Jaguars sharp when it matters: Starters flash potential in 2nd preseason game

First team shines, backups struggle in 24-13 loss to Browns

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) throws a pass as Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Tommy Togiai (93) tries to stop him during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Friday, Aug. 12, 2022, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack) (Phelan M. Ebenhack, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – That was more like it.

When the Jaguars had their starters on the field on Friday night, things flowed how Doug Pederson wants them to. And when those starters came off, the wheels predictably fell off.

But the progress was there when it mattered.

The Jaguars took the wraps off Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Zay Jones, Josh Allen and Co. and saw immediate results in a 24-13 loss to the Browns at TIAA Bank Field. Before getting too wrapped up in the result, consider the breakdown of those points. The Browns scored all 24 points against Jacksonville backups. Cleveland barely moved the ball against the starters.

Pederson wanted to see how his starters played under the lights. So, he put them out there for three series and they delivered on each.

Lawrence led the Jaguars to a pair of field goals and threw a short touchdown pass. The defense made Deshaun Watson’s debut with Cleveland miserable.

In the game time that pitted starters against starters, the Jaguars bullied the Browns and jumped to a 13-0 lead behind Lawrence. His 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Evan Engram came on a beautifully designed rollout play on a fourth-and-2 just 42 seconds into the second quarter.

That was it for the starters.

The Jaguars backups and bottom-of-the-roster players aren’t quite there yet. Cleveland scorched the second and third teamers for 24 unanswered points, skewing just how far apart the teams were with the No. 1s on the field.

For the first action of the preseason for the bulk of the No. 1s, it was a crisp start.

There were numerous positives.

The starting defense looked polished.

Lawrence showed what he could do in an offense led by an actual NFL coach like Pederson and not an Urban Meyer. He mixed in a big run to go along with

Etienne didn’t do much rushing in his debut (nine carries, 23 yards) but provided a jolt with the ball in his hands and ripped off a 12-yard run.

Jacksonville held Cleveland’s starting offense to 7 total yards on nine plays across three drives. It forced two three and outs and recovered a fumble on another, making Deshaun Watson’s return to the NFL a forgettable night.

That forced fumble was textbook execution.

Rayshawn Jenkins hammered running back D’Ernest Johnson on his first touch of the game, popping the ball out. Shaq Griffin was there to recover it. Jacksonville swamped the line of scrimmage on the play, making it tough on Johnson to even net positive yardage had he held on to the ball. That play set up a 38-yard field goal by Ryan Santoso.

The starting offense was solid.

Lawrence hit Zay Jones on a 32-yard sideline dart on his first throw of the game to set the tempo. Jones, a free agent addition from the Raiders, parlayed his hot training camp production into a very good night on the field. He had 47 yards on two catches, his latter snag converting a third down.

While Lawrence (6 of 12, 95 yards, TD) was generally sharp, he lagged a bit, too. He threw late to Jones in the end zone, a play that could have gone for a touchdown had he thrown it earlier. The delay forced Jones to try and have to make a dazzling one-handed catch, which he couldn’t.

Lawrence had a potential touchdown dropped by Etienne on a third-and-goal from the 4, settling for an Elliott Fry field goal.

Much like the Hall of Fame game against the Raiders, the backups had their struggles.

Spotted a 13-0 lead by the starters, things faded once the No. 1 team went to the sidelines. Cleveland charged back, including a 74-yard pick-6 by corner Martin Emerson Jr. off CJ Beathard near the end of the first half. While Beathard wasn’t sharp against Cleveland, the Emerson pick fell on receiver Jeff Cotton. He had the ball ripped away and wrestled out of his hands by Emerson.

Jake Luton, who got the start last week against the Raiders, looked rough, too. He finished 12 of 21 for 92 yards and was picked off in the end zone late in the fourth quarter after the Jaguars scooped up a fumble recovery by Chapelle Russell. Cleveland sacked Luton four times.

The return to the field by Watson was met with cascades of boos. The ex-Texans quarterback sat out all of last season while demanding a trade and besieged by a sexual harassment scandal.

Two dozen massage therapists filed lawsuits against Watson alleging sexual harassment during sessions. Houston traded Watson in the offseason to Cleveland. He’s been suspended six games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, although the league has appealed for a longer suspension.

Watson looked rusty. He went 1 of 5 for 7 yards and was booed and jeered relentlessly.

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.