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 complete game of the season, but it was also the most frustrating. The team had a very real chance to win this one, but the defense couldn’t slow down a Bengals offense led by Joe Burrow that scored on every possession in the second half.
It’s clear the Jaguars are showing signs of 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 are the takeaways from a heartbreaking loss to Cincinnati.
A much more efficient offense
The Jaguars left points on the table in this game, undoubtedly. But at the same time, it’s hard to not praise the play of the offense, which had arguably its best game of the season. It avoided turning the ball over, and James Robinson had another good 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. He didn’t find the end zone through the air, but he took one in himself for a score in the first half.
There were a few key mistakes, notably a 4th and goal from the one-yard line at the end of the first half. The Jags had the chance to go up three scores before the break, but a pitch option that Lawrence kept didn’t go anywhere.
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 did manage to find success in the absence of D.J. Chark Jr., who broke his ankle on the first drive and had to be carted off the field, but his absence will surely limit this unit moving forward.
Overall, this was an outing that Lawrence can build from, and the blame lies more with the defense than the offense. Still, the Jags have to do a better job of finishing drives moving forward.
A tale of two halves on defense
There’s no other way to put it. The Jaguars’ defense downright dominated in the first half. It held Cincinnati to just 107 yards, and it was pitching a shutout as the teams made their way into the locker room.
But in the second half, the script flipped completely. 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 got our first glimpse at what this secondary would look like without C.J. Henderson, and the early returns weren’t pretty. Receiver Tyler Boyd torched the secondary for 118 yards on nine catches, while Jacksonville couldn’t match up with tight end 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.
On the defensive side, this game played out very similarly to last week’s loss. The unit was stiff in the first half and didn’t allow much success, but it couldn’t carry that level of play over into the second half.
- With Chark likely to be unavailable for the foreseeable future, the Jags need someone to step up at 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 debut with the Jags, and both he and returner Jamal Agnew, who played some receiver after Chark’s injury, had receptions, as well.
- The Jags spread the ball around to their tight ends in this one, with every tight end on the active roster making a catch, including rookie Luke Farrell, who made an impressive one-handed snag. But only Dan Arnold, who the team acquired this week in the Henderson trade, made multiple catches. With James O’Shaughnessy out for at least the next couple of weeks, look for Arnold to play a bigger role moving forward.
- Rookie cornerback Tyson Campbell started on the outside for the second straight week, and while he notched a tackle for loss, he also was 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). Meanwhile, Herndon started in Campbell’s old nickel role, and his blown coverage on Uzomah resulted in one of his touchdowns.
- Right guard A.J. Cann exited the game with a knee injury, and he was ruled out for the remainder of the game. Ben Bartch finished the game at guard, and he looked solid. With Cann’s contract expiring after the season, Bartch could represent the future of the position. The offensive line as a whole played fairly well, only giving up one sack against the Bengals’ front.
- Adam Gotsis continues to make some plays as a rotational player along the defensive line. He had the Jags’ only sack on Burrow, and he likely saw a boost in his reps with Roy Robertson-Harris inactive for the game. No one along the interior of the defensive line has really stood out so far, but Gotsis is one of the more intriguing players there.
- Kicker Josh Lambo was inactive against Cincinnati for personal reasons, and in his place, the Jags started Matthew Wright, who was added to the practice squad this week. Lambo had missed two extra points and all three of his field goal attempts in the first three games, and while Wright didn’t attempt a field-goal on Thursday night, he was perfect on PATs. Lambo could have a competition on his hands moving forward.