Anyone watching FOX’s national coverage Sunday of the New Orleans Saints at the New England Patriots had to do a double-take upon seeing the updated score in the third quarter of what was supposed to be the biggest mismatch in NFL history.
No, your eyes weren’t playing tricks. The lowly Jacksonville Jaguars had just cut their deficit against the mighty Denver Broncos to 21-19.
Reality eventually set in, and the Jaguars continued to keep company with the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the last remaining winless teams. But there were more signs of encouragement than perhaps the previous five weeks combined, as well as excruciating reminders of why they are what their record says they are.
Here are five observations from the 35-19 loss:
1. There’s a fine line between being aggressive and overaggressive on defense.
In the first quarter, the Jaguars got hard but clean hits on Peyton Manning. He came up limping after rookie strong safety Johnathan Cyprien drilled him on a touchdown pass to tight end Julius Thomas, and defensive ends Jason Babin and Tyson Alualu were able to break through on separate occasions.
That was all well and good. But you don’t give a potent offense a gift like the one defensive lineman Andre Branch did. Branch’s penalty for unnecessary roughness away from the ball prolonged a drive that ended with a score that put the Broncos up 14-0.
And on the opening drive of the second half, rookie free safety Josh Evans was flagged for a 25-yard pass interference penalty and then for taunting running back Knowshon Moreno.
Although Moreno gained only 42 yards on 15 carries, he had the last laugh by rushing for three scores.
2. While Justin Blackmon can’t do it all, he’s sure going to give it a try.
When Cecil Shorts III sprained his shoulder on the game’s third play, it didn’t bode well for a group of wide receivers that was already thin in the ranks. But Blackmon was virtually unstoppable on the slant pattern all day long, with much of his damage coming at the expense of future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey.
Blackmon finished with a gaudy 190 yards on 14 receptions in his second game since returning from a four-game suspension. Chad Henne teamed up with him on completions of 20, 12 and 15 yards during a drive in the third quarter that was capped by Maurice Jones-Drew’s 5-yard run.
Depending on how long Shorts is out, the Jaguars might need to rely on Mike Brown, who finally lived up to all of the praise heaped on him by coach Gus Bradley before the season by catching four passes for 49 yards. The Jaguars had to press Stephen Williams, who was claimed off waivers Monday, into immediate service after the injury to Shorts.
3. All apologies to Cameron Bradfield and Austin Pasztor.
With the trading of Eugene Monroe and the season-ending ankle injury to rookie Luke Joeckel within a matter of days, both tackle positions on the offensive line were supposed to be outright liabilities. But aside from a three-and-out series in the third quarter that included two sacks by Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson, there were few complaints about the play of Bradfield and Pasztor — or of the line in general.
Jones-Drew had his longest run of the season (28 yards) and finished the game with 71 yards on 21 carries. The Jaguars averaged less than 59 yards a game on the ground during their 0-5 start.
4. Henne threw for more yards than Manning. And it was all fair and square.
This was not a case of Manning getting a breather because the Broncos had built an insurmountable lead or Henne padding his stats in garbage time. If anything, Henne’s latest start in place of an injured Blaine Gabbert lost some of its luster when he threw both of his interceptions in the fourth quarter.
But his 303-yard performance (compared with 295 for Manning) was all the more noteworthy because Henne’s mind could have understandably been elsewhere. He was whisked out of the Jaguars’ locker room as quickly as possible after learning his wife had gone into labor.
5. The special teams were anything but special.
It began with the decision to have fullback Will Ta’ufo’ou take a direct snap out of punt formation, a call which blew up in the faces of the Jaguars. In contrast to that, the Broncos pulled one off successfully late in the third quarter on a 35-yard run by Omar Bolden that saw rookie wide receiver Ace Sanders having to try to make a tackle.
There was also a low snap by Carson Tinker to holder Bryan Anger that scuttled a field-goal attempt by Josh Scobee, who had already connected from 50 and 30 yards.
Next up: San Diego. The Chargers will be going on a short work week and are making their second trip east in a little more than a month. So the Jaguars have that going for them.