Preview: Vikings look to rebound vs. struggling Jaguars
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley wants fans to know that he shares their frustration during a season that has gone from disappointment to disaster.
Desperate for a win of their own, the Minnesota Vikings can give Bradley and a home crowd another reason to groan this week.
Fresh after not playing in 10 days following a loss on Thursday Night Football, the Vikings can send the Jaguars to their worst losing streak since Bradley’s first season with the franchise while keeping the playoffs within view with a victory in a battle of two sputtering offenses Sunday at EverBank Field in Jacksonville.
“It’s just disheartening looking at this team,” Bradley said. “I share the frustration with our fans and this team. It is difficult. I believe so strongly in these guys in the locker room and this staff and what is taking place here, but it’s not OK. I’m not going to make excuses for what took place. I know people don’t want to hear that.”
What took place Sunday was the latest demoralizing loss for the Jaguars during a season full of heartache.
Jacksonville’s defense held the Denver Broncos to 206 yards of offense — fewest during Bradley’s tenure — but was undone once again by its offense. Quarterback Blake Bortles had three turnovers, including a crippling interception that was returned for a touchdown during the third quarter in a 20-10 defeat.
The loss was the seventh straight for the Jaguars — most since the team opened 0-8 in 2013 — to give them the dubious distinction of being the only team in the league to pile up double-digit losses in each of the past six seasons.
“I think we’re really close,” said Bortles, who has 10 career wins and had an 11th interception returned for a touchdown against the Broncos. “I know people are tired of hearing it, and I’m tired of saying it. But we’re not far off.”
While the Jaguars (2-10) were eliminated from playoff contention last week, the Vikings (6-6) can salvage what is quickly becoming an unsatisfying season of their own with a strong final month.
They raced to a 5-0 record behind a ferocious defense and efficient play from quarterback Sam Bradford early in the season before stumbling in six of their past seven games.
Much like the Jaguars, the Vikings have wasted several sterling performances from their defense. In their six losses this season, they have scored 10, 10, 16, 20, 13 and 15 points.
Bradford has thrown 13 touchdown passes with just three interceptions but has been sacked 28 times behind an offensive line that has had to shuffle and reshuffle due to injuries. He is averaging a pedestrian 6.77 yards per attempt, which ranks 27th among qualified quarterbacks.
Minnesota’s latest setback came in a crushing 17-15 home loss to the Dallas Cowboys. The Vikings failed on a two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game with 25 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter when Bradford misfired while looking for tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Bradford appeared to be struck in the facemask, but no flag was thrown.
Because of tiebreakers, the Vikings enter Sunday as the eighth seed in the NFC — one game out of the final wild-card spot — and are tied with Green Bay two games back of the Detroit Lions in the NFC North with four games remaining.
“It’s always good to take a little break and kind of re-evaluate where you’re at and the things you need to do,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “I think it was good for the players to get away a little bit.”
Zimmer missed the team’s game against the Cowboys after undergoing emergency eye surgery to repair a detached retina but is expected to be in Jacksonville on Sunday.
The Vikings could be without free safety Harrison Smith, who is battling a high ankle sprain. The blow of his loss could be lessened against the Jaguars’ 27th-ranked scoring offense (18.7 points per game) that could be without receiver Allen Hurns (hamstring), tight end Julius Thomas (back) and running backs Chris Ivory (hamstring) and Denard Robinson (ankle).
Ivory was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice, but the others were out, joined by defensive end Jared Odrick (shoulder) and center Brandon Linder (ankle).
“He’s one of the toughest guys we have on the team,” Zimmer said of Smith. “Smartest, most competitive, (a) good pressure guy. If we don’t have him — he has missed a couple games in his career — we will just kind of move forward.”
Move forward and move on is all the Jaguars can do at this point.
A season that began with high expectations is wrecked largely because Bortles, who has thrown 20 touchdown passes and a league-leading 15 interceptions, couldn’t help the Jaguars’ offense take the next step forward in its development.
The Vikings and their struggling offense are trying to get back in rhythm before it is too late for them as well.
“Whatever the reason, we’ve just had so many drives where we stopped ourselves,” Bradford said. “We just (need) to get out of our own way. Go out there and be a little more consistent.”
MINNESOTA (6-6) at JACKSONVILLE (2-10)
Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox
OPENING LINE — Vikings by 3
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Minnesota 7-5, Jacksonville 4-7-1
SERIES RECORD — Vikings lead 4-1
LAST MEETING — Vikings beat Jaguars 26-23, Sept. 9, 2012
LAST WEEK — Vikings lost to Cowboys 17-15; Jaguars lost to Broncos 20-10
AP PRO32 RANKING — Vikings No. 16, Jaguars No. 30
VIKINGS OFFENSE — OVERALL (31), RUSH (32), PASS (25)
VIKINGS DEFENSE — OVERALL (3), RUSH (17), PASS (4)
JAGUARS OFFENSE — OVERALL (22), RUSH (17), PASS (31)
JAGUARS DEFENSE — OVERALL (4), RUSH (24), PASS (2)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Minnesota has won three straight in series. … Vikings have dropped six of seven since starting season 5-0. Last four losses have been by six points or less. … Latest setback to a team ravaged by injuries, FS Harrison Smith unlikely to play because of sprained left ankle. Second-year pro Anthony Harris or rookie Jayron Kearse expected to start in his place. … Despite scoring 16 or fewer points in five of last seven games, Vikings have third-best interception percentage in league. They have three in 428 pass attempts, ranking behind only New England and Dallas. … Vikings have just three rushes of 15 or more yards this year, only two by a running back with Adrian Peterson missing much of season. … PR Marcus Sherels expected to return from rib injury. He has missed four of last six games. He’s one of two NFL players with two punt returns for TDs this season. In last week’s loss, Adam Thielen lost fumble at Vikings 8-yard line that set up touchdown. Cordarrelle Patterson also fumbled and recovered another punt. … QB Sam Bradford is 1-0 against Jacksonville. Starting for St. Louis, he completed 19 of 34 passes for 222 yards and three TDs in 34-20 victory in 2013. … Jaguars have lost seven straight overall and are winless in five games at EverBank Field. Last victory on home turf: Dec. 13, 2015 vs. Indianapolis. … DE Yannick Ngakoue needs one sack to tie Tony Brackens’ franchise record (7) for rookies set in 1996. … Fantasy Tip: Beg or barter for Minnesota’s defense. Jaguars QB Blake Bortles has league-high 19 turnovers this season. He’s had three interceptions returned for touchdowns in last four games, giving him more Pick-6s (11) in his NFL career than wins (10).