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Jaguars back from bye against Jets

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JACKSONVILLE — During the Jacksonville Jaguars’ bye week, they figured their first game back at the New York Jets was going to be a difficult test. The Jets had a 4-2 record and were competitive in a 30-23 loss to New England, a team that beat the Jaguars 51-17 and never had to punt in the game.

But when they began practicing Monday, the Jets game suddenly looked like a game the Jaguars have a good chance of winning. The Jets not only played poorly in a 34-20 loss to Oakland, but their quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick, suffered ligament damage to his left thumb and missed most of the game.

Their best receiver, Brandon Marshall, injured his left ankle and right toe and backup quarterback Geno Smith took some big hits while filling in for Fitzpatrick although he said he will be ready this week.

Jets head coach Todd Bowles said Monday that Fitzpatrick will need surgery on the thumb at some point but said he is “day-to-day” and wouldn’t rule him out of the Jaguars game.

Even if Fitzpatrick does play, he’ll likely need some sort of padding on his non-throwing thumb, which would be awkward for a quarterback who handles the ball on every play.

If Smith gets the nod, the Jaguars will be playing a backup quarterback for the second consecutive game and third time in the last five games. They lost to Matt Hasselbeck in Indianapolis and beat Buffalo’s EJ Manuel in London.

“I don’t know where he’s at,” Bradley said of Fitzpatrick. “I heard that the quarterback got hurt so we’ll see.”

A victory over the Jets will keep the Jaguars in the midst of the AFC South race even though they have a 2-5 record. Indianapolis, which played at unbeaten Carolina Monday night, went into that game with a 3-4 mark and Houston is second at 3-5 after beating Tennessee Sunday.

The Jaguars not only play a battered Jets team this Sunday, but they play Tennessee, which has a 1-6 record with six losses in a row, twice in four games after the Jets game. The Titans have lost 16 of 17 since beating the Jaguars last October.

So it’s not unrealistic that the Jaguars could win three of their next five games – the other two are against Baltimore and San Diego.

For a team that won just seven games in its first two seasons under Bradley, it would be a major step forward in their rebuilding program.

REPORT CARD AFTER SEVEN GAMES

–PASSING OFFENSE: C plus. The Jaguars’ passing game has improved now that quarterback Blake Bortles has three good targets in wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns and veteran tight end Julius Thomas. Still, Bortles is inconsistent and the passing offense ranks 17th in yards gained. Bortles has led fourth-quarter scoring drives in their two victories over Miami and Buffalo. Bortles has 15 touchdown passes but he’s a bit of a gunslinger who takes chances and has eight interceptions, including pick sixes in the last two games. His passer rating of 82.5 puts him ahead of only seven other quarterbacks. The passing game has potential to become more dynamic in the second half of the season.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: C. The Jaguars think T.J. Yeldon has the potential to become a franchise running back, but he’s had some injury issues and is averaging only 4.0 yards a carry with 406 yards in 101 attempts. The Jaguars rank 24th in the league in rushing yardage and when Yeldon missed the Houston game, they had 83 yards rushing with Blake Bortles the leading rusher with 37 yards in scrambles. If Yeldon stays healthy, the running game should get better in the second half of the year.

–PASS DEFENSE: C-minus. The Jaguars have problems rushing the passer without blitzing and their secondary is a bit porous and that is not a recipe for success. They rank 25th in the league in passing yardage allowed. They’ve already benched two free agents in the secondary, safety Sergio Brown and cornerback Davon House, but it is difficult to cover when the quarterbacks have too much time to throw. And House may get his job back because Dwayne Gratz struggled when he replaced him against Buffalo. They hope the return of defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks from the torn ACL he suffered in the final regular-season game last year will give them a bit more push up front. But even though they don’t like to blitz, they will probably have to do more of it in the second half of the year to get more pressure.

–RUSH DEFENSE: B. They are solid against the run and rank 14th in the league in that department. Now that Sen’Derrick Marks is back, he combines with Roy Miller to give them a pair of stout defensive tackles in the middle. And middle linebacker Paul Posluszny is one of the best tacklers in the league. Teams, though, don’t need to run on them because their pass defense is shaky, especially when facing good quarterbacks.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: D. They liked the potential of K Jason Myers so much that they traded Josh Scobee to the Steelers and kept Myers despite the fact he had never kicked in an NFL regular-season game. Scobee was cut by the Steelers, but Myers has missed three field-goal attempts and three extra-point attempts. P Bryan Anger has a big leg, but often outkicks the coverages and the punt return team is giving up 14.4 yards per return. By contrast, the Jaguars are averaging 6.6 yards per punt return. The kickoffs are about a wash. The Jaguars average 22.8 yards a return and give up 23.0 yards a return. But the Jaguars need to improve this unit.

–COACHING: C. It is difficult to judge head coach Gus Bradley because he doesn’t have enough playmakers. In his third season, he only has nine victories and needs several wins in the second half of the season. Bradley’s strength is his upbeat personality and his ability to keep the locker room together even when the team is losing. But his game management decisions are somewhat shaky. Now the question is whether he will get enough time to turn things around.


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