CHARLOTTE, NC – Too many turnovers. Too many big plays.
Jacksonville's trip to Carolina came down to the wire on Sunday, but ended with a 34-27 loss that can be blamed to two glaring things.
Turnovers, three of them, including one that led to a Carolina touchdown. And another a porous showing by a defense that gave up one big play after another. The Saints come to TIAA Bank Field next week.
Still, the Jaguars had their chance against the Panthers.
Jacksonville had the ball last, taking a drive from its own 5 with 1 minute, 45 seconds to play and down into Panthers territory.
Gardner Minshew II marched Jacksonville to the Carolina 24 (courtesy of two flags on the Panthers), with the latter penalty with no time on the clock setting the stage for one untimed down.
But there was no Minshew Magic on this one. The rookie quarterback was pressured on the play and had to scramble around to get an off-balance throw off that didn't even make it into the end zone.
That the Jaguars got the ball back was a break. Their previous drive was better positioned to do something with, but ended with a turnover.
Down 34-27 with 2:19 to play, Minshew tried to make something happen. Bouncing around the pocket after a strong rush, Carolina defensive end Brian Burns sacked Minshew and he fumbled. Defensive end Marquis Haynes, a University Christian product, scooped up the loose ball and all but clinched a Panthers victory.
Minshew had his best passing game in the NFL (26 of 45, 374 yards, two TDs), but turnovers were a killer. He lost three fumbles, including one that Burns returned 56 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter that put Carolina up 21-7.
Turnovers were a killer, but the bigger issues was defense.
Jacksonville couldn't contain the big play. Whether that was Christian McCaffrey or backup running back Reggie Bonnafon, getting a stop was challenging.
McCaffrey, a third-year running back, tormented Jacksonville from start to finish, scoring three touchdowns, including an 84-yard run on the Panthers' first snap of the second half that put them in front 28-17. McCaffrey rushed for 176 yards and a pair of TDs on 19 carries and had 61 yards and a TD on six catches.
About the only success they had stopping McCaffrey came on a big one, a fourth-and-1 in the fourth quarter from the Jaguars 5.
Minshew drove Jacksonville 73 yards after the stop and managed a 38-yard field goal by Josh Lambo to cut the deficit to 28-27.
When McCaffrey came out for a breather, Reggie Bonnafon picked up the slack and delivered another dagger on the Jaguars, a 59-yard touchdown run — the first of his career — with 3:34 left and a 34-27 edge. Bonnafon had just two carries all season before running for 80 yards on five carries. James Slye missed the point after to leave some breathing room, but the Jaguars couldn't capitalize.
Running back Leonard Fournette had his first rushing touchdown of the season and turned in his second straight 100-yard game on the ground (23 carries, 108 yards). Receiver DJ Chark had his best game, going for 164 yards and a pair of TDs.