JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Out to prove that they’d narrowed the gap in the rugged top tier of the AFC, the Jaguars showed that they’re still a step or two behind.
Fans who entered expecting to see a shootout between stars Trevor Lawrence and Patrick Mahomes were treated instead to a defensive slugfest at EverBank Stadium on Sunday, a 17-9 Kansas City win that flashed numerous points of concern for the Jaguars. For starters, has the chasm between the Jaguars are the Chiefs closed at all since two losses last year?
Maybe on defense, but the offense took significant steps backwards against Kansas City (1-1).
Five punts, two turnovers on downs and an 0-for-4 showing in the red zone made it an anemic day for the Jaguars. They failed to get into the end zone for the first time since a 13-6 loss to the Texans on Oct. 9, 2022.
Jacksonville (1-1) couldn’t generate anything offensively against the Chiefs, settling for three field goals and nothing else against Andy Reid and Kansas City as Doug Pederson dropped to 0-4 against his mentor.
On a day where its defense frustrated Mahomes and Co., the Jacksonville offense flatlined in its most anticipated home opener since the Patriots visited in Week 2 in 2018.
“Defense played well. I mean, the defense kept us in this football game, created the takeaways you mentioned. And like you said, it’s execution,” Pederson said. “We’ve got to do beter. We’ve got to execute. We got too many guys on offense, veteran players that, you know, just we all need to do beter, starting with me.”
Jacksonville’s offense generated three Brandon McManus field goals and a half-dozen close calls and near misses, but no actual touchdowns. Lawrence had four passes caught in the end zone that would have been touchdowns had receivers been able to get both feet in. They didn’t, and the questions will no doubt remain until Jacksonville can clear the Chiefs (or Bills or Bengals) hurdle come playoff time.
The Chiefs beat Jacksonville twice last year, including a 27-20 win in the AFC divisional round. Mahomes suffered an ankle injury in that game and wasn’t nearly at his best, but Jacksonville still couldn’t find a way to solve him then. They did much better on Sunday, but Mahomes and the Chiefs managed to stay a step ahead.
Mahomes wrapped things up with a 54-yard catch and run to Skyy Moore with just under two minutes to play. The third-and-6 jolt all but sewed things up for the Chiefs.
“It’s just we’re better than that. We’re a better team. We’re a better offense than that. And I think that’s what’s disappointing, is when you know what you’re capable of,” Lawrence said. “And the guys that we have, whether it’s upfront, you know, myself, the running backs, receivers, like, we got so many weapons. Like, we got to be able to put points on the board and score. And that’s just kind of embarrassing.”
The offense was off
Jacksonville started slowly against the Colts last week and finished strong. It started slowly against the Chiefs, continued that sluggishness and never picked it up.
No better display of those problems was a Jaguars drive early in the fourth quarter. A pass interference call in the end zone on Evan Engram gave the Jaguars the ball at the 1. Jacksonville tried an RPO with Lawrence to the left pylon, but L’Jarius Sneed and Nick Bolton smothered him for a loss of 3. Lawrence threw too deep in the end zone on tosses to Zay Jones and Calvin Ridley. The Jaguars had to settle for a 22-yard McManus field goal.
“I mean, the defense is playing lights-out. They’re playing such good football. That’s such a high-powered offense, and to hold them to 17 (points), they gave us every shot to go out and win the game and we didn’t, we didn’t do it,” said receiver Christian Kirk. “That’s on us as an offense, and we’re way too good to go out there and put together something like that with that up there. So we need to look at our ourselves in the mirror and be very harsh on ourselves.”
The return of Kansas City defensive lineman Chris Jones from a contract holdout was notable throughout the day. He whipped around rookie right tackle Anton Harrison on a fourth-and-5 play and sacked Lawrence on a big play early in the second quarter.
Jones beat Harrison again with just under two minutes to play in the game, hitting Lawrence from behind and forcing a backwards pass that bounced backwards out of bounds on a third-and-6 play. Lawrence’s next throw on fourth-and-12 was caught by Ridley in the back of the end zone, but he couldn’t get both feet down. Those plays happened throughout the game.
“You play good teams, you play well coached teams, you can’t beat yourself. And that’s what we did today. We beat ourselves,” Pederson said. “You know, yes, the defense; yes, special teams played well. But it takes all three phases, right? That’s what good football teams do. And we didn’t do that well enough today. The opportunities were there and we didn’t do it. We got to look at this film and be hard and critical of ourselves and bounce back next week.
Lawrence finished 22 of 41 passing for 216 yards. The ground game was listless as well, netting just 74 yards. Kirk led Jacksonville with 11 catches for 110 yards. Ridley had just two catches and 32 yards on eight targets.
The Jaguars wasted a takeaway immediately after recovering a fumble, with a pass from Lawrence to Jamal Agnew caroming off his hands. It was ruled a lateral and Kansas City recovered.
It kept Jacksonville in the game throughout the day.
Tim Jones recovered a muffed punt by Richie James at the Chiefs 17 to give Jacksonville a short field to work with. But the offense sputtered and was forced to settle for a 32-yard field goal from McManus.
Andre Cisco picked off Mahomes with a leaping interception early in the second quarter, but the Jaguars couldn’t turn that into anything. Lawrence was sacked by Chris Jones on fourth down. Darious Williams punched a completion out of Justin Watson’s hands that Foye Oluokun recovered.
Mahomes wasn’t at his cleanest, but the Jacksonville pressure is why. The only luck he had in the opening half was a late scoring drive, converting a fourth-and-2 pass to Clyde Edwards-Helaire with just under two minutes to play. Three plays later, Mahomes hit Skyy Moore on a 9-yard touchdown for a 7-3 lead.
For a player who dissected the Jaguars defense in two meetings last season, that was an excellent showing by Jacksonville. Mahomes was 29 of 41 for 305 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
“It’s Week 2. It’s Week 2. I mean, my gosh. We’re 1-1. We’re in a great spot. We lost to a great football team today. We didn’t play great. Guys know that. Guys are going to rally. Guys are going to bounce back,” Pederson said. “We’re going to be beter next week. A lot of football ahead of us. And that’s the exciting part about it. And those guys are ticked off in there. You know, they’re mad. And, you know, they know it. But it’s so early in this season that one game’s not going to define who we are and it’s not going to define our season.”