The new era started much like the old one ended.
Unbelievable. Uninspiring. Embarrassing.
The Jaguars dropped their season opener on Sunday, losing 37-21 to a Texans team that was projected to be the worst in the league. It was the 16th consecutive loss for the franchise, tying it for the 12th longest in NFL history.
The buzz for the debuts of coach Urban Meyer and rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence were subdued by an all-around messy performance that prompted a familiar phrase.
This was supposed to be different. The excitement of drafting Lawrence. The hype of hiring Meyer, one of the most successful coaches in college football history. The organizational reset. The Jaguars (0-1) were a three-point favorite over the dysfunctional Texans.
And then, the game started.
Penalties were a killer. Drops were another. Execution and playcalling were an issue on both sides of the ball. Three Lawrence interceptions led to three points for Houston (1-0).
Lawrence finished 28 of 51 for 332 yards and three touchdowns in his debut.
There’s a long, long way to go.
For Jaguars fans, it was a no doubt a cold splash of reality that a turnaround will be neither quick nor easy. After an offseason of excitement and change that brought both Meyer and Lawrence to town, the fact remains that the Jaguars need significant improvement everywhere, especially on defense.
“I don’t really know that word [shellshocked] other than we’ve all got our ass kicked before. Let’s tighten up and go,” Meyer said. “I believe in that team, I believe in our staff, and come back to work. The good thing is you’re going to earn your captain stripes, and leadership stripes as a coach and leaders on the team. I believe in that. I believe in those guys.”
Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor picked apart Jacksonville’s secondary, including a 52-yard completion to Brandin Cooks with 12 seconds before half that set up an 8-yard touchdown and a 20-point lead. Linebacker K’Lavon Chaisson whiffed on a sack attempt and Cooks made a spectacular catch in between two defenders on the play.
It was the capper on a sobering first half for the Jaguars. Houston’s 27-7 lead at the break felt larger than that, and it only got worse from there.
Taylor, starting over Deshaun Watson, was exceptional against Jacksonville. He finished 21 of 33 for 291 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
And the Jaguars just weren’t in sync. There were too many penalties that Meyer said were “inexcusable,” like lining up with 12 men on the field and players out of pre-snap position.
“It’s all the above. It’s inexcusable, the things that need to be fixed. You know, three preseason games, you’d think we’d have that fixed,” he said. “So that’s something that we’re going to — I would ‘guesstimate’ you would not see that again. That’s inexcusable.”
The Jaguars seemed to abandon the run game early as holding penalties stacked up. Jacksonville had two first-down runs by Carlos Hyde and James Robinson wiped out by flags, and that made it almost timid in going back to the ground. Hyde had 44 rushing yards on nine carries to lead the lead the team. Robinson had just five carries for 25 yards.
Lawrence was sacked just once, but the offensive line didn’t play particularly well.
“Yeah, obviously sucks. Losing is always hard, especially when you feel like you are prepared and had a great week,” he said. “Really think we were ready and obviously didn’t play well. It starts with me. I didn’t play well for sure. I played really bad tonight. Disappointing for sure. I still believe in this team. I still know what we are capable off. We did some good things. We started off with some penalties, three and out. But after that we had a couple good drives. Hitting some big plays. There’s a lot of good things there and we have to keep doing those and learn from the bad.”
For Lawrence, flashes of potential were there but the rookie mistakes were big. He was picked on back-to-back drives, with the latter by Florida product Vernon Hargreaves III. Lawrence locked on his target DJ Chark, and Hargreaves read the play the whole time. It went on to set up a 26-yard field goal by Joey Slye.
Two of Lawrence’s touchdown passes were perfect throws, a 22-yard dart to tight end Chris Manhertz, and a 41-yard strike to Chark. He added a garbage time touchdown to Marvin Jones Jr. His three interceptions were certainly concerning, but growing pains of a rookie quarterback in the NFL.
For Lawrence, it was a start to build on. Considered one of the best prospects at quarterback in the modern draft era, Lawrence had some good mixed in with the struggles.
Two of the players Lawrence is mentioned in the same conversation with as a prospect — Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck — had equally tough debuts.
Manning’s first start with the Colts in 1998 was erratic. He was 21 of 37 for 302 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions in a 24-15 loss to the Dolphins. In 2012, Luck was 23 of 45 for 309 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions in a 41-21 loss to the Bears.
Jacksonville makes its home debut next Sunday at TIAA Bank Field against the Broncos.
There’s a lot of work to do until then.