The 4-7 Jacksonville Jaguars needed a win against last place Tennessee on Sunday. And so did Coach Gus Bradley.
According to a chart put out by fivethirtyeight.com, Coach Bradley is (barring a turnaround) the second most likely coach in the NFL to get axed at the end of the year.
After Sunday’s shootout, a 42 to 39 loss to a last place team that hadn’t won at home in over a year, Genial Gus might be in what Ludacris would call the Number One Spot.
On that list, at least.
After Sunday’s loss to the last-place Titans, odds are ever more likely that the Jacksonville City Council might insist upon a new coach as a precondition to the $90M EverBank Field upgrade package that will be approved, 18-1 or 19-zip, on Tuesday.
Sunday’s game started out as offensively ragged as the game in Jacksonville in Week 11, with 3 and outs from each team for the first five minutes of the game, until the Titans drove the ball down the throats of the Jaguars, finishing the 12-play drive with a 10-yard Marcus Mariota strike to Tight End Craig Stevens.
Down 7-0, Blake Bortles came back with a balanced drive, culminating with Allen Robinson stretching out for a big 30-yard grab on the last play of the first quarter to put Jacksonville at the 2, setting up a slant to Rashad Greene for the TD as Quarter 2 began.
With a missed extra point, the Jaguars closed the deficit to one point.
With the Titans starting their next possession at their own 10, it seemed like the Jags could put the pressure on the home team. A 20-yard Antonio Andrews rumble up the middle disabused this writer of that notion, setting up another meat-and-potatoes drive where they attacked the Jags’ D with power, setting up a 29-yard out route to TE Delanie Walker to set up first and goal, and then another Walker grab for a touchdown, on a 90-yard drive that took close to six and a half minutes.
The Jaguars, vulnerable to the depredations of tight ends for years, were getting eaten up again like Donner Party members who didn’t make the final cut. Two TE TDs put Bradley’s Bunch down by 8.
Yet another Jaguars 3 and out ended with an ignominious sack of Bortles, forcing a Jags’ punt that gave the Titans strong starting field position, allowing Mariota to go to work once again. With the Titans exploiting the mismatches their tight ends created, the game script was going against the squad from the 904.
The Jags’ defense started to show a little more give as the clock passed the six-minute mark. Then Mariota went deep.
Davon House caught the ball that “raw” Titans’ rookie wideout Dorial Green Beckham let fly through his hands, creating a turning point in the narrative of the game.
Bortles fired back with big throws to Allen Robinson and Marquis Lee, setting up first and goal inside the one. After an incomplete pass, the unthinkable happened on second down.
Yeldon took a handoff.
Of course, he tripped in the backfield, and it was third and goal as the two-minute warning sounded.
Then, unbelievably, Yeldon took a second handoff in for six.
The two-point conversion failed, but the rare Yeldon score had Jags fans throughout the nation lurching to their windows to see if, perhaps, unicorns were flying through the sky.
The Titans, undeterred by the House pick, re-asserted the Mariota/DGB connection with two big completions highlighting a drive that saw the Titans get the ball to just shy of the goal line with five seconds in the half, setting up one last play: a short, six-point burst from Andrews.
The Titans went into the half up by 9, yet couldn’t do anything with their first drive of the third, giving Bortles’ squad an opportunity to get Jacksonville back into the game with good field position.
The balanced drive ate up more than half of the quarter, going from the Jaguars’ 35 to first and goal without the help of any real chunk plays, culminating in Bortles, scrambling away from an aggressive blitz, found Allen Robinson for a 2-yard grab as the Jaguars closed the gap to 21 to 19.
From there, the Jags’ defense started to lose discipline.
A defensive holding penalty gave the Titans a first down when they would have had to punt. And what looked to be an unnecessary roughness call on Jacksonville was overturned.
The latter should have gone the way of the home team, but it didn’t matter, as the Titans’ offense sliced and diced the Jaguars with the run and the pass, driving into Jaguars’ territory as the third quarter came to a close.
The teams flipped sides to begin the fourth, with Tennessee up by two points. Eleven seconds later, a Mariota pass for 47 yards to DGB stretched the lead to 9 after the extra point.
Notable about that completion: DGB bouncing off of Jaguars’ defenders, who didn’t seem able to close when it came to tackling him, or to be able to close ground once he broke for the end zone. Yet another mismatch against this defense, in its third year with a defensive-minded head coach at the helm.
Bortles started gunslinging, down by 9, with a 44-yard bomb to Allen Robinson landing the Jags in enemy territory, and another third down crossing route to A-Rob giving Jacksonville first and goal.
And then a third, for a touchdown. Giving Robinson a 9-146-2 TD line.
The now requisite missed extra point kept the margin at 28 to 25.
Still, a window for redemption opened. On third and 8, deep in Titans’ territory, Telvin Smith came up on the edge behind Mariota, knocking the ball out of Mariota’s cocked arm, setting up first and goal at the 9.
The next play: Bortles drilled Julius Thomas in the end zone, right between the 8 and the 0, for the go-ahead score. With an actual successful extra point, the spread was 4, at 32 to 28.
On the third play of the Titans possession, they answered back with an 87-yard quarterback draw, taking advantage of a Jags’ blitz and the expected issues on the back end of the defense for a highlight reel run from Mariota.
At 35 to 32, the Jaguars had to answer back.
A pop fly of a shotgun snap went over Bortles’ head, rolling back into the end zone, and, despite the best efforts of Marquise Lee, the Titans came up with it for the touchdown, and a 10-point lead, the biggest of the game.
Bortles yet again answered back; a checkdown toss to T.J. Yeldon for 68 put the Jags in the shadow of the Titans’ goal post, setting up the third Bortles to AR-15 touchdown pass of the day.
The Jags had to hold on the next drive; they did, getting the ball back with 2:50 on the clock and 90 yards to go.
They hit fourth and game after three plays. Under the weight of a jailbreak blitz, Bortles crumpled to the sod, and the Jaguars’ dimming postseason hopes faded ever closer to a funereal black.
The Jaguars held on defense, with 4th and goal for the Titans with 23 ticks to go. A pass to the end zone … incomplete … yet a yellow piece of cloth for defensive pass interference sealed the game.
The Jaguars, who looked competent on defense a few games this season, got destroyed by Mariota and a no-name cast of skill players, as well as by the coach that went 2-14 in Jacksonville. Next week finds the first-place Colts coming into town, with Matt Hasselbeck waiting to pick this defense apart like the carcass of a Sunday-dinner chicken.