JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Through five weeks, Allen Hurns remains the only member of the Jacksonville Jaguars to score more than one touchdown.
Among all NFL rookies, he trails only Kelvin Benjamin of the Carolina Panthers and Sammy Watkins of the Buffalo Bills in receiving yards with 280. Considering both of them were first-round draft picks whereas Hurns came to the Jaguars as a free agent, that’s a noteworthy achievement.
But the numbers that stood out to him Sunday in the Jaguars’ 17-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers weren’t his four receptions for a modest 26 yards. Instead, it was the three passes he dropped, along with a holding penalty that wiped out a significant first-down gain by fellow rookie Storm Johnson, that made for a long and frustrating afternoon.
Even when Hurns kept his feet inbounds in front of Jacksonville’s bench and hauled in what would have been a 20-yard completion from Blake Bortles during the second quarter, the play was called back because of a hold on another rookie, center Luke Bowanko.
Coach Gus Bradley made it a point to go over to Hurns and tell the University of Miami product not to become discouraged.
"He’s got to learn to deal with those things that happen," Bradley said Monday, the day after the Jaguars’ fifth loss in as many games. "He may have a drop here and there, but one or two can stem into four if you don’t get your mind right quickly."
Bortles and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch also assured Hurns of their faith in him.
"It means a lot, as far as them having trust in me," Hurns said. "So I’ve got to make those plays. I’ve got to be accountable."
Since his remarkable first half in the season opener at Philadelphia when he caught two touchdown passes from Chad Henne, opposing teams and reality have both caught up with Hurns. He has 12 catches for 170 yards from that point on, with a significant chunk of that yardage coming on a 63-yard catch-and-run from Bortles against the Indianapolis Colts when the Jaguars were down 37-3.
After injuring his ankle late in a 41-10 loss at Washington, Hurns remains one of three wide receivers on the Jaguars roster — Mike Brown and second-round pick Allen Robinson being the others — not to miss a game. Both Cecil Shorts III and Marqise Lee were inactive against the Steelers because of hamstring injuries, and the game was the first for Ace Sanders after serving a four-game suspension by the league.
Putting a rough afternoon behind him will present a new challenge for Hurns.
"I still have trust in my hands," he said. "I’m not going to go on the practice field and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got to focus on this.’ That’s how drops continue, when you overemphasize things."
Jacksonville’s costliest holding penalty was not the one on Hurns. A 20-yard run by Jordan Todman on its opening drive would have given the Jaguars a first-and-goal at the 3. It wound up being negated by a call against tackle Luke Joeckel. Pittsburgh’s defense stiffened, and the Jaguars had to settle for a 43-yard field goal by Josh Scobee.
Todman’s run was the closest they would come to reaching the end zone. Scobee’s two other field goals came after drives stalled at the 17 and 18.
Not only do the Jaguars rank 31st out of 32 teams in total offense, but they’re 27th in red zone touchdown efficiency.
"We’re not good enough to handle those situations like we want to right now," Bradley said of the holds on Joeckel, Hurns and Bowanko.
Hurns was one of six rookies the Jaguars started on offense against the Steelers. With Toby Gerhart limited to only four carries because of a sprained foot, Johnson saw his first regular-season action and gave ample indication that he deserves to be in the mix at running back.
Bradley expects all those rookies to compete like veterans next week at Tennessee and in all the games to follow.
"It’s a challenge that we’ve said before that we accept," Bradley said. "Somewhere down the line, these guys can’t be rookies anymore. Somewhere they’ve played enough games and they say, ‘All right, let’s go. I don’t even want to talk about that.’"