DENVER (AP) — The winless Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t play like a record 27-point underdog, giving the unbeaten Denver Broncos a run for their money before losing 35-19 Sunday.
For a while, the Jaguars presented a stiff challenge for Peyton Manning and Co.
They had a pick-6 and recovered both of Manning’s fumbled snaps, Justin Blackmon reeled in 14 catches for 190 yards and Maurice Jones-Drew ran roughshod over the league’s No. 1 defense.
They trailed just 21-19 in the third quarter.
But they also had another bushel of blunders.
Chad Henne underthrew Clay Harbor on the first snap for what would have been an 80-yard TD. Their fake punt moments later blew up in their face, leading to Denver’s first touchdown, and defensive end Andre Branch’s personal foul after a third-down stop kept alive the Broncos’ second touchdown drive.
When it was over, the Jaguars (0-6) were the first team since the 1984 Houston Oilers to drop their first six games by double digits.
“We’re getting better and better as a team,” Blackmon said. “That’s all we can ask for.”
That, and a win one of these weekends.
“There was progress,” Jones-Drew said. “It wasn’t enough.”
The Jaguars may have shown there are no cupcakes in the NFL, but they really took little solace in playing the Broncos tougher than anyone outside their locker room expected.
“We’re not at all satisfied with what took place as far as the outcome,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. “I thought we came out ready to go but it didn’t show. What I saw was a team that played with a lot of emotion and it got the best of us. We had a personal foul penalty, we had a chance for a big play the first play of the game with Clay Harbor. I just felt like the emotion got the best of us, but we settled down.”
Broncos punter Britton Colquitt wasn’t needed at all last week at Dallas, except to hold for field goals and extra points. The Jaguars had him trotting onto the field all afternoon.
“You get a pick-6, you get three turnovers, you limit some of the explosive plays that’s been an issue with a team that’s this explosive. They had five or six series where they didn’t score,” Bradley said. “All things we can build on. We feel like we’re getting closer, we’re going in the right direction, but I want them to understand that’s not what we’re trying to accomplish. We’re trying to get the outcome in our favor.”
After falling behind 14-0, the Jaguars made a game of it.
Josh Scobee kicked field goals of 50 and 30 yards but holder Bryan Anger couldn’t scoop Carson Tinker’s low snap on a 46-yard try, giving the Broncos the ball at midfield.
Linebacker Paul Posluszny’s 59-yard interception return with 36 seconds left in the first half made it 14-12, and it would have been tied at the half had Champ Bailey, playing for the first time in two months, not picked off Henne’s 2-point try intended for Blackmon.
The sellout crowd at Sports Authority Field, which derided Jason Babin for a low hit on Manning in the first quarter that wasn’t whistled, turned its anger to the Broncos as they retreated through the tunnel clinging to a 14-12 lead.
Dreams of a historic upset swirled in the Jaguars’ minds.
“It was cool because it wasn’t guys jumping up and down,” Bradley said. “It wasn’t like that. It was, `OK, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.'”
The better Broncos closed it out behind Manning and Knowshon Moreno.
Jones-Drew answered Moreno’s TD run with one of his own to make it 21-19 midway through the third quarter, but Jacksonville’s last four possessions would end with two interceptions, a fumble and a turnover on downs.
Things started off shaky for the Jaguars, and their first series ended when Mitch Unrein sniffed out the fake punt and stuffed Will Ta’ufo’ou 3 yards short of the first down, giving Denver the ball at the Jaguars 27.
That gutsy move showed the Jaguars meant business, and they left Denver with the Broncos’ unyielding respect.
“This is still the NFL,” Bailey said. “Nobody’s a cakewalk in this league. That team has some good players over there and they showed up.”
And didn’t roll over.
NOTES: Henne didn’t speak with reporters after the game because he had to rush back home with his wife in labor. … Jaguars WR Cecil Shorts III sprained his right shoulder in the first quarter and didn’t return.