JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The fast start pumped up expectations prematurely.
The reality is that Doug Pederson still has a lot of work left to do.
The Jaguars (2-4) have dropped three straight games following Sunday’s 34-27 loss to the Colts that sent them further down the AFC South standings. That fast start alluded to a quick turnaround under Pederson, but the task that he had in front of him in the rebuild has come to life the last few weeks.
Since winning back-to-back games against the Colts and Chargers, Jacksonville has slipped. It couldn’t stop committing turnovers in losses to the Eagles and Texans (four fumbles, three interceptions) and couldn’t get a defensive stop against Indianapolis and Matt Ryan on Sunday.
But there is progress. The Jaguars have been in contention in every game this season. Their worst loss was a 29-21 game that they had a shot to at least tie on the final drive. For games that felt over by halftime last year, that is progress.
Things don’t get easier this week.
The Giants (5-1) have been one of the most surprising stories in the league this season. And they’ve been a case study for the Jaguars. The Giants entered this season viewed in a similar way as Jacksonville, which was not favorable. New York declined quarterback Daniel Jones’ fifth-year option and had a running back (Saquon Barkley) who couldn’t stay healthy. But the Giants have been able to close out games, something that the Jaguars have struggled to do consistently.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us, but they’re making the plays when they need to. It’s been effective, and they’re winning the games because of it, and we have to get our team to understand that at some point we need somebody to make a play,” Pederson said. “That was kind of my message to the team this morning. We’ve just got to be able to do that a little bit better.”
The Jaguars played better on offense, at least from a production standpoint.
The ground game led the way again, amassing 243 yards on 33 carries and three touchdowns. Travis Etienne continues to emerge as the No. 1 back. Etienne led the team with 86 yards and he’s given the team a burst of big play potential. His second carry of the game went for 48 yards on Sunday.
The bigger positive was quarterback Trevor Lawrence and his command of the offense in a game-on-the-line situation. He’s struggled mightily in those scenarios during his career and committed game-ending turnovers in losses to Washington, Philadelphia and Houston this year.
Lawrence had a sensational drive, an 18-play, 84-yard march that ate up 12 minutes, 16 seconds, to give Jacksonville a 27-26 lead with 2:48 to play.
“I think it just gives the offense confidence, the fact that when it’s crunch time, they can do that,” Pederson said. “It just kind of shows you, shows us, too, this is what we’re capable of doing if we just do our jobs and focus on one play at a time.”
A drive like that has been missing from Lawrence’s resume. Of course, it didn’t make a difference in the outcome, but it was proof that Lawrence has the potential to deliver.
“To have that type of result was really good for us as a unit to say, ‘OK, now we can go back to the film where we have a piece, a steppingstone that shows that it can be done’ and moving forward just executing like that continuously,” said receiver Zay Jones.
How does the defense bounce back?
It has been good enough to win five of their six games this season, the exception coming Sunday in Indianapolis. Linebacker Foye Oluokun said that there are issues to correct and those begin when the team returns to practice on Wednesday.
“I got confidence in the boys, because that’s what everybody is signed up to do. Obviously, we got to do it, it’s one thing to sit here and say, ‘I want to fix this and that’, it’s really how we start fixing this and that,,” Oluokun said. “Really, it will start on Wednesday at practice, everybody will be on that same page and really gearing up to win on Sunday. But really, it starts on Wednesday at practice, and everybody knows that. Just trusting that process and it’s really getting out there and doing it.”