‘We’ve just got to keep fighting’: Another close loss keeps questions coming for Jaguars

Lawrence struggles again as Jacksonville falls to Denver, lose 5th straight game

Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne Jr. (1), and Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) celebrate after touchdown during the NFL football game between Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium London, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth) (Kirsty Wigglesworth, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Not even London can cure the Jaguars’ problems.

A fast start and another fizzling finish kept Jacksonville’s losing streak going in a 21-17 loss to the Broncos on Sunday at Wembley Stadium, more evidence that the team just hasn’t found a way to play four full quarters of football. The Jaguars took the lead with 3 minutes, 57 seconds to play but watched as the Broncos surged back just over two minutes later for the eventual winning touchdown and then wrapped it up on another Trevor Lawrence giveaway.

Sound familiar?

The loss was Jacksonville’s fifth straight and keeps Doug Pederson’s team spiraling into well-worn territory at this time of the season. And it continues to shine a light on Lawrence’s consistent struggles in the transition from Clemson to the NFL. Lawrence has had six chances now to engineer a game-tying or game-winning drive this season (Commanders in Week 1, Eagles in Week 4, the Texans in Week 5, the Colts in Week 6, the Giants in Week 7 and Denver) and fallen short in each. He did have a go-ahead drive against Indianapolis and had a shot to win against New York come up a yard shy of the end zone.

With a final shot to engineer a signature drive against the Broncos, Lawrence was picked off by K’Waun Williams on his first pass attempt and the Broncos bled the clock to ice it. It was another late game implosion from Lawrence, who had shown resolve in Jacksonville’s final two losses in getting the Jaguars in position to win.

“I’ve got to play better, and I’ll leave it at that,” Lawrence said. “I didn’t play well enough today to win.”

Instead, it’s another jarring reminder that the Jaguars just don’t have the answers on how to finish games, be it with the ball in Lawrence’s hands or the onus on the defense to get a stop. Jacksonville ran it well and Travis Etienne looks like the future at the position, rushing for 156 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. But the inconsistencies still plague the team, beginning with Lawrence. They return home to TIAA Bank Field in Week 9 to face the Raiders before their bye week.

“I truly believe that good things are going to happen for this football team,” Pederson said. “We’re sitting here after eight games, not where we want to be, obviously, but to every man in there, nobody is going to hang their head. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. We’re not going to make excuses. We’ve just got to continue to work.”

Down 21-17 with 1:43 and on their own 25, Lawrence had plenty of time and opportunity. Instead, he locked on Christian Kirk and Williams jumped the pass and nabbed it to send the Jaguars to their sixth one-possession loss of the season.

“Honestly, nobody likes to lose, right? That’s the nature of the game,” Pederson said. “But if I had to pick, I’d rather pick these types of games than blowout games where you lose. I think you learn more in losses like this as a team, where we are with the culture of our team, than you would in a blowout loss. My hats off to the guys; nobody is going to hang their heads. We’ve just got to keep fighting.”

The Jaguars (2-6) started as well as they have all season — a sack, an interception and a 22-yard touchdown pass on the game’s first three drives — to jump in front 7-0. Their familiar lapses followed. Dropped passes. Soft defense. Little pressure on the quarterback. Those issues kept Denver, the league’s worst-scoring offense, hanging around just enough.

Russell Wilson led Denver to a 98-yard touchdown drive late in the third quarter to put the Broncos up 14-10.

They had multiple chances to pull in front after that but punted it away three times before finally stringing something together. Lawrence got Jacksonville in scoring position quickly, hitting Kirk for a 25-yard gain to put the Jaguars at the Denver 22. Five plays later, Etienne banged in from the 1 to give Jacksonville a 17-14 lead with 3:57 left.

Denver (3-5) responded with an 80-yard drive over seven plays, with Latavius Murray scoring from the 2 to put the Broncos in front for good.

“I believe we’re going to do it, but gosh, I wish it [the turnaround] would have started today,” Lawrence said. “That’s what’s really disappointing, is we felt like it was going to start today and just didn’t finish.”

Lawrence’s struggles at the end are notable, but he had another costly decision in scoring position, a play reminiscent of a gaffe against the Texans in Week 6. With a first-and-goal at the 1, Lawrence rolled to his right and threw a pass directly to Denver safety Justin Simmons in the end zone. The giveaway wasted a prime opportunity to go up by two touchdowns.

“It’s a relatively safe play. If it’s not there and Trevor knows this — just throw the ball, just sail the ball, and you’ve got two to three more downs to do whatever you want to do there,” Pederson said. “I can definitely do a better play call, obviously, but at the same time, defensively as they packed the box, just try to get one-on-one with Christian and Trevor really. They did a nice job of taking that away. We’ve just got to learn from it, throw the ball away, live to play second down and take our chance that way.”

Lawrence finished 18 of 31 for 133 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

The Jaguars used a 37-yard field goal by Riley Patterson with just under nine minutes to play before halftime to take a 10-0 lead but Wilson marched Denver right back and tossed a 6-yard touchdown to Jerry Jeudy to counter. The Jaguars had another opportunity to add points before the break but a Lawrence throwaway on third down was flagged as intentional grounding and pushed the Jaguars out of field goal range.

“It’s really hard. It’s really hard because we’re out here, we work each and every week, we go there and we put our best foot forward every time,” Etienne said. “It’s just something that you work all your life for and you’re just not getting the result that you want, but you just have to keep your head forward and keep hitting the rock, just keep hitting the rock.”

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.