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Jaguars lay an egg in opener against Panthers

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JACKSONVILLE — The preseason hype, the excitement for 2015, an opportunity to put the bad memories from the 2013 and 2014 season behind them had been building for months. Was it simply fool’s gold? Have Jacksonville Jaguars fans been duped into thinking this was going to be a team that could make a push towards a .500 record or better?

Based on what the Jaguars exhibited Sunday in a 20-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers, they looked no closer to approaching a winning season than they did the last two years.

The Jaguars offense showed some spark in the first half when it rolled up 190 yards of offense. It should have had a 13-10 lead on the Panthers at the intermission except for two botched kicks by kicker Jason Myers. The free-agent rookie missed a makeable 44-yard field goal and became the first NFL kicker to miss an extra point from the extended distance of what is equivalent to a 33-yard field goal when he pushed it to the right.

But while the offense showed some promise in the first 30 minutes, it succumbed to the Panthers defense the final two quarters. Some point to back-to-back plays on the Jaguars first series of the second half as the reason. On the fourth play of the drive, starting left tackle Luke Joeckel was called for holding. More importantly, Joeckel suffered an ankle injury and had to be assisted by two trainers to the sideline and eventually on to the locker room, not to return for the rest of the game.

While that may have dampened the Jaguars spirits, they were doused the next play. Bortles zeroed in on T.J. Yeldon’s progress towards the sideline and fired a pass in that direction. But Carolina corner Josh Norman was following Bortles eyes and when the Jaguars quarterback never looked at another option, Norman made a quick cut on the pass, intercepted it and took it to the house.

That changed a one-point game into an eight-point difference and the Jaguars never seemed the same the rest of the game. They finished with a paltry 75 yards of offense in the second half as Bortles completed just seven passes in 16 attempts for a meager 58 yards. Those numbers are even below what Bortles put up in the second half of games a year ago when he finished among the lowest rated starting quarterbacks.

Only the strong effort of the Jaguars defense prevented this game from becoming ugly. The pick-six aside, the Jags defense only allowed 13 points. That should be good enough to win games in the NFL. But when you fall behind and have to change the game plan and suddenly you’re throwing the ball 40 times and running it 21 times for an offense that wants to be known for its ground game, something’s not right.

The Jaguars now face the daunting task of knowing they must spring an upset on the Miami Dolphins who come to town on Sunday. If they don’t, the Jaguars could be looking at a third consecutive 0-4 start as they travel to New England and Indianapolis in Weeks 3 and 4 respectively.

That could be followed by a meeting of two winless teams in the state of Florida as the Jaguars are at Tampa Bay in Week 5. It’s only one game but the 11-point loss – the 10th consecutive double-digit loss in the month of September for Jacksonville teams – was a real deflator. Somehow the Jaguars must regroup in the next six days and play at a higher level in hopes of springing an upset on the Dolphins. Otherwise, a third consecutive horrendous month of September is likely to occur.

REPORT CARD VS. PANTHERS

PASSING OFFENSE: D – Dropped passes, quarterback sacks and interceptions left the Jaguars with close to a failing grade. The first interception by Blake Bortles resulted in an interception by Josh Norman who turned it into an easy six points. It was a game-killer for the Jaguars who trailed by just one point at the time but now faced an eight-point deficit. It seemed to take the aggressive play out of the Jaguars for the rest of the game. Jacksonville finished with just 75 yards in the second half following the pick. The Jaguars dropped four passes, none bigger than one inside the 5-yard line by Rashad Greene. That forced the Jaguars to a field-goal situation which Jason Myers missed.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus – it was better than the passing game but not by much. Rookie T.J. Yeldon gained 51 yards in 12 attempts in his NFL debut. He showed some elusive moves during the game, but had just one carry for more than 10 yards with a 14-yard pickup. Denard Robinson added 19 yards on five carries and Bortles chipped in with 26 on four scrambles. Overall, the totals were good in that the Jaguars averaged 4.6 yards a carry for a total of 96 yards. But to only run the ball 21 times while putting it in the air 40 times was a surprise. Look for that nearly 2-1 margin of passes to runs to change soon as the Jaguars strive for closer to a 60-40 split.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus – Any time you can hold a quarterback of Cam Newton’s stature to less than 200 passing yards and only one TD through the air, you’re playing well. The Jaguars allowed just two passes for more than 11 yards which is keeping the receivers in check. For Newton to emerge from the game with a passer rating of 71.3 is a win for the Jaguars secondary. They sacked him twice and hurried him twice and could have had even more sacks had they not let him slip through their grasp on several occasions. The Jaguars even had an interception after going through all four preseason games without a single pick. Carolina’s talented tight end Greg Olsen had one catch on the team’s opening series but then the Jaguars held him to no catches the rest of the game.

RUSH DEFENSE: B – Hold a team to three yards a carry and not allow a rushing touchdown, your defense is doing its job. That’s what the Jaguars did with the Panthers ground game that rushed for 105 yards but needed 35 attempts to reach the century mark. After giving up 33 yards to Jonathan Stewart in the Panthers’ opening drive, the Jaguars held Carolina’s top running back to 23 yards in 14 attempts the rest of the game. Newton is one of the league’s better scrambling quarterbacks but he only managed 35 yards on the ground and needed 14 carries to get to that total. The Jaguars defense did a good job of getting the Carolina offense off the field. They allowed the Panthers just three drives of more than six plays and other than the three drives that finished with double-digit plays, the Panthers were held to less than a 32 total yards in any of their non-scoring drives.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D – A missed field goal and a missed extra point by rookie free agent Jason Myers drops this grade to just above failing. The field goal was from 44 yards out with no wind and should have been converted. To miss an extra point even moving the ball back 13 yards this season is also unacceptable. That’s four points in the first half that the Jaguars should have had which would have given them a three-point lead at halftime instead of trailing by a point. Only three touchbacks by Myers and a 40-yard kickoff return by Corey Grant prevented this from being an F grade.

COACHING: C-minus – Gus Bradley had advocated throughout training camp how this team looked much improved from a year ago. Many believed him. Those same people are now doubting him. Way too many questionable decisions in this game. Why there wasn’t a single pass thrown to 6-6, 275-pound tight end Marcedes Lewis is hard to fathom. Passing the ball 40 times with a team that Bradley had vowed would be much better running the ball raises questions. For the Jaguars to lose their 10th straight game in the month of September, all by double digits, is an indication that the team wasn’t ready to play against a mediocre Carolina team.


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