One two-minute drill was all it took Friday night to revive talk about how long the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to be willing to wait come the regular season before turning over their offense to Blake Bortles.
The rookie from UCF entered the game against the Detroit Lions with 1:43 to go before halftime and with the Jaguars backed up to their own 5-yard line and out of timeouts. And unlike in his first two preseason contests, he was going up against primarily a first-team defense.
Not a problem.
Bortles drove the Jaguars down the field like a seasoned veteran, completing five of nine passes for 89 yards in a march which ended with a 34-yard field goal by Kasey Redfern as the half expired. Two of Bortles’ incompletions were on spikes to stop the clock, and he even faked out the officials in the waning seconds with a fake spike on a play which wound up being blown dead.
After both teams had pulled most of their starters, he threw his first NFL touchdown pass late in the third quarter by hitting rookie wide receiver Allen Hurns from 11 yards out. Bortles finished with 10 completions in 16 attempts for 158 yards and has still yet to be picked off in 44 throws.
Things just got a lot more interesting around a team which has generated little to no interest on a national scale.
Here are five more takeaways and observations from the 13-12 loss to the Lions:
1. After nights like this, it’s hard picturing Chad Henne lasting 16 games.
While his completion percentage wasn’t bad, Henne didn’t have a pickup of more than eight yards in any of his three drives in the first quarter. The Jaguars got a field goal on the last of those drives, but that was because defensive end Andre Branch gave them outstanding field position by dropping into coverage and intercepting Matthew Stafford and returning the ball 19 yards.
The bigger concern following his only drive in the second quarter was Henne’s well-being. Not only did an offensive line already in a state of flux give up a pair of 9-yard sacks, but Henne was roughed by the notorious 305-pound Ndamukong Suh. At least the Jaguars don’t have to face Suh and the Lions during the regular season, but there will be defensive linemen just as big and almost as ornery on a weekly basis.
An encouraging sign, if you want to call it that, was seeing center Jacques McClendon going after Suh after Henne had been drilled in the chest by a tackle who has drawn more than $200,000 worth of fines from the league during his career.
McClendon, who began training camp as the Jaguars’ first-team right guard, made his first start at center. When a problem with one of his shoes forced him to come out of the game during the opening drive, sixth-round draft pick Luke Bowanko took his place.
That cannot bode well for the future of Brewster, whose grip on the job that had been held since 2003 by the now-retired Brad Meester became less secure after two errant shotgun snaps to Henne against Tampa Bay two weeks ago. The Jaguars, like every other team, must trim their roster to 75 players by 4 p.m. Tuesday.
At right tackle, Cameron Bradfield wasn’t guilty of any egregious errors in his first start in place of the injured Austin Pasztor. But in addition to the two sacks of Henne, the Jaguars couldn’t have been pleased with managing only 25 rushing yards in the first half.
3. There’s no doubt that Hurns has earned a roster spot.
The return of Cecil Shorts III was supposed to have been the big deal involving the Jaguars’ wide receivers. Instead, the game turned into a showcase for someone who went undrafted out of the University of Miami.
Hurns had five catches for 76 yards in the first half, and the scoring pass from Bortles capped a performance in which he finished with seven receptions for 113 yards. He doesn’t possess breakaway speed, but he’s becoming increasingly dependable on a team that can’t always depend on Shorts staying healthy or Ace Sanders and Justin Blackmon staying out of trouble.
Second-round pick Marqise Lee caught three passes from Henne, but they were good for a total of only 10 yards. Shorts had two passes thrown his way, and both fell incomplete.
4. Reggie Bush’s 86-yard run ought to be a wake-up call to the defense.
The pride that the Jaguars had taken in their ability to stop the run the previous two weeks took a hit when Bush gave the Lions a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. He cut back to the right, blew past rookie linebacker Telvin Smith, and outraced cornerbacks Will Blackmon, Dwayne Gratz and Allen Ball to the end zone.
Although the Jaguars ranked 29th out of 32 teams against the run last season, the longest gain they allowed was for only 50 yards.
On the positive side, end Red Bryant and linebacker Paul Posluszny combined to stop the Lions’ Joique Bell on a fourth-and-1 play from the Jaguars’ 3.
5. Injuries have become a concern again.
Free safety Winston Guy was able to return to the game after appearing to injure in left ankle early in the second quarter. But the Jaguars have reason to be concerned that Posluszny came down with a biceps injury unrelated to the one which kept him out of last week’s game at Chicago and that tackle Sen’Derrick Marks played less than expected after hurting his right shoulder.
Perhaps an even greater worry might be an apparent quad injury suffered by kicker Josh Scobee, who hit from 38 yards out shortly after Branch’s interception. Redfern handled all of the kickoff duties and had a 45-yard field-goal attempt blocked in the third quarter.