Jaguars observations: Passing attack provides plethora of returns
The Jacksonville Jaguars might not have a quarterback controversy on their hands as much as they do an embarrassment of riches at that position.
Yes, it's only two games into the preseason. But Chad Henne directed the offense to two field goals and a touchdown on his first three series, and first-round selection Blake Bortles picked up where Henne left off without missing a beat.
The Jaguars threw for 237 yards in the first half alone. They ended the game with 393 total yards, although that was overshadowed to an extent by their 14 penalties for 141 yards.
Here are five takeaways and observations from the 20-19 loss to the Bears, who scored two touchdowns in the final 5:35 to pull out the win:
1. Both the rookie and the veteran had their moments to shine.
After the first team offense failed to put any points on the board a week ago in the Jaguars' 16-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, talk shows and social media wasted no time questioning when Bortles would get snaps with the starters and eventually take over for Henne.
Make no mistake: There was plenty to like about Bortles' 11-of-17 performance against the Bears. But all of the things Henne was hoping to see from the offense wound up coming to fruition. The Jaguars were far more efficient on third down this week, and even when they were stuck in a third-and-12 situation on their second possession, Henne kept it alive with a 20-yard completion to Mike Brown.
Henne finished with 12 completions in 17 attempts for 130 yards and looked totally at ease with the pace of the game. He wasted little time getting tight end Marcedes Lewis involved in the passing game, and he didn't hesitate to seek out the two rookie wide receivers the Jaguars started.
Bortles wasn't supposed to come in until the second half but wound up entering the game with 3:39 to go in the second quarter. Completions of 16 yards to Kerry Taylor and 24 yards to Brown on his first drive helped set up the third of three field goals by the ever-reliable Josh Scobee.
2. Welcome, Toby Gerhart and Marqise Lee.
His sore hip flexor no longer an issue, Gerhart had a 6-yard gain on the first play of the game and carried the ball five more times before giving way to Jordan Todman. The back who is expected to replace Maurice Jones-Drew as the Jaguars' main threat was stuffed for a loss of 4 on a third-and-1 play on that drive, but he bounced back with an 18-yard pickup on their next possession.
Unlike Gerhart, Lee was in uniform against the Bucs. But he was a total non-factor in that game and drew criticism from coach Gus Bradley for failing to finish a route he was supposed to run on one play. Bradley expressed confidence earlier this week that Lee was focused and ready to compete, and those feelings wound up being correct.
In a little more than a quarter's worth of work, Lee caught four passes. Best of all, he scored the Jaguars' first red-zone touchdown of the preseason by hauling in a toss from Henne from 6 yards out. The score was set up when Will Blackmon forced and then recovered a fumble on a kickoff return by the Bears' Eric Weems.
3. Here's something you'd never see in the regular season: Center by committee.
Mike Brewster made his second consecutive start. Rookie Luke Bowanko replaced him in the second quarter. Another rookie, Brandon Linder, took over for Bowanko in the third quarter while starting right guard Jacques McClendon did the snapping in the fourth quarter.
While Brewster wasn't guilty of any errant snaps against the Bears, a false start penalty on third and goal from the 5 was the result of him being late on a snap. He also was responsible for the only sack of Henne on a play where he was flagged for holding, a penalty which the Bears declined.
The worst news of the night came when Bowanko, playing at right guard in the third quarter, had to be helped off the field with an injury to his left ankle and knee.
4. The defense can't get caught playing flag football.
After spending almost all of the first quarter watching Henne and the offense build a 13-0 lead, the defense allowed the Bears to drive 85 yards in 10 plays with the help of two huge penalties.
End Andre Branch prolonged the march by getting called for hands to the face on a third-and-10 incompletion. One play later, free safety Winston Guy was flagged for a personal foul for hitting a defenseless Alshon Jeffery on the ground, a call which could well result in a fine from the NFL.
Cornerback Dwayne Gratz drew back-to-back pass interference penalties later in the quarter, although the Bears declined the first of those. On the positive side for Gratz, he had three solid open field tackles.
The Jaguars had seven penalties for 68 yards in the first half. The Bears were almost as sloppy, picking up six penalties for 50 years.
5. Telvin Smith is a definite keeper.
He might not beat out Geno Hayes or LaRoy Reynolds for one of the starting jobs at outside linebacker. But for the second week in a row, the fifth-round draft pick out of Florida State helped force an interception. This time, Smith's tip of a pass by Jimmy Clausen on the opening series of the third quarter led to free safety Josh Evans coming up with a pick.
The progress of Smith is especially welcome because Dekoda Watson, one of their free-agent signings in the spring, is still on the physically unable to perform list after groin surgery.
Next up: at Detroit next Friday night.