JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Nothing like a beatdown of a rival to get back on track.
One week after their worst performance in Doug Pederson’s tenure in town, the Jaguars teed off on the rebuilding Titans to the tune of a 34-14 romp on Sunday at EverBank Stadium. Jacksonville dominated Tennessee and shook off the hangover of a 31-point loss to San Francisco a week earlier.
And about those offensive questions …
Trevor Lawrence and Calvin Ridley had their best afternoon as teammates, connecting seven times for 103 yards and a pair of touchdowns and never looking back in a thrashing of the Titans. Lawrence added two rushing touchdowns in an all-around demolition of the Titans.
For one day at least, those lingering questions about the inconsistency of the offense were answered. The return of receiver Zay Jones no doubt helped open things up for Ridley, who had just two catches last week. Ridley blistered Tennessee’s secondary in a game that flashed just what the Jaguars were capable of when they’re clicking.
“I thought Trevor played extremely well. Obviously bounced back from last week and put together a good performance, ran the ball. I think two rushing touchdowns today; right? Did a great job,” Pederson said. “Saw the field extremely well. I thought offensively we protected him well. It was good to get Zay [WR Zay Jones] back as well, but overall Trevor played really well today.”
Too often this year, Jacksonville had been doing anything but that. Lawrence seemed to play far looser and more confident this week after a game he said was perhaps the worst of his career. He finished 24 of 32 passing for 262 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and the oft-maligned offensive line didn’t allow a sack.
For Jacksonville, it was much needed to see the offense finally get moving, especially with what’s ahead.
Jacksonville (7-3) heads to Houston to face the red-hot Texans and rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud. The Jaguars have lost 10 of their last 11 games against Houston, including a 37-17 blowout loss at home in Week 3. Stroud is barreling towards an offensive rookie of the year award and has Houston (6-4) a legitimate playoff contender.
“We needed a win like this. That’s what I said last week. When everybody does their job and they just want to go out there and perform, we can beat any team in the league,” Lawrence said. “That’s the confidence that we have within ourselves, first and foremost. Next week is an even bigger game than this week. It’s a great team and I know in the past that Texans and Jaguars don’t really mix, but we’re going to go out there and handle business. It’s a great team, we’re excited to play them.”
The Titans have been Jacksonville’s chief rival for years, including a Week 18 game last year that decided the AFC South champ. Jacksonville played erratically much of that game before getting a Josh Allen 37-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown with three minutes to play to sew up a 20-16 win.
But this year’s Tennessee team is in the beginning phases of a rebuild, and that showed on Sunday.
Second-round pick Will Levis, who the team tabbed its quarterback of the future, struggled against Jacksonville’s defense. He had a high snap go out of his hands on Tennessee’s second drive of the game, a ball Foye Oluokun recovered at the Jacksonville 43. That set up a gorgeous 3-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence to Ridley in the back left corner of the end zone, a toe-dragging grab that set up a sign of things to come.
Lawrence hit Ridley again for a score, another gorgeous toss after feigning the run that covered 20 yards and stretched Jacksonville’s lead to 20-0 late in the third quarter. Lawrence mixed in his first rushing touchdowns of the season, a 9-yard dive to hit the pylon on the opening drive of the third quarter, and a 5-yard scoring run in the fourth to put Jacksonville up 34-7.
“This felt like a playoff game. The implications were a playoff game, next week is going to be the same,” Lawrence said. “If we prepare the right way, we know what type of game it’s going to be, we know what type of skill they have defensively and offensively. We’re excited about it and we want to get going.”
Ridley has had two 100-yard games with Jacksonville, Week 1 against the Colts (101) and Week 5 against the Bills (122). But he’d endured woeful games, too, five games where he’d been held to 38 yards or less. Pederson has said that teams had been devoting more attention to Ridley with Jones missing more than half of the season with a knee injury. Ridley finished with eight touches for 121 yards.
The defense was back up to speed after getting taken apart by San Francsico. Levis had a nice day efficiency-wise but did little overall. His best play of the day was on a trick play that went for a 43-yard touchdown pass to Deandre Hopkins. Derrick Henry took a direct snap and pitched it to Levis who aired it Hopkins for the score. But down 27-0 at the time, that play was little more than window dressing for Tennessee. Levis tossed a 2-yard touchdown pass to defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons in garbage time for Tennessee’s other score.
Henry, a Yulee High School graduate, was held in check by Jacksonville, an anomaly in this series. He had just 38 yards rushing on 10 carries.
“It just goes to show the resiliency of our football team. We’ve only been together a short while, but this is a resilient group. They always seem to work themselves back and fight their way back when they have a setback,” Pederson said. “They’ve done it. They did it again today. Hats off to the leadership of the football team and really each man doing his job, and that’s the type of football that we’re capable of playing.”