CLEVELAND – With a makeshift offensive line, cool weather and a little bit of snow in the forecast the Jaguars knew going into the game they’d have to just grind it out if they wanted to come home from Cleveland with a win. They did just that with 139 yards rushing, 111 from Leonard Fournette and beat the Browns 19-7.
“We want to be tough,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said after the game. “But I think it is how we finish. That will be the point where people look back and say that this is a tough team. We’ve done some things that have helped us along that line, but if you start playing in November and December, you have to have both mental and physical toughness to win games.”
More importantly, the Jaguars defense again rose to the occasion, creating turnovers, scoring points and keeping the Browns in check for most of the game. A mix-up between Telvin Smith and Tashaun Gipson allowed Cleveland their only TD, a 27 –yard pass in the second quarter. Outside of that, they were pretty flawless. The Browns had four yards of offense in the first quarter. DeShone Kizer was 15 of 32 passing for 179 yards but threw two interceptions. He was Cleveland’s leading rusher as well with 22 yards on five carries. They never really threatened as the Jaguars defense kept the score at 10-7, 13-7 and then scored on a sack/fumble for the final score at 19-7.
“We were able to just go down there and when we put it on our backs,” said Jaguars Safety Barry Church. “We’ve responded so far this season. We just need to keep doing that - put the team on our backs and when stuff gets sticky for the offense, like it did this game, we have got to be able to pull through on the defense side of the ball.”
It’s been a different player each week for the Jaguars defense and instead of the inside guys like Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson, it was the outside pressure of Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler that kept the Browns offense off balance. Ngakoue had 2 ½ sacks and caused a fumble. Fowler was in the backfield and picked up a Kiser fumble that should have been ruled a touchdown. Instead, the Jaguars got the ball, punted it after a three and out, and the defense scored anyway.
“The defensive line is just so good, you never know<” Jaguars Safety Tashaun Gipson said after predicting that the Jaguars could shut out his former team this week. “t could be one of five different guys, (DT) Dareus (Marcell), (DL) Malik (Jackson), (DL) Calais (Campbell), (DE) Yannick (Ngakoue), or (DE Dante) Fowlers Jr., so the last play I did not get a chance to see. We have one of the better pass runners in the NFL (Ngakoue) and he took advantage and took his opportunities.“
It’s not the kind of game they’ll showcase on their resume but again they came away with a win. Their 7-3 record is the best after ten games in ten years. With a one game lead in the division, it’s the first time the Jaguars have led the division since 1999. And that’s when they were in the AFC Central.
We keep saying they’ll have to play better but they’re doing just enough to win. Last week against the Chargers at home and this week on the road in Cleveland they looked sloppy, out of sync on offense, had very little passing game but figured out a way to win. Neither LA nor the Browns are world-beaters but the rest of the Jaguars schedule isn’t full of winning teams either.
With the best defense in the league, they still look like playoff contenders. A little offense would get them plenty of attention as a legitimate post-season team.
“The season is still rolling,” said Quarterback Blake Bortles. “We’re in first place right now, but we have a while to go and our goal is to win the AFC South. We’re in a good position and we control our own destiny, but we need to keep rolling, getting things fixed and finding ways to win.”
Next week they’ll travel to Arizona to take on the Blaine Gabbert-led Cardinals before three straight home games in December against the Colts, Seahawks and Texans. With seven wins, it’s possible the Jaguars could wrap up a playoff spot before their final two road games at San Francisco and Tennessee. They’re hoping their trip to Nashville on New Year’s Even doesn’t mean much.
Hard to believe in just one year, that’s a real possibility.