JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Whether they call it “a game of inches,” “on any given Sunday” or “playing above the x’s and o’s,” there’s an intangible you can feel when a team is playing winning football. It’s an edge, a little hop, a swagger in the body language that’s easily identifiable.
On their run to the playoffs, the Jaguars had that edge on both sides of the football and on special teams. Over the last two weeks, since winning the AFC South Division title, it hasn’t been there.
With nothing to prove in Tennessee except that they’re a playoff-worthy team, the Jaguars didn’t have that edge and now limp into the playoffs with more questions than answers.
Maybe it’s too much to ask of a receiving corps that didn’t expect to see much playing time across the board when the season started to continue to make plays at a high level. Without Marqise Lee, but with Allen Hurns back, the Jaguars were still leaning on Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole and, on occasion, Jaydon Mickens to get the job done. As good as they’ve played, they’re still not Hurns, Allen Robinson and Lee, the starting wide receivers the Jaguars expected to have on offense.
With a short-arm and a drop in the end zone, Westbrook showed he’s not the complete professional package as a rookie. It’s a different game in the NFL and as talented as he is and as much flash as he’s shown, he’ll have to make those plays if he wants to be a solid, consistent and eventually great pro.
If there’s one constant, the Jaguars defense is legit -- consistently good, occasionally spectacular. A long screen pass/run by Derrick Henry for 66 yards showed the Jaguars susceptibility to getting overly aggressive up the field and out of position. But that’s rare. Pressure on the quarterback, tough against the run and able to score, the defense kept the Jaguars in the game through three quarters.
Then they scored with Yannick Ngakoue picking up a fumble in the backfield and running 67-yards for a touchdown to bring the Jaguars within 5. They had only allowed the one long TD and three field goals through three quarters to keep the game close.
There’s narrative that quarterback Blake Bortles is the problem, but if nobody’s open, there’s not much he can do. Except for the one ill-advised throw, Bortles was on the mark, going through his progressions and throwing into tight windows. But without much help from the receivers, the offense sputtered.
They had a couple of chances in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t convert. And although the defense had Tennessee on the ropes, Marcus Mariota danced around three defenders for a first down to seal the game for the Titans.
Things can change from week to week, and the Jaguars have to hope they can flip the switch to get back to the team they were in early December. Opportunistic on defense, confident on offense, the early December Jaguars were the best team in the league. Bortles was the top-rated quarterback and the lynchpin on offense. They haven’t looked like that team for a couple of weeks now and it’ll take a big transformation to win a playoff game, even at home against a depleted Buffalo Bills team.
Jaguars will host the Bills at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.