JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Give the Jacksonville Jaguars this much credit: In a season where losing by double figures has gotten old, they’ve made a concerted effort to get bold.
A fourth-and-one call on the opening drive resulted in a 62-yard completion for their first touchdown in a home game since Gus Bradley was hired as their head coach. A pass play where everyone except tight end Clay Harbor lined up in a bunch formation accounted for another 21 yards.
A 60-yard field-goal attempt by Josh Scobee with five seconds to go before halftime had fans chanting his name in anticipation of possibly witnessing something extraordinary.
It wasn’t quite too good to be true. But for 30 minutes, it was good to see.
And then grim reality set in.
Many of the same bugaboos from their previous eight defeats — namely, the inability to run the ball or convert third-down opportunities — and a secondary which ended up allowing Carson Palmer to throw for 419 yards were the inescapable factors Sunday that resulted in a 27-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. But even if the Jaguars are headed down the path to a 1-15 or 2-14 finish, they insist they won’t be boring on top of it.
“We’re going to keep taking chances,” quarterback Chad Henne said. “I mean, we’re a 1-9 team. What’s there to lose out there?”
Once Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd broke three tackles on his way to a 91-yard touchdown in the third quarter, it became clear the Jaguars weren’t going to follow up on their 29-27 victory a week ago at Tennessee. The boldest thing they did from that point forward came when defensive end Jason Babin, with the help of gloves ordinarily used by receivers, accidentally yanked a handful of dreadlocks off the head of Cardinals rookie running back Andre Ellington while making a tackle.
“It wasn’t like it was pre-planned. It just happened,” Babin said. “When you’ve got that much hair in the back of your helmet, I just grabbed it.”
Thanks in large part to Henne’s 62-yard scoring pass to backup tight end Danny Noble, who had zero career receptions going into the game, the Jaguars compiled 14 points and 100 total yards in the opening 10 minutes. But in the second and third quarters, they managed only 93 yards and three first downs while going 0 of 7 on third downs.
It used to be that the offense couldn’t show signs of life until after the first quarter. Now the Jaguars need to find a way to sustain their early momentum.
“After those scores, we struggled,” Bradley said. “We had quite a few three-and-outs. I know we had a few some second-and-longs and penalties that showed up there in the second half, a couple of interceptions. We’ve got to overcome that.”
It wasn’t a matter of poor field position. The Jaguars even started a drive in Cardinals territory during the second half, in addition to crossing the 50 on their own three times.
But whether it was a sack, a false start penalty or just an incompletion, the Jaguars never got in position to even trot out Scobee for a kick more within his range.
“We had some good field position, especially in the second half,” said Henne, whose two interceptions both came in the final 10 minutes. “We just didn’t take advantage of it.”
Added Maurice Jones-Drew, who finished with only 23 yards on 14 carries against one of the league’s top defenses against the run: “I feel like we got better today. But there still are some things we need to improve on in order to be that consistent offense that moves the ball up and down the field and scores points.”
Topping that list might be getting Cecil Shorts III more involved in the passing game. Until the play before the two-minute warning, Shorts had caught just one pass for 11 yards from Henne. And while Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson had more than a little to do with that, it was all Shorts could do to hold his tongue in suggesting the problems were not because of the opposing team.
“This was a game I should have been involved in,” he said. “But it is what is. I can only control what …. We can do better as an offense.”
The Jaguars’ next five games all come against teams that are below .500. That’s all the more reason for Bradley and his staff to continue impressing a go-for-broke mentality.
“There were many situations (today) where I felt like we were bold,” he said. “And I told our team we need to take that personality on and reflect it.”