per-carry average. He runs harder than expected and runs better between the tackle than expected. Shoot, overall he's just a better running back than expected.
8. … and he's also a half-step away.What's striking about Robinson is how close he has been to a game-breaking run in recent weeks. His speed gives him a chance to break a long run on every play. He had a couple of chances on Sunday and couldn't quite beat the last defender. He will, and you get the idea it won't be much longer.
9.This line can run block.Give credit where it's due. The offensive line is much better than early in the season. That's particularly true in the run game. After a slow start to the season, the line has blocked well for the run in three consecutive games. That's something few thought possible in September.
10.Jeremiah George has potential. The rookie started at middle linebacker and played well before sustaining a high-ankle sprain. That's an injury that usually means an extended absence, which is too bad. George played well enough to get an extended look at the spot.
11.Allen Hurns is back.The free-agent rookie wide receiver caught two touchdown passes Sunday. That gives him five for the season, which ties him for the most by a rookie in franchise history. He also became the first rookie in Jaguars history with more than one multiple touchdown-reception game in a season. Hurns twice on Sunday outfought defenders to turn potential incomplete passes into touchdowns. That's good stuff for a rookie – actually, it's good stuff for any receiver.
12.Jordan Todman is a special teams ace.His coverage of an early punt helped hold Jones to a two-yard return and he leveled Jones at the 10-yard line on a kickoff return in the third quarter. He also returned six kickoffs for a 28.8-yard average. As poorly as the special teams played overall, Todman played that well.
13. The Jaguars' defense isn't perfect.The streak of holding opposing offenses under 17 points ended at four Sunday. There were good spots on defense, but on this day, there were a few too many plays the defense wanted back. That was particularly true on a 60-yard game-clinching run by Jeremy Hill. The defense had gone a while without a small error allowing a huge play. On Sunday, it happened at a bad time.
14.The young corners are improving.Bengals wide receivers A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu each caught a touchdown pass, but those are good players and they didn't control the game Sunday. Sanu caught four passes for 95 yards, but needed a great throw/catch for his long reception of the day, a 36-yarder. Green caught just three passes for 44 yards. Overall, second-year corners Demetrius McCray and Dwayne Gratz had a second consecutive good day starting opposite one another. Stay tuned, but this position is starting to look strong.
15.The Jaguars are improved./Re-ducks.