JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – You know anytime you're going to face a Tom Coughlin coached football team they're going to run the football. A lot. Former Jaguar Rashad Jennings is Coughlin's workhorse in the backfield (another one of those guys like Montel Owens, Justin Forsett and Daryl Smith that I can't figure out why they're not on this team) and as expected, the Giants started out running the football. A lot. The Jaguars had three plays in the first quarter for nine yards while the Giants dominated the field and time of possession including a 19-play, 91 yard, 9 minute and 51 second drive for a TD (scored by Jennings) to take an early 7-0 lead. I'll admit, it's not what I expected from the Jaguars defense, especially in the middle.
A complete lack of production isn't what I expected on offense early in the game either. The Giants took a 14-0 lead driving on a short field before the Jaguars even got to ten offensive snaps. Their first two offensive series where both three and out, the one on the goal line including a bad throw, a dropped pass and a batted ball. If Gus Bradley challenged his players and coaches to do more, to step up, it didn't show in the first 25 minutes of the game. While Blake Bortles tries to find that aggressive side and measure it against turning the ball over, the rest of the offense has to step forward. The receivers have to get open and the offensive line has to move defenders off the ball. Neither of those things is happening.
Taking advantage of another short field, the Giants scored on a 17 yard run by Jennings (again) and took a 21-0 lead.
With the Giants rushing three on third down deep in Jaguars territory, Bortles was able to elude the rush and fire a strike to Alan Hurns downfield. But a defender met Hurns with his should right about the time he was going to catch the ball and delivered a big hit to force an incompletion. Hurns was on the ground for a while.
He did return as the Jaguars got their first drive of the day going. Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fish finally started rolling Bortles out of the pocket and hitting some guys on crossing patterns. Throw in a nice run by Denard Robinson and the Jaguars were inside the Giants ten. But Robinson occasionally still hesitates at the point of attack when there's not an obvious hole there so the Jaguars went nowhere on first and second down, including a fade throw to Marqis Lee. (Which I don't understand because no matter what he's listed at, he's actually around 5'8".) A scramble by Bortles with a throw into the end zone to Cecil Shorts was negated by a holding call on Luke Joeckel and the Jaguars settled for a Josh Scobee field goal to make it 21-3.
Looking for a single word to describe the first half performance, "woeful" was the one that kept coming to mind. Without much production on offense, whether because of play calling or execution (or both) the Jaguars were hoping their defense would keep them in the game but that didn't happen either. It is alumni weekend for the Jaguars and seeing all of those former players on the field had to give the Jaguars fans in attendance a good feeling about what they had at one point. And what they're hoping for. There were big ovations for several players, including Jimmy Smith who hadn't been in Jacksonville for a while.
Top open the second half the Jaguars moved the ball near to midfield before having to punt. But a big 61-yard punt by Brian Anger put the ball on the Giants 13. That's when the defense started to come to life again, Geno Hayes sacking Eli Manning and forcing a fumble that JT Thomas jumped on in the end zone for a TD to make it 21-10 Giants.
Manning was sacked on third down on the Giants next possession as well and appeared to fumble but the officials ruled him down on forward progress and didn't allow a challenge allowing the Giants to punt to the Jaguars 22.
After an exchange of punts, the Jaguars offense came to life, finally with some exotic play calling. The wildcat formation, the read-option by Bortles and a beautiful throw to Lee on a fade route to the back corner of the end zone from 30 yards out cut the score to 21-16. I know a 2-point conversion cuts it to a 3 point game but with 2 minutes left in the third quarter, all that did was kill the momentum with the pass was batted down at the line.
It's almost unbelievable what happened next. The Giants were finding some momentum near midfield when Manning hit TE Larry Donnell on a little out route. He was hit high and low by the Jaguars and fumbled the ball on his way to the ground. Rookie Aaron Colvin was in on the tackle and also scooped the ball up for a score giving the Jaguars a 22-21 lead after they went for 2, again, and didn't make it. Hindsight is 20/20 but going for two in both of those situations seemed a little early.
Meanwhile, I'm sure the Giants were confused. Weren't they in control of this game 21-0? While the gashed the defensive line early on the ground, they couldn't find anything that really worked in the second half. Until Eli Manning went to the short rhythm passing game and moved them right down the field. The defense stiffened and the Giants kicked a FG to take a 24-22 lead.
So with just over 3 minutes to play, Blake Bortles and the offense had a chance to redeem themselves. Just a FG wins it. And this is where confidence and careers are formed. Bortles looked decisive hitting Lee and Shorts for midrange gains. He ran the ball on the read-option a couple of times to get first downs. He looked like they were going to WIN THIS GAME. No hesitation, no second-guessing. And sure enough, they moved it to the Giants 25 yard line where Josh Scobee calmly kicked a 43 yarder to win the game, 25-24.
How they did it? If you follow Gus' commands its about about giving a little more and finding a way. Whatever they were doing before wasn't enough. And if it takes two defensive touchdowns, then go get two defensive TD's. Hopefully Bortles and the offense gains some confidence after that game winning drive.
The good news is they get to play at home again next week. And the opponent is Houston.