A battle of 1-4 teams in Jacksonville, between the Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars, started off with what one might call optimism.
Vegas liked the Jags, for once. One point favorites!
Then, once inactives were announced, a seeming reason to take the point.
Jaguars running back TJ Yeldon was out. Bad groin. Plodder Toby Gerhart was in.
Even against one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL, seventy snaps of Gerhart didn’t seem like it would “bust a grape in a fruit fight,” as Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry might say.
The Texans, of course, had Arian Foster.
Halloween came early, with a lot of Jags fans either dressed as empty seats or thinking the game was in London. And a few more yahoos in JJ Watt jerseys.
Jags stopped the Texans on defense to start, and came out audaciously on the first play they had in the first half, throwing 25 yards from Blake Bortles to Allen Robinson. A good sign. Though the drive stalled near midfield, the Jags were able to back Houston up at its goal line with a picture-perfect Bryan Anger punt.
Then the Texans battled back. A throw to Cecil Shorts, some Arian Foster magic, and a flag on a late hit got them up to midfield and a 4th and 1 conversion from Hoyer to DeAndre Hopkins. From there, the inevitable.
Touchdown Foster off a Hoyer pass on 3rd and 7.
16 plays. 99 yards.
Jags tried to battle back. Bortles to Allen Robinson for 26 got them close to midfield again. Then another chunk play to Julius Thomas got them past midfield as the first quarter ended.
And from there, the drive down the field. Into the red zone, and yet another Bortles pass to A-Rob tied it up.
Texans drove the ball toward the red zone, almost losing the possession on an Arian Foster fumble inside the 30, then ending up having to settle for a 41 yard field goal against the wind.
Jags could do nothing with the ball, punting it back to the Texans with three minutes to go in the half. In turn, Houston punted it back in short order, giving the Jags the ball with two minutes left at their own 40, and Blake Bortles a chance for a statement drive… the kind of thing that would give the fans tangible hope.
A scramble got them down to the 37 with 49 ticks left. A looping pass to Bryan Walters got them down to the 30. Would the blitz keep him honest? Or could he go deep?
Why do either when the Houston defense was right there to make the pick inside the 10?
The two teams traded punts to start off the third quarter. Then… magic with about two minutes left.
At midfield, on 4th and 1, the Jags stuffed Arian Foster.
The Jags came out quick strike, with a Bortles dart for 22 to A-Rob putting the Jags at the 30, setting up a 29 yard streak to a wide open Julius Thomas, who made it to the end zone untouched.
14-10, Jags, and you could hear squeals of delight even through the press box glass.
15 minutes left, and Gus Bradley might have been in a position to buy at least a little more time, to stave off the media barbs for another seven days.
Dare to dream!
Then the Texans battled back. A 14 yard dart to triple-covered DeAndre Hopkins got them a first. A swing pass to Arian Foster got them a first down on their own 43. Then Hopkins, again, for 29.
And, after a challenge that was doomed to failure from the time the flag hit the field, Houston was in business inside the Jags’ 30.
Then, a Hoyer scramble was ended with a helmet to helmet hit, creating two outcomes.
The Texans had the ball inside the five.
But Ryan Mallett, 6 foot 6 inches of turnover machine, was in at quarterback… just for a play.
Hoyer found Hopkins in the back of the end zone, and, as is tradition, Jags’ CB Davon House got housed when it counted the most.
17-14, and Bortles gets the ball back with 11 minutes and change.
The Jags start the drive in ball control mode, with two Denard Robinson runs setting up a 3rd and 4 looper to Hurns… overturned by holding in the backfield.
3rd and 14 didn’t go so well, leading to the quintessential play of the Gus Bradley era… the Bryan Anger punt. A 34 yard net gave the Texans the ball just outside the Jags’ 45, and you could see scattered fans starting to file out, like mourners out of a funeral service.
Hoyer to Hopkins, covered by a linebacker, gave the Texans the ball inside the 35. Then, Foster to the 30. An incomplete begot 3rd and 6… and then, to quote the Smiths, “I know it’s over.”
Hoyer to Hopkins. Untouched. 24-14.
Then, as I got on the elevator to head down to the press conference, I told the attendant that everything had happened but the Pick 6.
By the time I’d gotten off the elevator, that transpired.
It’s not a particularly slow elevator.
31-14, and the statistical grandeur of garbage time was all that was left before a Jacksonville tradition: the Gus presser after another home loss.
8-30 in his Jags’ career, 1-5 this year.
After almost three years of Gus and GM Dave Caldwell, what does Jacksonville have? A blooper reel.
With an interim coach, Doug Marrone, waiting in the locker room to clean up this mess, the question is one of how long can Shad Khan let this charade continue.
And, a fun fact: the press conference mike check included a guy saying “we need a new coach” as he tested the audio.
With all of that setting the table for Bradley, the media talked its smack while wiling away time waiting.
“Obviously the game didn’t play out like we hoped,” Bradley said, saying that “our guys really pressed” when the game turned.
“That can happen but we can’t allow it to happen.”
“The truth is, there was some good, 14 to 10… we’ve got to evaluate… find out what’s real out there,” Bradley added.
“Each week you learn new lessons.”
Yet again, Bradley’s remarks were positive. Toby ran hard. Blake made some good plays. Et cetera.
“We’ve got to learn not to press… and learn how to finish it.”
Four straight losses make you wonder, don’t they?
Bradley didn’t take the bait when asked if he had enough talent on the team to win. But at this point, the Jaguars are sort of like taking the remedial English class and sending them to an academic competition.
“They want it bad,” Bradley said.
“What did Blake say a week ago. It’s time for me to will this team to win,” Bradley said, as an example of “pressing.”
The will may be there. But results are not.
Bortles took some questions also.
He took the heat for “bad situational football,” in the pick 6 intended for Julius Thomas.
When asked if he was “pressing,” Bortles said “I would hope that every player has the mindset to will the team to victory.”
“I wouldn’t say I was pressing, trying to do too much,” he added.
When asked why the Jags couldn’t finish, a “lack of execution” was to blame.
“Anytime you lose, you didn’t score enough points.”
When asked if it was a good week for the London trip, Bortles replied that “the timing is what it is.”
The losses, he added, “all suck equally.”
Indeed they do.
The futility continues next week across the Atlantic.