JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – “Start fast, finish fast,” is how Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley described his philosophy going into the 2016 season. That would be a departure from the previous three years where the Jaguars are 1-10 in September.
"We’re very aware of that," linebacker Paul Posluszny said this week. "Start fast, start fast has been something we’ve been emphasizing, not only in practice but in preseason games."
So that’s why it didn’t feel quite right when Blake Bortles threw behind Marquis Lee and the ball was bobbled and picked off by Green Bay on the Jaguars' opening possession of the season.
A veteran team, the Packers took advantage quickly, negating the Jaguars pass rush and scoring on an Aaron Rodgers scramble to make it 7-0 early in the first quarter.
There was a feeling of “here we go again” throughout the stadium until a little screen pass to Marcedes Lewis went for 37 yards to the Green Bay 11. Jaguars’ coaches have said Lewis has surprised them with how solid he was in camp and it showed with his skill and effort on that play. Two carries by TJ Yeldon resulted in a TD for the Jaguars tying the game at 7.
One thing the Jaguars have done is change the field position twice early in the game on Brad Nortman punts. Both landed and were downed inside the 5 yard line. That’s where the defense recorded three straight three-and-outs, leading to a Jason Myers field goal to give the Jaguars a 10-7 lead.
It seemed that some questions about the Jaguars were answered early in the game. They can run the football, there’s not too much concern about the left side of the offensive line, Bortles doesn’t mind throwing it to anybody, (Lee, Lewis, Thomas, ARob, DRob and Hurns all caught passes in the first half) and the defensive backfield can cover. What wasn’t answered was the big question about the pass rush. Without much consistent pressure on Rodgers, he marched the Packers down the field using short passes. Green Bay finished it off with Rodgers shuffling around in the pocket and hitting Jordy Nelson for a TD, 14-10 Packers.
We knew the Jaguars offense would be productive and they showed it again. This time on Bortles arm and a couple of great catches by Allen Hurns and Julius Thomas to regain the lead 17-14. Bortles is checking down to his second and third receiver, partially because he has time and partially because he’s more confident. He found Hurns after scanning the field but the throw and catch to Thomas was something special. Thomas has some of the best hands ever for a tight end and it showed on the TD catch.
Grabbing chunks of yardage over the middle and picking on Jonathan Cyprien in pass coverage, the Packers marched right down the field again inside the two-minute warning. Without much pass rush, Rodgers was able to isolate receivers on Cyprien who’s clearly the weak link in coverage among the revamped Jaguars secondary.
Green Bay scored on a play that showcased Rodgers ability as he shuffled around in the pocket to avoid the blitz by Jalen Ramsey and flicked the ball into the end zone for a TD. Ramsey had a piece of his jersey and while Cyprien was flagged for pass interference on the play it didn’t matter. Rodgers made it happen for a 21-17 lead at halftime.
An exchange of field goals on the first two possessions of the second half made it 24-20 Green Bay. It was the first red zone stop for the Jaguars defense behind some solid play by Prince Amukamara. Rogers continued to pick on Cyprien, buying time with his feet and isolating a receiver on him.
As the third quarter wore on, Rodgers continued to show his skill and savvy, picking his spots and methodically moving the Packers downfield. Green Bay looked a bit winded but controlled the ball and kept their defense off the field. While the Jaguars' defense stiffened at the goal line, the Packers still held the ball for 16 plays and 73 yards to take a 27-20 lead.
Showing good poise, the Jaguars converted a couple of fourth downs in the fourth quarter but had to spend all of their timeouts to do so. That led to a delay of game penalty at a critical point of the drive. Jason Myers kicked a 50-yard field goal to make it 27-23 with just over five minutes to play.
That’s when the defense finally got some pressure on Rodgers, forcing an incomplete pass on third and 11. Sen’Derrick Marks applauded the crowd in the north end zone for forcing a false start on third and 6 and the Jaguars got the ball back at midfield.
Missing any timeouts, the Jaguars were a bit out of sorts but kept the drive alive into the final 30 seconds of the game. On fourth down, a weird holding call on Luke Joeckel was followed by an interception by the Packers, negated by defensive holding. So back to midfield and a first down. On third and 1, Bortles tried to hit Rashad Greene over the middle that went incomplete and on fourth down Allen Hurns was stopped short of the marker giving the ball to the Packers, ending the game.
Maybe it was the clock management, but I hated the final two play calls of the game. On third and 1, do something that gives you a better chance at gaining a yard and on fourth down give your quarterback some options instead of just tossing it out to a receiver who you’re hoping gets a yard. Not sure if OC Olson has Bortles under wraps in that situation but you would hope him would have the ability to get them into a better play than that.
We won’t know what this game means for a while but if Green Bay is one of the top teams in the league, the Jaguars showed they can play with anybody. Winning teams know how to win and the Packers showed that. The Jaguars are better, exciting, encouraged and fun to watch. The O-line will be fine, Bortles and the offense will score points, the defensive backfield can cover and they’re still looking for a better pass rush.
But they’re still 0-1.