JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s the routine things that keep most NFL games close. The simple throw and catch, the routine kick, the everyday tackle. When both teams do that, coaches lean on their best players to “play above the x’s and o’s” to make a play and win games. That’s why the NFL is pretty much a .500 league. It’s designed for everybody to get close to 8-8 and for some stars to make a difference.
For the Jaguars, the simple throw and catch, the routine kick and the everyday tackle are still at least an arm's length away, and consequently they’re 2-6 halfway through the 2016 schedule.
Sunday’s loss to Kansas City showed again the small margin for error the Jaguars and any NFL team has when it comes to winning and losing. Almost every time a team turns the ball over four times in a game and doesn’t create any of their own, they lose. If the turnovers take points away from you or create easy scoring opportunities for the opposition it’s doubly hard.
That’s where the Jaguars find themselves in their six losses. Mental errors, turnovers or missing the routine play, they haven’t been able to figure out that all of those things add up to the difference between winning and losing.
Both TJ Yeldon and Chris Ivory had critical fumbles. Yeldon should know by now that running in jumbled space, particularly at the end of a play is when defenders will be banging around trying to create a turnover. Holding the ball “high and tight” didn’t become a thing because it was “cool.” It became a thing because it works. Knowing you might be a couple of inches short of a touchdown but there’s always third down and holding onto the ball at the goal line also became a thing because it works.
Even reliable and “trustworthy” Bryan Walters fell victim to the lack of focus. Rule number one for a punt returner; catch the ball. Rule number two? Wrap it up and hold onto it when you go down because it’s too big of a field shift if you fumble.
After a week of working with his personal coach and saying he was “tightening things up,” Blake Bortles looked better in spurts but missed some critical throws that could have been game changers. Three times he hit Chiefs defensive players right in the chest. Luckily only one was an interception.
New offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett gave a bit of a change up to the play calling and leaned on the running game effectively. Ivory had 18 carries for 107 yards. As a team, the Jaguars averaged 6.4 yards per carry for 205 yards on the ground.
With their injuries, the Chiefs were playing their second team in some key spots and gained only 231 total yards compared to 449 yards for the Jaguars. Defensively, the Jaguars took advantage of a banged-up Kansas City offense and gave their team some chances to win.
It appears that opposing coaches know the Jaguars can’t score enough points when it counts to win, so just don’t beat yourself. Andy Reid didn’t let Nick Foles make mistakes to lose the game. The Jaguars ran 75 plays compared to 57 for KC. But the Chiefs didn’t turn it over once. Even the ball that should have been intercepted by Prince Amukamara was knocked loose by Tashaun Gipson and fell incomplete.
If the Jaguars had lost this game last year, or even in 2013 or 2014 you could take some positives away from the game. But even Gus Bradley says it’s too late for that.
“We didn’t come here to collect positives,” Bradley said in his post game comments from Kansas City. “We came here to win and didn’t get it done.”
“Couldn’t really finish drives,” Bortles said in the locker room. “It’s a good feeling that we were able to do what we wanted but we’re not here for moral victories. It’s good that we found some balance but, we want to win the ballgame.”
Both are right. Time’s up for positives and moral victories. It’s time to win ball games. And both know that’s the only stat head coaches and quarterbacks are judged by.