Del Rio defends call for late field goal in loss
Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio has no regrets about kicking a field goal while trailing by seven points late at Pittsburgh.
The Jaguars trailed 17-10 with 4:22 remaining when Del Rio decided to kick a 45-yard field goal instead of trying to convert a fourth-and-6 play against the Steelers.
The decision drew strong criticism. Former All-Pro defensive tackle and current NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp wrote on his Twitter page that Del Rio ''Should Be Fired. Kicking a FG Down 17-10! (hash)Idiot.''
Fans were equally outraged, especially since Del Rio has shown a penchant for gambling on fourth down over the years. This time, though, he played it safe.
''We make calls all throughout the game,'' Del Rio said Monday. ''That's one that certainly people will certainly look back and ask that question. We did what we thought was right there, took the points and played to the defense.''
It didn't pan out.
The Jaguars (1-5) made the field goal and got the ball back with a minute left, but failed to mount a threat and lost 17-13. It gave the team its first five-game losing streak in a decade and matched the worst start in franchise history, which came in Del Rio's first season.
It also was the third time in the last four games that Jacksonville had chances to win in the final minutes, but came up short in each of them. They had clock management issues at Carolina and a botched snap against Cincinnati.
''What's it horseshoes and hand grenades?'' Del Rio said. ''Being close is OK in those, but not in football.''
The Jaguars trailed 17-3 after a miserable first half in which the defense allowed 315 yards and the offense managed 68 yards and had nearly as many punts (five) as first downs (seven).
They turned around at halftime and outplayed Pittsburgh after the break. The defense was the key. The Jaguars got steady pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and sacked him on three consecutive drives in the fourth quarter.
But Jacksonville did little with all the momentum.
It didn't help that the Jaguars had three rookies going against one of the NFL's elite defenses. Right tackle Eben Britton woke up Sunday morning with back tightness and had to be scratched from the starting lineup. With left tackle Eugene Monroe dealing with a shoulder/neck stinger, the Jaguars had to start undrafted rookie Cameron Bradfield alongside third-round draft pick Will Rackley.
Fellow rookie Blaine Gabbert was sacked five times, four in the first half, and didn't have much time on any passing play. Nonetheless, Gabbert got the team to Pittsburgh's 31-yard line following a completion to Marcedes Lewis.
Then the strangeness began.
The Jaguars ran three consecutive times, the last one on a third-and-4 play with star Maurice Jones-Drew standing on the sideline. Backup Deji Karim was dropped for a loss.
''I'm not sure Bronko Nagurski would have been able to run on that,'' Del Rio said. ''Larry Csonka or somebody would have had trouble, too. It was not blocked very well at the point. We got stuffed there, and we took a loss in a tough situation.''
The offense stayed on the field, lining up to go for it on fourth down. But Gabbert didn't like the defensive scheme, so he called timeout. Del Rio changed his mind during the brief break, deciding to take the three points and hope his defense could get a stop or maybe a turnover.
It didn't happen. Roethlisberger scrambled for a first down on a third-and-2 play, essentially milking enough time off the clock to force the Jaguars into desperation mode.
''We had our opportunity there,'' Del Rio said. ''It was the decision we made. When it was third-and-4, we were thinking four downs. We didn't expect to take a loss on third-and-4, and we go backward there. It came into question only because we took a negative play on third-and-4.
''Go ahead and question it all you want.''