The new-look Jaguars look much different from the old ones.
The result was still the same though.
The Jaguars surged back in the second half but couldn’t slow Carson Wentz when it mattered in a 28-22 season-opening loss to the Commanders on Sunday.
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Jacksonville (0-1) played significantly better after halftime but couldn’t muscle up in crunch time, with defensive lapses and poor offensive line play costing the team a win on the road.
For coach Doug Pederson and the Jaguars, it was a start filled with promising moments but too many mistakes to win a four-quarter game. Fittingly, it ended with two glaring mistakes, an ill-advised third-and-11 Hail Mary heave by Trevor Lawrence that was picked off. And then Foley Fatukasi jumping offsides on a third-down play that gave Washington the yardage it needed to be able to bleed the clock to end it.
“I told them last night actually, in the hotel, that you know that we’re going to be our worst own enemy all season long. And what I meant by that is if we just don’t beat ourselves, it gives ourselves a chance,” Pederson said. “And when you look at this game today, we beat ourselves. Just some costly mistakes at the wrong time. Games come down to three to five plays every week. We got to finish better and we got to take care of those little things.”
That the Jaguars were in contention for a comeback win was a testament to a second-half shift.
The Jaguars clawed back into position after a ragged opening half, taking a 22-14 lead just one play in the final quarter. But Washington surged back with Wentz throwing the go-ahead touchdown pass to Jahan Dotson with one minute, 52 seconds to play. That left Lawrence and the Jaguars time (and a pair of timeouts) to respond but they couldn’t.
Lawrence’s third-and-11 throw, rushed because of woeful protection by the line, was picked off by Darrick Forrest. He finished 24 of 42 for 275 yards, a touchdown and an interception, and was hurried much of the day. Christian Kirk led the Jaguars with 117 yards on six catches. James Robinson had 66 yards rushing on 11 carries and a touchdown, and also had a touchdown catch. The ground game racked up 123 yards.
While it wasn’t a win, it was a battle to the wire and something for the staff to build on.
“It’s finish. It’s just the finish, finish, finish of the game, finish the play, finish the series, finish the drive,” Pederson said. “Those are all teachable moments and that’s what we’re going to do as a staff.”
A defense that was strafed in the opening half took over after that, forcing a pair of second-half turnovers that they turned into points. Tyson Campbell picked off Wentz to set up a Riley Patterson 43-yard field goal. And No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker intercepted a Wentz pass on the following drive, a play that led to an 11-yard James Robinson scoring run and a 22-14 lead.
Wentz and the Commanders didn’t back down. He bounced back after consecutive interceptions and threw a 49-yard touchdown to Terry McLaurin with 9:43 to play. They forced a Jaguars punt after that, and then Wentz struck again. He connected with Jahan Dotson on a 24-yard touchdown with 1:46 left and put Washington in front 28-22.
The Jaguars finally got clicking early in the third quarter after an abysmal opening half. Lawrence dialed up the long ball and connected with Christian Kirk on a 49-yarder to get Jacksonville inside the red zone. Three plays later, Lawrence hit James Robinson on a 3-yard touchdown pass. They missed the two-point conversion but were within sight of the lead at 14-9.
The defense, which looked sharp in the preseason, was gashed. Missed tackles. There was an overthrown pass in the end zone that would have been an easy touchdown. And two dropped passes that would have been touchdowns. Riley Patterson also missed an easy-look field goal.
“We’re not here for moral victories. At the end of the day, we lost. Losing sucks, and no one wants to lose,” running back Travis Etienne said. “We have to put this in the bed tomorrow, and get back to work, and just have to be better.”
Lawrence had an erratic game, too. He marched the Jaguars right down the field on the opening drive, going from his own 25 to the Commanders 15. The drive stalled there, with Lawrence overthrowing Etienne in the end zone on what should have been an easy touchdown. Another Jaguars drive in the red zone was even more frustrating.
“I don’t have all the answers right now. We shot ourselves in the foot a lot,” Lawrence said. “There’s a lot of things that we control, that we didn’t do a great job of controlling. We have to play smarter all the way around, every position. There is a lot of stuff we have to work on.”
Jacksonville got down to the Washington 3, but Lawrence fired too early to Evan Engram in the end zone on second down, had a Zay Jones drop in the end zone on third and saw Travis Etienne drop a sure bet touchdown pass on fourth.
The mistakes were easy to spot in this one.
Poor tackling throughout the game and little protection for Lawrence.
Darious Williams had a tough start, whiffing on two tackles in the opening quarter. One allowed a first down and the Commanders went on to score on the drive.
Another example of those costly mistakes came early in the second quarter and Washington up 7-3. Jacksonville’s defensive line pressed in on Wentz and forced a throw that was nowhere near a receiver. It should have set up a 39-yard field goal attempt, but Dawuane Smoot was flagged for roughing the passer. Two plays later, Wentz hit Dotson for a 7-yard touchdown.
“I’m just kind of focusing on mistakes, penalties. I think that’s what hurt us,” Robinson said. “That’s what shot us in the foot a little bit. Just can’t have that. We’ve got to execute on all of our plays and execute a little better.”