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Horrid Jaguars fit to be tied

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The Sports Xchange

JACKSONVILLE — The eternal optimist will take a look at the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 1-2 record and then the other three teams in the AFC South Division, and refer to the Jags as “tied for first place.”

A realist may say they are just tied.

A nabob of negativity would say they are tied for last.

Yep, the other three teams in the division each have that 1-2 mark. That will change this Sunday however as the Jaguars travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts. Houston is at Atlanta and Tennessee is idle, guaranteeing that there will be separation among the so-called division leaders.

To call Jacksonville a first-place team after the abysmal effort that they put forth last Sunday at New England would seem out of place. Just when Jacksonville was starting to feel good about the progress they made since a year ago when a three-win season was deemed embarrassing, frustrating and shameful, the Jaguars laid an egg like never seen previously by their fans.

The 51 points surrendered to New England was a franchise worst. The only other time they had given up at least 50 points was in a 50-10 loss. And that was a fluke in that the Jaguars compiled an 11-5 regular-season record and went 1-1 in the playoffs that season. Playoffs is not a word that will be used when describing the Jaguars 2015 season several months from now … even if you can refer to them as the first-place Jaguars.

That same optimist will also be quick to point out the loss was against one of the best teams in the NFL, featuring the best quarterback, the best tight end and possibly the best coach. There should be no shame in losing to a team of their caliber.

Ha. Try telling that to a group of Jaguars players who will have no problem in employing the 24-hour rule, where you don’t talk about the previous game a day later. The Jaguars will put this game out of sight, out of mind as quickly as possible.

But will they put the mistakes out of mind? The gaffes of allowing Patriots receivers to run free, to allow quarterback Tom Brady ample time to find his fourth choice in his progression, the 114 penalty yards or the inexcusable allowance of letting the Patriots convert on 11 of 14 third-down opportunities.

The Colts have an elite quarterback in Andrew Luck who has put up big numbers on the Jaguars the past couple of years. However, Luck does not have the surrounding cast that Brady has. The problem is that the Colts had their way with Jacksonville in recent years, winning the last five meetings, each by 20 points or more.

The Jaguars must redirect their focus immediately and put together three solid days of practice. And they need to regain some of the nine players currently on the sideline as starters or at least the ability to help on the field.

Both of those items must happen or the phrase “first-place Jaguars” will likely be shelved for another season.

REPORT CARD VS. PATRIOTS

–PASSING OFFENSE: D-minus. Only because the Jaguars picked up passing yards in garbage time once the outcome of the game was well in the Patriots’ control. Quarterback Blake Bortles’ 38.8 passer rating in the first half speaks volumes of what his start was about. What opened the flood gates for the Patriots to put this game out of reach early was Bortles’ overthrown pass late in the first half that was intercepted and led to a late New England touchdown. The Jaguars were driving and were only down 13-3 at the time. Any score here going into the half would have made it a one-possession difference but when Brady threw a TD pass just before the half, it gave the Patriots a 20-3 cushion and the rout was on.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: D-plus. T.J. Yeldon and Toby Gerhart combined for 43 yards on 14 carries against a Patriots defense that often shoved eight men into the box, daring the Jaguars to put the ball in the air. Jacksonville’s game plan was to make use of a ground attack, something that the Patriots’ defense had experienced difficulties with in stopping their first two opponents. But the Jaguars could never break a back free as the offensive line was manhandled by the Patriots’ defensive line. Bortles isn’t good enough yet to be an effective passer without the threat of a running game to at least keep defenses honest. His inconsistency through three games has hurt the team and until the Jaguars can put together a strong running game, this offense is going to struggle.

–PASS DEFENSE: F. When you have to insert an unused cornerback to play safety for the first time in his NFL career – and you’re asked to defend against the league’s premier quarterback in Tom Brady – it’s going to make for a long afternoon for the secondary. That was the case Sunday as Brady shredded the Jaguars secondary with 33-of-42 (74 percent) passing, good for 358 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The only reason Brady didn’t finish with four or five scoring tosses is that LeGarrette Blount scored on three 1-yard runs. Brady got the protection he needed and when Jaguars defenders consistently gave receivers a 5-7 yard cushion to get open and make the catch, it made Brady’s job easy.

–RUN DEFENSE: D. New England’s three running backs combined for 123 yards in 28 carries (4.4 per carry). Any team will take that average. With Jaguars linebackers concerned about stopping TE Rob Gronkowski and others coming across the middle, it left for a ground game to run at will. The Patriots didn’t break any long ones, but the consistent four, five or six yards a shot was more than adequate. The Jaguars desperately need defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks back in the lineup, but that isn’t likely to happen this week and maybe not even the following. Until he returns and Andre Branch is back at defensive end, teams with any average running game are likely to improve their average against the Jaguars.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: C. Not a lot to judge on when you can’t force a single punt from your opponents, and your punt return game is non-existent. The Jaguars kickoff return team saw plenty of action, but with Stephen Gostkowski putting all but three kickoffs deep or out of the end zone, it gave Corey Grant few opportunities. He returned two kicks for 41 yards. Jason Myers connected on the Jaguars’ only field-goal attempt. An average effort by the special teams as a group.

–COACHING: F. Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley nailed his own grade with this post-game quote: “I think it starts with me. I told the team, ‘There are some decisions I made that we can look at it.’ I’ll learn from them. I didn’t help us. I put us in a couple of tough positions.” The worst of Bradley’s coaching flaws was the fake punt call in the third quarter with the Jaguars trailing 37-10 and facing a 4th-and-8 from inside his own 30. He later said he tried to call it off but it wasn’t communicated to the right people. That’s as bad as calling for the play in the first place. Bradley’s comment of “I thought we did a fairly decent job against (Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski)” was stunning in that Gronkowski had four catches for a game-high 101 yards.


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