The Jacksonville Jaguars lost to the New York Jets on Sunday by a score of 28-23, but there really wasn’t any one thing in the game that killed them. The team did turn the ball over four times, one of which was more of a desperation play at the end when that game was practically decided, but turnovers ultimately were the difference. One of the biggest turnovers came late in the fourth quarter and was a big dagger in the Jaguars comeback effort.
Undrafted rookie Nick Marshall muffed a punt and the Jets recovered, setting up a Jets touchdown that put them up 28-16, and virtually sealing the game.
So, why did Gus Bradley decided to put Marshall back to return a punt at a critical moment?
"I think with Nick’s situation, one of the things that we’re looking at, we’re looking for returns. We’re trying to get more yards return," Bradley told reporters on Monday when he was asked if he trusted Bryan Walters more than Marshall overall.
"Kickoff return, he had a couple of really good returns. Then, the punt returns, the 20-yarder. Going into that, where it was on the field, felt like he gave us the best opportunity. I think when you looked; he saw a lot of green grass down the sideline. Took his eye off of it, first foot, second. You can’t do that," Bradley continued.
The Jaguars don’t use a singular punt returner, often rotating between Walters and Marshall depending on the situation and the field position.
"Bryan Walters does a good job with the fair catches. He does a good job showing a fair catch and letting the ball go in the end zone, trying to deviate the path of the return team," Bradley said when asked why Marshall is back there sometimes versus Walters for a return. "Just some of those uncanny experience things that he shows, without giving too much. Some of those qualities."
Simply put, Walters will typically field punts when they’re going to be backed up in the endzone because Bradley trusts him to make the fair catch and secure the football. When you have the other team backed up and you’ll field it with open space, he puts Marshall back there for the return. Both situations are completely logical.
But, when you’re down 21-16 with under four minutes left in the game, you just want to secure the punt and get the football. You have plenty of time left to drive down the field and you have two of your timeouts remaining. The field position dictates that you would put Marshall back to return, but the game situation dictates you should put Walters back there to just secure the fair catch on the 25-yard line and then begin your hopefully game winning touchdown drive.
This one coaching/personnel error didn’t lose the game for the Jaguars, but it did make it much harder to win. For the Jaguars to stop learning how to lose, they’ll first have to learn how to stop making it harder on themselves.
There are times when you go for the big play and times when you play it safe. This situation should have been an easy call to play it safe.