In what will be one of the best games seen all season for the Jaguars, even in a loss. The Jaguars would fall to the Cincinnati Bengals 24-21 on a last-second 35-yard field goal by kicker Evan McPherson.
It was heartbreaking, Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer said following the game.
“It’s devastating, heartbreaking,” said Meyer. “You know, these guys - usually I’m not wrong about stuff like that - I just see a good team in there. I see good guys and I see good hearts. I see guys at work. And I told them I’m not wrong. I’m not wrong about that stuff. This team’s gonna win some games”
Ultimately, Jacksonville wasn’t able to get it done, falling to 0-4 on the year, losing the first quarter heading into a tough matchup at home against the Tennessee Titans next Sunday.
During the first half, Jacksonville appeared to have all of the momenta, scoring two touchdowns, while pitching a shutout on defense. The Jaguars led the way with 15 first downs to the Bengals’ four through the first two quarters. It was perhaps the team’s best complete game of the season.
That momentum would quickly evaporate, however, and it would begin after the Bengals stopped Jacksonville on its own one-yard-line with Jaguars head coach opting to go for it on fourth down, attempting to put the team up 21-0 heading into halftime.
With Lawrence unable to punch it in on a speed-option play out of the shotgun formation, the Jaguars would head into halftime on a bit of a downward trend.
Defensively, Jacksonville wasn’t able to hold onto its stellar first-half performance. Instead, the Bengals were able to drive down the field on all of its possessions during the second half, scoring three touchdowns and a field goal to ultimately win the contest.
Here are five takeaways from the fourth-straight loss:
James Robinson needs to be featured heavily
It wasn’t a question that Robinson is the best running back on the team for Jacksonville, and after tonight, the question should be that much quieter. Robinson posted 78 yards on 18 carries (4.3 yards per attempt) while rushing for two touchdowns on the night.
RB @Robinson_jamess has now scored three total TDs on Thursday Night Football.— JaguarsPR (@JaguarsPR) October 1, 2021
Robinson's three TDs are the most by any player in franchise history on Thursday Night Football. He scored two TDs on TNF last season against the Dolphins. pic.twitter.com/9z2KqkYf87
While those numbers aren’t staggering, the second-year back certainly made the most of his carries, helping his team inch that much closer to a potential victory.
In the end, the Jaguars offense would only have three drives during the second half, resulting in a three-and-out, a touchdown and a six-play 25-yard drive that sputtered at the end, resulting in a punt.
Robinson wasn’t able to carry the football much in the second half beyond the team’s touchdown drive. If the Jaguars want to continue to have long, sustained drives throughout the season, Robinson will be the key moving forward.
Lawrence plays turnover-free for the first time all season
For the first time this season, Lawrence was turnover-free, protecting the football well after tossing seven interceptions through the first three games of the year. On the day, Lawrence would complete 17 out of 24 of his passes for 204 yards, while running the football eight times for 36 yards and a touchdown.
On several occasions, Lawrence converted first downs with his legs, giving the team some life offensively. He would also toss at least two beautiful footballs on the day, including a long 52-yard connection with receiver Laviska Shenault.
My goodness. Have a day, Trevor and Laviska. Whew. pic.twitter.com/jLzwTg0g84— Demetrius Harvey (@Demetrius82) October 1, 2021
There has been an emphasis on turnovers, or lack thereof for the offense after the first three weeks. Following the game, Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer noted how well Lawrence played and expressed frustration knowing the team lost even without a turnover on offense.
“I thought Trevor played really well - obviously his best game - took care of the ball,” said Meyer. The head coach would pause to ask whether or not Lawrence had any turnovers, and upon realizing he hadn’t expressed his frustration by hitting the podium, “gosh,” he exclaimed.
“But, yeah, I thought he played great, you know, he’s coming alive and I just like the way he works, love everything about that guy.
Tale of two halves for the Jaguars defense
Simply put, the Jaguars' defense was very much so a Jekyll and Hyde for the team on Thursday night. During the first half of the contest, the defense held Cincinnati to just four first downs and forced the team to punt the football on three straight drives following a missed field goal.
Jacksonville would also get to Bengals QB Joe Burrow once, preventing the team from having any momentum heading into halftime. During the first half, Burrow completed eight out of 12 of his passes for 95 yards. The team also limited running back Joe Mixon to just five carries for 14 yards.
It would be the complete opposite for Jacksonville during the second half, however, unable to get off the field, allowing the Bengals to score on all four of its second-half possessions, including the game-winning field goal by former Gators kicker Evan McPherson.
In the second half, Burrow would go on to complete 17 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Mixon would run for 53 yards on 11 carries himself. That, combined with some costly penalties by Jacksonville, would be enough for the defense to look completely inept during the second half.
One player, in particular, Bengals tight end CJ Uzomah would burn Jacksonville the most, hauling in five passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns on the night. His final catch and run of 25 yards would set the Bengals up for their game-winning FG.
The Jaguars were in a cover 0 look, meaning they would be lined up one-on-one with the Bengals receivers, bringing five players on a blitz, while dropping linebacker Myles Jack. That alone would be enough to burn the Jacksonville defense.
Following the game, Burrow spoke about the play, noting that having played against Jaguars defensive coordinator Joe Cullen years prior (Cullen was the Baltimore as the team’s defensive line coach), he knew what to anticipate with the look the team gave him.
#Bengals QB Joe Burrow says he audibled for a screen to CJ Uzomah to set up the game-winner: “You guys have heard me talking about knowing the playbook in the back of my head... I know their defensive coordinator (Joe Cullen) has a Baltimore background." pic.twitter.com/dF1RxoRYxc— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) October 1, 2021
Back-breaking lapses in coverage from the team’s defense ultimately cost them the game, and they’ll be sure to remember it moving forward.
Lack of pass rush is concerning
Simply put, the Jaguars haven’t been able to get it done this season from a pass-rushing perspective. While the team has generated some pressure through the first four weeks of the season, it has resulted in very few sacks.
Jacksonville entered this week near the bottom of the league with just five sacks on the year and ended the game with one on Burrow, a coverage sack during the first half of the game.
While defensive end Josh Allen is expected to be the team’s best pass rusher, he simply hasn’t been able to win many one-on-one matchups, and by virtue of the scheme, has dropped back in coverage on several key pass-rushing downs.
Combined with very little production from the rest of the group, the Jaguars haven’t been able to affect the QB nearly as much as it needs to. Moving forward, Jacksonville will need to re-work how it wants to get to the QB if it wasn't to have any sort of success defensively, especially during close matchups when teams need to throw the football.
On the day, the Jaguars got just three quarterback hits on Burrow, one apiece from Adam Gotsis, Dawaune Smoot and K’Lavon Chaisson. That’s simply not good enough.
DJ Chark’s injury will loom large moving forward
The Jaguars received devastating news during the night as its top receiver in Chark would go down due to injury early in the contest. After getting rolled up on following a run by Robinson, he would be carted off the field.
Following the game, Meyer confirmed that while the team doesn’t know the full extent, Chark fractured his ankle. Considering the severity of the injury, don’t be surprised to see the Jaguars place Chark on the team’s reserve/injured list, and he will very likely miss the remainder of his contract season in Jacksonville.
Moving forward, the Jaguars have some major concerns at the receiver position. With Chark potentially out of the mix, the team must rely on Laviska Shenault and Marvin Jones to carry the load. Beyond that, the team has multiple journeyman types, including Tavon Austin and Tyron Johnson. The Jaguars also have its return specialist/receiver in Jamal Agnew.
Help certainly isn’t on the way, and will be something to watch in Jacksonville moving forward. Last night, with Chark out, Lawrence pushed the ball to Shenault with seven targets. Shenault came down with six for 99 yards.
The player with the second-highest receiving yards on the day for Jacksonville? Newcomer, tight end Dan Arnold. Arnold has been with Jacksonville for three days, acquired via trade to the team on Monday.
This simply won't get it done long term. pic.twitter.com/Hmqs73Q8VU— Demetrius Harvey (@Demetrius82) October 1, 2021
Don’t be surprised to see Jacksonville look for help at some point this year at the position if one were to come available.
The Jaguars had one more potentially major injury on the night. Guard A.J. Cann would exit the contest during the second quarter of the contest. Following the game, Meyer stated that while the team didn’t know the severity of the injury, it is an MCL injury for the veteran guard. If Cann were to miss time, second-year guard Ben Bartch would replace him.