JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It might be only and inch here or an inch there, but in the precise world of the NFL, those inches can be the ones that get you beat. Watching the Jaguars play the Lions in Detroit showed the difference between a team that’s making the routine play and one that’s a couple of inches off and not winning. Detroit has trailed in every one of their games this year at halftime yet has a 6-4 record. The Jaguars are 2-8, losers of five straight because they’re having a tough time getting out of their own way.
For the tenth time in his career, quarterback Blake Bortles threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. It happened with the game still up for grabs, in the second half when a good drive, or even a score, could set the tone for what might happen. Blake’s throw to Marqise Lee wasn’t terrible, but it was just off the mark enough for it to be tipped in the air and picked off. A more precise throw and Lee probably catches the ball for a first down. We’re talking about a difference of six inches between where he threw it and where it needed to go. But that’s the price you pay in the NFL for imprecise play.
In addition to the defensive touchdown, the Lions scored a special teams touchdown and took advantage of a busted coverage to score their only offensive touchdown of the game. A fumble by Chris Ivory (his 4th of the year, leading the NFL), a missed extra point, blown coverage down the sideline (twice) and an egregious offside penalty against Sen’Derrick Marks at exactly the wrong time are examples of what has the Jaguars at 2-8 and a team like the Lions still thinking playoffs.
Watching the Lions play should have been inspiring for the Jaguars. They’re not great but they’re making plays when they need them most. Good tackles on third down, hitting the open receiver in stride on offense and filling their lanes on special teams. The Jaguars on the other hand were doing just the opposite: missing receivers on third down, missing tackles on special teams and jumping offside.
Last week Marks loudly complained that it was a “slap in the face” to only be on the field for 23 plays against the Texans. It was a little out of character for Marks, an affable guy off the field and an intense competitor on it. He is also one of only a handful of veterans on this club (although he’s only 29) who are trying to be leaders in the locker room. But you can’t call the team out one week and not back it up the next by being baited into jumping offside. It’s only one play of probably about 40 Marks was on the field for in Detroit, but it’s that one play where they needed him the most that cost the Jaguars a chance at winning.
And it’s not always the same guy. One week it was Malik Jackson, another it was Blake Bortles. Jalen Ramsey, Dante Fowler, Bryan Walters and Rashad Greene have all had a hand in making plays, or rather not making plays, that have gotten the Jaguars beat.
A fix is not apparent but it is clear the Jaguars lack the core veterans at each position who know the nuance, precision, discipline and execution it takes to win at this level. Veterans who not only can play but also can lead, and are willing to be followed by those who want to learn. It’s a hard lesson to learn in a league that shows no mercy to those who are unprepared to win.