JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Having swept the Texans last year for two of their four wins, the Jaguars were fairly confident this week at home against Houston. Coming off a last-second win against the Giants they could see improvement and how "the process" was taking hold.
Not that Houston was any kind of pushover. With JJ Watt playing at an MVP level, Arian Foster looking like the Pro Bowl back he is, and Ryan Fitzpatrick coming off a 6-TD performance, it's a pretty good test for the home team.
Again this week Sen'Derrick Marks played at a Pro Bowl level, recording 1.5 sacks in the first quarter to get the Jaguars in good field position. Marks is scheduled for a big payday if he gets to 8 sacks from the DT position.
That's a huge number coming from that spot on the field on a team that has won 2 games and isn't usually harassing the QB because the opposition is throwing it all the time trying to catch up.
Taking advantage of the short field, the Jaguars drove the ball in from the 50 with a nice blend of runs by Denard Robinson and Toby Gerhart and a back-shoulder 26 yard pass from Blake Bortles to Marqise Lee to take a 7-0 lead. The TD pass was impressive because the Jaguars used their bootleg roll to the right goal line play but the Texans sniffed it out and covered everybody coming out of the backfield and the tight end off the line of scrimmage. Bortles kept the play alive rolling to the right and final Allen Hurns danced away from his man enough for Bortles to fit it in there for a touchdown.
Anytime Foster is in the game the Texans have a chance. When he's healthy and playing, he gets a hundred yards a game pretty much all the time. The Jaguars were keeping him in check until one of their "fits" from the defensive secondary didn't work on a running play and he ripped off 51-yards into Jaguars territory. Along the way he stiff-armed Josh Evans so hard that he de-cleated Evans at midfield. The Texans got a FG to make it 7-3. On the ensuing possession, Houston got the short field and scored on a Fitzpatrick run (following a 19 yard Foster carry) 10-7 Houston.
A lot of fans have been down on some of the free agent acquisitions for the Jaguars in the off-season. They cut Dekoda Watson, Zane Beadles hasn't had much to work with and Toby Gerhart isn't the guy everybody thought he'd be. Hard to say if Beadles is just suffering from all the young guys around him or not. But it's clear that Gerhart hasn't been healthy until now. He's running hard and is a good combination with Denard Robinson in the backfield. The Jaguars gave it to him on 3rd and 9 and he powered through the line and ran over a couple of guys on the next level for a first down. Scobee kicked another field goal to make it 10-10. And with Bortles running around looking for somebody, he checked down to Gerhart who blasted through a few guys again for a first down. Another Scobee FG made it 13-10 at halftime.
Bortles is playing more like the guy who came in during the second half of the third game of the year. He's avoiding the rush, finding open receivers and not making the same mistakes he made in that five game stretch. Hard to say if he's peeking out of the fog or not but he looks like that guy the Jaguars thought they drafted.
After halftime, the weather turned a little worse with a light mist and a cold wind blowing through the stadium. Apparently the Jaguars didn't like the weather shift because the 3rd quarter was all Houston. They went on an 84 yard, 16 play TD drive to take a 17-13 lead and intercepted Bortles at the 25 near the end of quarter and scored to start the 4th to take a 24-14 lead.
The second touchdown was particularly galling because the Texans went for it on 4th down only to have Foster stoned at the goal line but slip away backwards and skirt untouched around the left end for the TD. There was a big swing of emotion on the play, elation when Foster was stopped but despair when it was apparent nobody tackled him and he slipped in for the score.
Houston controlled the clock on offense and stifled the Jaguars with their defense for most of the second half. With eight minutes to go in the game Bortles and the offense had officially -1 yards on the books. Cecil Shorts had a critical drop on a slant that he'd still be running on and the Jaguars gave it back to the Texans. Houston kicked another FG to make it 27-13.
Right when the Jaguars looked like they'd make a game of it by gaining 51 yards on two plays and getting to the Texans 29 yard line, they started going backwards with sacks and penalties. Houston did their best to grind the clock, Foster professionally and smartly staying in bounds to get it under 3 minutes before giving it back to the Jaguars.
I'm not sure if they'll be able to pinpoint exactly why there was no production in the second half on either side of the ball. Critical drops (Shorts et al) and penalties, along with an inability to keep Bortles upright all contributed to their problems. Certainly his interception deep in their own territory didn't help but it felt like a small step forward for Bortles in game management, performance and playing with more freedom than in the past.
While they had the lead at halftime, the Jaguars never felt in control of this game and while you'd like to say it was entertaining and fun to be there, in the second half it was anything but that. In fact, the stands were mostly empty as people retreated inside because of the rain and the cold.
Houston knelt on it for the final 2 minutes to add insult to injury, a wound that the Jaguars can only salve by being able to do the same to the Texans in the final game of the season.
One more home game on the 18th against Tennessee on a Thursday night that could be fun, and winnable.