Defense leads the way as Jaguars snap slide against Falcons in London

Jacksonville races to big lead, tops Atlanta 23-7 at Wembley Stadium

Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Darious Williams (31) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during an NFL football game between the Atlanta Falcons and the Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth) (Kirsty Wigglesworth, Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

With a fast start and a solid finish, the Jaguars did enough to get back on the winning track.

The Jaguars ended a two-game losing streak — and quieted a growing list of questions — with a 23-7 win over the Falcons on Sunday at Wembley Stadium. One week after getting strafed by the Texans, Jacksonville’s defense bounced back with its best performance of the season. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest of victories, but style points aren’t required for the Jaguars.

Jacksonville (2-2) needed it badly. And after two ragged losses, coach Doug Pederson knew that.

“I think it’s great. Again, it’s all the things that we talk about during the week,” he said. “It comes down to the guys just understanding their role, doing their job, their ownership part of it, their football team, all that. They responded well today.”

The Jaguars had sputtered on offense in games against the Chiefs and Texans, and saw its defense take a significant step backwards last week. For one day at least, Pederson, Trevor Lawrence, Josh Allen and Co. won’t have to answer questions on what’s wrong with the reigning AFC South champs, although there remains plenty to clean up.

While much of the game wasn’t pretty and saw the same major issue pop up — an inconsistent offense — the Jaguars did enough on both sides of the ball early to win its fifth game in London. Allen turned in his second three-sack game of the year and forced a turnover. Lawrence was more of a game manager against Atlanta, guiding a workmanlike offense that won the field position battle and drained the clock.

They’ll have to address some of those issues for its extended stay in London. Next week, they face the Bills at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

Jacksonville raced out to a 17-0 lead, due in large part to interceptions on back-to-back drives. Darious Williams took one of those back for a 61-yard touchdown, the statement defensive play of the game. Lawrence and the offense did enough throughout the game — three Brandon McManus field goals and a scoring pass to Calvin Ridley — to shoo away the Falcons and second-year player Desmond Ridder.

Ridley said that he thought playing a game outside of Jacksonville helped the team reset things mentally.

“I think losing two [games] helped it, too. It was like, ‘all right. We’re not as good as we think,” he said. “So, let’s lock in and get as good as we think.’ I think it was very different.”

Offense still a work in progress

The offense had its moments.

Lawrence burned a Falcons blitz by hitting Ridley on a 30-yard touchdown strike on Jacksonville’s second drive of the game. Ridley was so alone in the end zone that he stood stationary and caught it like an easy infield fly in baseball. McManus booted a 56-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead on the ensuing drive. That kick is the ninth in franchise history of 56 yards or more.

The offense still had its issues, largely in protecting Lawrence on two crucial plays in the opening half, and then showing any semblance of a killer instinct.

Andre Cisco’s interception of Ridder went back to the Jacksonville 16, which should have meant gimmie points. But Doug Pederson elected to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the 7 and Lawrence was sacked by David Onyemata. The Jaguars forced a punt after that and got the ball back with 58 seconds to play before half. Lawrence got them close to midfield but took another sack. The Jaguars elected to let the clock run out after that.

The fast start glossed over what has been a growing concern for the Jaguars. The offense is still a work in progress. Jacksonville started Tyler Shatley at left guard over Ben Bartch and the line was above average. Lawrence did the heavy lifting on the ground, scrambling five times for 46 yards. Travis Etienne found little room to work (20 carries, 55 yards). Lawrence finished 23 of 30 for 207 yards, the bulk of that to Christian Kirk (8 catches, 84 yards) and Evan Engram (7 catches, 59 yards).

“It felt great. Obviously just to find a way to win, and especially here in London,” Lawrence said. “It’s a lot of fun when you win here. It’s not so much fun when you lose. Especially being so far from home. That was obviously a good response for our team. Our defense played great once again, it was huge, them bouncing back.

“Offensively, I thought we played well at times, in spurts, and found a way to win. We did some things better than we have in the past but still got a lot to clean up. But it’s a lot easier to coach off of a win, obviously.”

The defense

It needed to show some signs of a pulse after rookie C.J. Stroud and the Texans diced them up for 37 points in Week 3. Jacksonville played angry and physical against the Falcons. Allen had two sacks in the first half and was oh-so-close to two more. He added a strip sack in garbage time and forced a fumble that Angelo Blackson recovered. Allen has six sacks in four games, the best pace of his career. Travon Walker also had a sack, his second of the season.

“It was definitely a collection of everybody working together, but that process starts in practice,” Allen said. “We’ll continue to practice hard, continue to communicate, good things may come.”

The bigger plays came from the secondary. Williams jumped in front of Drake London and plucked the ball out of the air. He went 61 yards the other way for a pick-6 and a 61-yard touchdown.

“That’s what our defense is. We know what we can be,” Williams said. “Last week obviously wasn’t our week, but those are the type of plays that we have liked from the guys on this team, so we expect those plays.”

Cisco followed on Ridder’s next pass, laying out for an interception that went back inside the Atlanta 20. But Jacksonville stalled out at the 7 and wound up with nothing to show for great field position.

The solid defensive plays dotted the field at Wembley. The interceptions highlighted the day, but Williams nearly had his second pick of the game, going up high on a Ridder toss to Mack Hollins and all but brought it in. That drive ultimately ended in a punt.

Falcons rookie Bijan Robinson was explosive, rushing for 105 yards on 14 carries, but Jacksonville kept him out of the end zone.

Tre Herndon turned in a huge one on one of Atlanta’s best drives of the game, pushing London out of bounds in the end zone on a fourth-and-3 play with 6 minutes, 6 seconds to go. London got one foot in bounds, but Herndon’s coverage and momentum forced the receiver out of bounds. That play all but iced the game.

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.