JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Through a little over one quarter Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars appeared perfectly capable of winning their fourth game in a row for the first time since early in the 2007 season.
But a roster depleted on both sides of the ball by injuries wound up making the Buffalo Bills look like anything but a team that had dropped five of its previous six contests.
For two teams reduced to playing out the string, the Jaguars and Bills put on an entertaining show. The game appeared headed into overtime until the Jaguars failed to convert a first-and-goal situation from the Bills 1, with Chad Henne being intercepted by cornerback Stephon Gilmore in the end zone on third down.
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Here are five observations from the 27-20 loss which left the Jaguars’ record at 4-10:
1. Who are these guys?
With both Maurice Jones-Drew and Cecil Shorts III out due to injuries, it was a little difficult to recognize the offense. Jones-Drew injured his hamstring during the fourth quarter of the win over Houston, a game in which he rushed for 103 yards. Shorts, the Jaguars’ top receiver with 66 catches for 777 yards, was unavailable because of a groin injury that has been bothering him all season.
Except for center Brad Meester and right guard Uche Nweneri, the group that began the second half bore no resemblance to the starters in Week 1. Already without Will Rackley (concussion) at left guard, the Jaguars saw his backup, Mike Brewster, taken to the locker room late in the first quarter with an injured left ankle. Jacques McClendon took over at that position.
Jordan Todman filled in more than capably for Jones-Drew. It took him less than three quarters to go over the 100-yard mark, with a long gain of 33. Rookie Denard Robinson even got used for a change. More about him later.
2. So much for the trend of getting off to fast starts.
A well-designed play that resulted in a 25-yard completion from Henne to Marcedes Lewis made it appear as if the Jaguars could score on their opening possession for the fifth time in six weeks. That feeling failed to last beyond the very next play.
Henne badly underthrew Lewis, and Bills safety Aaron Williams returned the interception 34 yards to the Jaguars 25. At least the defense was able to hold the Bills to a field goal, largely because rookie quarterback EJ Manuel had a dreadful first quarter. He completed only two of his seven passes, with one awful-looking throw being picked off by Jaguars outside linebacker Geno Hayes.
Forced to having to try to get by with Kerry Taylor — whom the Jaguars signed barely a month ago — in place of Shorts, Henne was 14 of 23 for 141 yards through the first three quarters. He teamed up with Lewis on a 13-yard score which tied the game early in the fourth quarter.
3. What happened to the defense against the run?
The Jaguars reverted to the porous nature shown during their 0-8 start, when they allowed an average of more than 161 yards a game on the ground. After giving up an average of only 70.8 yards the past five weeks, they saw the Bills run for 109 yards in the second quarter alone.
Most of that damage came courtesy of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, although Manuel contributed as well. After avoiding a blitz by Chris Prosinski, who started at strong safety for the injured Johnathan Cyprien, Manuel scrambled for a gain of 12. The Florida State product also took a direct snap up the middle on an 8-yard touchdown which put the Bills up 17-10.
The Jaguars had better luck on a safety blitz in the third quarter, with Winston Guy jarring the ball loose from Manuel and tackle Sen’Derrick Marks making the recovery.
4. Ace Sanders accomplished what Robinson failed to do.
Sanders, who probably surprised even himself by throwing a scoring pass to Todman against the Texans, finally reached the end zone in a more conventional way for the first time in his career. He took a pass from Henne in the left flat, juked past Williams, got a downfield block and crossed the goal line untouched to open the second quarter.
Robinson looked headed to his first touchdown when he ran through a huge hole over right tackle in relief of Todman on the Jaguars’ opening drive of the second half. But Williams knocked the ball out of his grasp at the 1, and it rolled out of the end zone for a touchback.
5. He might not be Matt Prater, but Josh Scobee is no slouch either.
Field-goal kickers are taken for granted in the NFL. That being said, Scobee’s 55-yarder that narrowed the Bills’ lead to 20-13 bears mentioning.
He has made 21 of 23 attempts this season, with one of those misses coming from 60 yards.
Next up: Tennessee. A win would guarantee the Jaguars of no worse than a .500 record within the AFC South. That’s something to build on.