They had the crowd on their side. They even had an early 7-3 lead.
But things went bad in a hurry after that for the Jacksonville Jaguars in the second of their four scheduled appearances in London over a four-year stretch.
Tony Romo looked like anything but a quarterback who missed the Dallas Cowboys’ last game because of a back injury, while the Jaguars didn’t look like a team whose defense showed noticeable improvement in October. Romo threw touchdown passes of 35 and 68 yards to Dez Bryant as the Cowboys snapped their two-game losing streak following a 6-1 start with minimal resistance.
Romo had 225 yards through the air by halftime, while DeMarco Murray continued to take aim at the NFL’s single-season rushing record by picking up 100 yards on 19 carries.
A 32-yard run by Denard Robinson to cap a nine-play, 80-yard drive put the Jaguars in front halfway through the first quarter. He added a second touchdown, but that didn’t come until there was 1:53 remaining.
For the second week in a row, Blake Bortles was not intercepted until the closing minutes after the outcome had been settled. A much bigger problem was that the Jaguars fumbled twice in the first half. The seven lost fumbles for the season are one more than they had for all of 2013.
It was easy to think Romo would be an inviting target for a defense which had recorded 27 sacks. But the Jaguars never knocked him to the ground for the first time until after the two-minute warning in the second quarter. Their only sack came courtesy of tackle Sen’Derrick Marks in the fourth quarter.
That’s a total of three sacks for the Jaguars the past two weeks, a statistic which can’t be entirely attributed to the loss of end Andre Branch to a groin injury during their victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Of the Cowboys’ 399 total yards, 294 came in the first half. And for a while, Bryant was on pace to become only the fourth player to have more than 200 yards in receptions against the Jaguars. Which raises another question.
2. What happened to the secondary?
No, this wasn’t regarded as one of the strengths of the Jaguars even before cornerback Alan Ball was placed on injured reserve. But seeing Dwayne Gratz matched up in one-on-one coverage against Bryant with 31 seconds to go before halftime was just one of several breakdowns exhibited.
Most of the problems had to do with poor tackling. A simple drag route to Bryant turned into a 35-yard score which gave the Cowboys a 17-7 lead when safety Johnathan Cyprien failed to bring him down a yard or two past the line of scrimmage. Both Gratz and Cyprien were unable to tackle Bryant later on what tied for the longest play against the Jaguars this season.
And for good measure, Murray’s backup — Joseph Randle, known of late for shoplifting cologne and underwear rather than his running skills –plowed through the secondary on a 40-yard score in the third quarter.
3. Another week with problems on special teams.
The Jaguars started coming unglued after Ace Sanders couldn’t cleanly catch a punt in the first quarter. The Cowboys fell on the ball at the 6 and converted that into points soon thereafter on a pass from Romo to Jason Whitten.
Sensing that his job might be in jeopardy, Sanders broke off a season-long 23-yarder on his next return.
While Bryan Anger didn’t come close to having a punt blocked, he shanked one late in the second quarter after the offense failed to take advantage of a fumble recovery by safety Josh Evans. Romo and Bryant teamed up for their second score on the play following Anger’s short punt.
4. Hurns hurt.
Rookie wide receiver Allen Hurns, who was coming off a 112-yard game last week at Cincinnati, needed to be evaluated for a concussion after absorbing a hit from Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens in the third quarter. Hitchens was penalized on the play.
Hurns did not have a catch the entire first half. Bortles completed nine of his 15 passes through two quarters, with the highlight being a 53-yard completion to Cecil Shorts III. Unfortunately for the Jaguars, Robinson fumbled on the next play.
Brandon Linder, another rookie from Miami who had started every game at right guard, was among their inactives because of a shoulder injury he suffered against the Bengals. Jacques McClendon opened in his spot but was replaced to begin the second half by another rookie, Tyler Shatley.
5. Something ventured, nothing gained.
Down 31-7 in the third quarter, the Jaguars decided against bringing out Anger on fourth down and a yard to go from their 29. Their gamble did not pay off as Toby Gerhart was stopped inches short. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley unsuccessfully challenged the spot, a move which cost them a timeout.
It was a minor consolation that the Cowboys didn’t capitalize on their excellent field position as Dan Bailey’s 48-yard field goal was partially blocked.
The Jaguars went 2 of 4 for the day on fourth-down conversions and are now 5 of 11 this season in that category.
Next up: The Jaguars are off until Nov. 18, when they play at Indianapolis.