JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While the Dolphins looked like a similar challenge to what they had last week against Cleveland, Miami came in with more confidence and some matchup problems for the Jaguars. But despite three new starters on defense, the Jaguars "D" was stout against Miami, giving up just 3 yards in the first quarter. They also recorded two sacks in the first quarter and were dominating in every phase of the game. Problem was, mistakes were costing them scoring opportunities.
It's a bit of a theme for the special teams unit, regrettably, that Josh Scobee has a kick blocked. In this case the Jaguars first scoring opportunity was a 48-yard field goal attempt that was blocked leaving the score 0-0 in the 1st quarter.
The defense just mauled the Dolphins and backed them up giving the offense good field position. Again, Scobee was called on, this time from 46 yards, and he made it, but a holding call negated the points and it was still 0-0.
Nonetheless the defense came back out and smothered the Dolphins offense with a strong run "D" and good coverage downfield. With good field position again, the Jaguars moved the ball at will, marching inside the Dolphins 30 for the third time in the quarter. Moving the ball down to the one with a combination of runs and passes, they appeared on the verge of taking the lead. But a ticky-tack "illegal shift" penalty moved the ball all the way back outside the 30 at the end of the quarter. The Jaguars had dominated the time of possession and the yardage, 132-3 but still hadn't scored.
That's when a Blake Bortles mistake cost the Jaguars seven points. On the naked bootleg, Bortles threw back across the field, and the Dolphins were waiting for it. The interception was returned 81-yards for a TD and Miami led, 7-0. It was a big 14-point shift and could have been a real morale breaker for the home team.
Instead, they came out firing again. Bortles has thrown more interceptions than anyone in the league (and remember he didn't play in the first three games) and while he has five TD passes, he also has three INT's that have gone back for TD's the other way. To Jedd Fisch's credit, 100% of the time when Bortles has thrown an INT, the next play is always a pass. This time it was no different, Bortles hitting Alan Robinson for a first down crossing the field. A good combination of Denard Robinson and Toby Gerhart running and Bortles throws gave Scobee another shot that he missed. But this time the Dolphins were offside giving the Jaguars another chance. This time Scobee converted and Miami led, 7-3.
But you can't give up that many chances and expect to dominate where it counts, on the scoreboard. Miami hadn't done a thing but still led and probably felt pretty good about themselves with the lead.
No doubt they felt even better when the Jaguars were driving into their territory again, only to make another mistake. Bortles saw a big opening up the middle and took it, gaining big yardage but the ball was slapped out of his hands for a fumble, recovered by the Dolphins. You can say it's a rookie mistake, but eventually that's no excuse. He's got to start making more plays than he's giving up.
How dominating was it? The Jaguars didn't let the Dolphins into their territory until right before the 2-minute warning. But the middle is always open against the Jaguars if the pass rush doesn't get there and Tannehill took advantage of that driving Miami inside the 30. A stiffening defense made the Dolphins go for a field goal that St. Augustine's Caleb Sturgis converted for a 10-3 halftime lead.
So many blown opportunities in the first half.
Another big defensive stand forced the Dolphins to punt to start the second half. But again, either a wrong read, a bad pass or a bad route lead to an INT for a TD for Miami and a 17-6 lead. Bortles leads the league in INT's and has throw four of those for six points the other way compared to just five TD passes for the Jaguars. That's what you get when you commit to your rookie, first round pick at quarterback. You can't go back, but he's the one that's getting you beat. You only hope that he's learning as he goes along and makes those mistakes. Bortles also missed Alan Robinson on third down leading to a Scobee FG, 17-6 Dolphins.
Even though he's been making rookie mistakes, Bortles still shows flashes of what he can be. A beautiful throw to Alan Hurns on a deep out in a crossing pattern picked up a first down. Hurns had dropped a bullet on first down, a habit that's now all too familiar from the undrafted free agent. But that series bogged down and the Jaguars had to punt. Peyton manning holds the rookie record for interceptions with 28 but he also threw 26 TD passes that year. Bortles is gaining on one of those numbers, the wrong one.
Brian Anger kicked the ball out at the five, putting the Dolphins in a hole. But then a long pass to Mike Wallace for 57 yards was ruled, first out, then in-bounds to get the Dolphins to mid-field. Wallace might have had his knee in but that's a case where Gus has to challenge it to force the ref and the replay official to make the call. A 30-yard burst up the middle led to an easy TD for Miami and a 24-6 lead.
The Jaguars started the 4th quarter down 18 points, a score you would not have believed if you watched the first 15 minutes of play.
There were more good flashes and solid defense for the Jaguars. Telvin Smith tipped a Tannehill pass that was intercepted by JT Thomas in the end zone. Thomas was making his first start in the middle for the injured Paul Posluszny so the more good things happen to him inside, the better.
The rest of the game was a grind with not much excitement (FG by Sturgis and a long TD pass to a wide open Alan Robinson) but it did give everybody a chance to reflect on what might have been if the Jaguars hadn't: 1) Had a kick blocked 2) Didn't illegally shift 3) Didn't hold 4) Didn't fumble, etc, etc. But that's the NFL. If you don't take advantage of the situation when it presents itself, it usually comes back to haunt you.
At 1-7, the Jaguars continue to show improvement but that needs to start turning into wins, sooner rather than later. With games at Cincinnati and against Dallas in London on the schedule followed by the bye week and a trip to Indianapolis, it's not hard to imagine a double-digit loss total for the team when they finally return home on November 30, Thanksgiving weekend, against the Giants.
As has been said many times, I don't think Dave Caldwell and Gus Bradley's seats are hot, but I do think there are some folks out gathering kindling. Without a few wins sprinkled in the rest of the way, I'm sure somebody will find a match as well.