With a national audience looking on, Jacksonville got off to its best start of the season, leading the Cincinnati Bengals 14-0 at halftime in Thursday night football. But Cincy came out firing in the second half, and it outscored the Jaguars 24-7 in the second half and escaped with a 24-21 win on a kick from rookie Evan McPherson as time expired.
It was Jacksonville’s most comprehensive game of the season. However, it was also the most frustrating. Although the team had a chance to win, the defense was unable to stop the Bengals offense that led by Joe Burrow and scored on every possession of the second half.
It’s evident that the Jaguars are making progress. But moral victories don’t exist in the NFL, and now Jacksonville has lost 19-straight games. If it loses a 20th next week against Tennessee, it will have reached a level of futility no other team in NFL history has before.
Here’s what we learned from a devastating loss in Cincinnati.
A more efficient offense
The Jaguars were unable to score in this game. It’s difficult to praise the offensive’s play, which played its best game of this season. It didn’t turn the ball over and James Robinson played another solid game on the ground.
He had 78 yards on 18 carries, and he found the end zone twice. It was clear that Lawrence operated more efficiently with a reliable run game, as he completed 17 of his 24 passes for 204 yards in the first interception-less game of his professional career. Although he didn’t find it through the air, he did score a touchdown in the first half.
There was a couple of key errors, including a goal from the one yard line at halftime and a fourth. Three scores were possible for the Jags before the break. However, Lawrence’s pitch option didn’t work.
The Jags were able to score just once in the second half, and after gaining 240 yards of offense in the first half, they had just 101 in the final 30 minutes.
The team was able to achieve success despite the absence of D.J. Chark Jr. broke his ankle on the first drive. He had to be taken off the field. However, this team will not be the same without him.
Overall, Lawrence can take lessons from this outing, but the fault lies more with Lawrence’s defense than with his offense. The Jags need to be more efficient in finishing drives going forward.
A tale of two halves in defense
There’s no other way. In the first half, the Jaguars’ defense was dominant. The defense held Cincinnati to 107 yards and pitched a shutout as both teams entered the locker room.
But in the second half, it was completely reversed. The Bengals accumulated 313 yards in the final 30 minutes, and Burrow couldn’t be stopped. He finished with 348 yards and two touchdowns on a 25-of-32 night, and he looked very sharp once again.
With Tre Herndon back we saw the secondary without C.J. The early returns from Henderson were not pretty. Tyler Boyd, a receiver, ripped the secondary for 118 yards with nine catches. Jacksonville couldn’t match C.J. Uzomah, who had five catches for 95 yards and two scores.
It also helped that running back Joe Mixon found success on the ground against the Jags, going for 67 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
The defensive side played the game very similar to last week’s defeat. Although the unit had some stiffness in the first half, it didn’t have much success in the second.
- With Chark expected to be out of action for some time, the Jags will need a new receiver. For the first time this season, Marvin Jones Jr. didn’t lead the team in receiving, as he was held largely in check with just three catches for 24 yards. Laviska Shenault Jr. had his best game of the year, taking six catches for 99 yards. Tavon Austin made his Jags debut, and both he, and Jamal Agnew (who played as a receiver after Chark’s injury), had receptions.
- The Jags distributed the ball to their tight ends in the one. Every tight end on the active roster made a catch. Even rookie Luke Farrell who made a remarkable one-handed catch. Only Dan Arnold, the Henderson trade acquisition, was able to make multiple catches. Arnold will likely play a larger role in the future, with James O’Shaughnessy expected to be out for the next few weeks.
- Rookie cornerback Tyson Campbell began on the outside for the second consecutive week. He notched a tackle, but he was also burned on a few plays. He spent a lot of the game matched up with fellow rookie Ja’Marr Chase, and Chase had six catches for 77 yards (bolstered by a 44-yard play that Campbell allowed). Herndon was also in Campbell’s old nickel position, and his coverage on Uzomah led to one of his touchdowns.
- Right Guard A.J.
- Right guard A.J. Cann was forced to leave the game due to a knee injury and was out of the game for the rest. Ben Bartch was the last guard in the game and looked solid. Bartch could be the next guard with Cann’s contract ending after the season. Overall, the offensive line did a good job and only gave up one sack to the Bengals.
- Adam Gotsis makes some plays along the defensive line as a rotational play. He was the Jags’ only Burrow sacker, and probably saw an increase in his reps after Roy Robertson-Harris was inactive for the game. While no one from the interior of the defensive line has stood out, Gotsis is one the most intriguing.
- Kicker Josh Lambo was unable to play against Cincinnati due to personal reasons. The Jags began Matthew Wright in his place. Wright was also added to the practice team this week. Lambo had missed two more points and failed to make three field goals in his first three games. Wright was perfect on the PATs and Wright wasn’t able to score a field goal on Thursday night. Lambo may have a challenge ahead.