There’s a lot of talk when you listen to the Jaguars about bouncing back when things don’t go your way, starting fast and overcoming adversity. But in reality, the 2016 team hasn’t been capable of any of that. Losing the opener to Green Bay, the team let that defeat linger for a week and they got blown out by San Diego. The opening drive against the Bears looked solid but ended with a turnover. And things fell apart.
Instead of bouncing back from adversity, the Jaguars offense couldn’t get untracked for the rest of the first half while the defense couldn’t get off the field on third down, giving up 10 points, and they trailed 10-0 at halftime. The Bears were able to convert third downs at will throughout the half, while the Jaguars offense couldn’t stay on the field.
Wanting to do something different, I watched the third quarter with no tweeting and no sound. I've thought the Jags were a few "tweaks" away from being a pretty good team. But after watching like that, I'm losing confidence in some key elements; Leadership, O-Line, Bortles, Bradley’s philosophy.
All along we’ve known that Gus’ coaching philosophy is a grand experiment: empower the players with the accountability element of what drives a team, any team to success. That’s worked in spurts but hasn’t infused the Jaguars culture full-time. On defense, the Jaguars have talent and leadership, but something’s flawed either in execution or scheme because too often one thing cracks and the whole thing falls apart.
On offense, they have the pieces, albeit young, but when things aren’t going right, they don’t have a leader who can right the ship and get things going in the right direction. That would most easily fall to the quarterback, Blake Bortles. But in 2016, Bortles hasn’t found a rhythm or the form he had in 2015 when he threw 35 touchdowns. So maybe he’s uncomfortable pumping up his teammates when he’s not playing so well. Brandon Linder is a natural leader, but it’s tough for the center to motivate anybody except the guys across the offensive line.
Playing better certainly helps and winning solves everything. So in two possessions on offense and one on defense in the fourth quarter, the Jaguars went from a bad team to one that looked like it was fulfilling its potential. With the defense being called on to give them a chance, the offense and Bortles found some openings with Allen Hurns making two big catches to get the ball inside the five. On second down (why not first?), Chris Ivory scored his first touchdown as a Jaguar to pull within 6 at 13-7.
Then two chances were squandered. Bortles was hit from behind and fumbled, giving the Bears three points to make it 16-7. He has to know, now in his third year in the league, that guys are going to be catching him from behind and to protect the football. That’s basic stuff. 16-7 Bears. Then Kelvin Beachum was called for a late hit as the Jaguars were driving, moving the ball back to the 30 and forcing them to kick a field goal to make it 16-10. Beachum is smarter than that, but it’s that kind of lack of thinking and discipline that one of his teammates has to call out if Bradley’s coaching philosophy is ever going to take hold.
Again the defense did their job, getting the ball back to Bortles and company with plenty of time. An unlikely hero, Arrelious Benn, caught a simple “in” route from his WR spot but when he went to the ground he wasn’t touched. He jumped up and ran 52-yards for the go-ahead TD, 17-16 Jaguars.
That’s when the talent on the Jaguars showed up in the form of rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey. On fourth down, Ramsey was singled up on Alshon Jefferies and broke on the ball to knock it down and preserve the victory for the Jaguars. Ramsey as schooled in the first half by Jefferies. In the second half, the roles were reversed. Even the final play was well designed and executed. With 47 seconds to play and third down, Bortles ran some play action and rolled to his left, looking at the game clock to get under 40 seconds and stay in bounds. He did both, ending the game.
From a miserable three quarters the Jaguars grabbed their second win of the year against a bad Bears team. No matter how bad the Bears are, you’re supposed to beat bad teams and that’s what the Jaguars have done two games in a row. Being able to use this as a springboard to next week’s home game against Oakland will be key.