On “Salute to Service” Day at EverBank Field, it was appropriate that the Jacksonville Jaguars hosted the San Diego Chargers.
Against their fellow Naval town team, the Jags needed to make a statement.
The statement they made? That when the pressure is on and the stakes get higher, the Jaguars just aren’t ready, despite the collection of talent at offensive skill positions.
A collection diminished by a key piece on the last Jaguars’ drive of the game, as Allen Hurns was carted off.
Before that huge loss though, a lot of football was played….
Blake Bortles‘ first pass, to rookie RB T.J. Yeldon, was a 20 yard gain that showed that the Jags would come out firing. The gameplan was pretty obvious. Use the pass to clear the box for Yeldon, who would be the key to victory.
Yeldon, in fact, on the ground or in the air, accounted for the Jags’ first 43 yards, setting up a 25 yard strike to Allen Robinson that put the Jags in the red zone … where the drive stalled out at the five yard line, setting up a chip shot field goal and giving the Jags a 3-0 lead.
And, for the most part, that drive would be the sum total of the Yeldon effect.
Chargers’ signal caller Philip Rivers came out firing, with the first real play being a 16 yard swing pass to rookie RB Melvin Gordon. The Chargers then tried a Gordon run; he got crushed in the backfield for a four yard loss. You could see the attrition on the Chargers’ line there (with two starters out), and on the next play, a pressure pick of Rivers overturned by the second Jags’ offsides penalty of the drive.
Despite the untimely call, the Chargers punted the ball back to the Jags soon thereafter.
Bortles aired it out some more, winging it to Allen Hurns for 29, putting the Jags at midfield. The Jags got another first on an encroachment penalty, and were in business at the San Diego 42. A Robinson catch and run for 9 put them in 2nd and short, but they again were held to a field goal, this time from 51.
The Chargers and Jaguars traded punts. Then the Chargers battled back, driving the ball into the Jags’ red zone with a 27 yard dart to Antonio Gates as the first quarter ended.
Then, Melvin Gordon with two hard runs, putting San Diego at the Jags’ 2. From there, a pass to Dontrelle Inman, pressed into service for the Chargers in recent weeks, tied it up, and the extra point put the home squad behind.
7 plays; 63 yards; 97 seconds.
Bortles fired back. A 24 yard strike to Marcedes Lewis put the Jags near midfield. A QB scramble on 3rd and 8 gave them a first in Chargers’ territory. And from there, the Jags stalled out again, pinning the Chargers inside their own 15 with a Bryan Anger punt.
3 and out for San Diego. A strong Rashad Greene punt return, coupled with a Chargers’ late hit on the Florida State product, gave Jacksonville the ball on the right side of the 50 yet again. A first-down strike to Julius Thomas put them in field goal range, setting up a Yeldon off tackle burst for 21 that put Jacksonville just outside of first and goal.
And setting up another field goal.
The Jaguars, able to move the ball down the field, were unable to get it into the end zone.
The Chargers, meanwhile, had no such aversion to paydirt, with Rivers hitting Gates in the end zone for the second passing touchdown of the day.
Bortles, down five, was set up nicely for a two minute drill, in which the Chargers played soft and kept Jags’ receivers in bounds until he got picked off by Manti Te’o.
Te’o’s girlfriend was removed from the press box thereafter for excessive cheering.
As Rivers took control, and the played-out strains of Lenny Kravitz’s “Get Away” filled the bowl of the stadium, you could feel hope dwindling, exhausted inexorably by a 12 yard looping pass from Rivers to Gates.
3 plays; 22 yards; 16 seconds. 21-9. Not a good look.
As the half ended with a Bortles sack, the boos were in full effect. Any Salute to Service the Jags’ fans may have had would have been of the one-finger variety. And why not? Three touchdowns from a busted-up West Coast team playing for draft position will make you a bit surly.
The crowd took its time getting back to its seats after halftime. Still, on the first Chargers’ third down, the noise whipped up, and Rivers ate the turf courtesy of a Jared Odrick sack around the San Diego 5. The punt that followed was scooped by Rashad Greene and returned to the Chargers 45.
Down 12, with great field position, this was a “now or never” drive.
It was Now.
On third down, Bortles stood in the pocket, manned up against the rush, and hurled the ball to Julius Thomas, giving Jacksonville another red zone opportunity.
On third down, flushed out of the pocket, Bortles, for the second time in the game, threw an illegal forward pass into the end zone.
Another thwarted drive. Another Jason Myers chipshot. And a nine point deficit.
Jacksonville forced another punt, getting the ball back at their own 30.
And another 3 and Out, as the shadows grew longer over the field of play.
San Diego moved the ball near midfield, off a Rivers scramble, and the backbreaker would have been a 15 play, 8 minute drive, if the Chargers could pull it off.
Playing station to station football, with short throws and runs calculated for the next first down marker, that seemed to be their intention.
Until Rivers saw an opportunity, hitting Stevie Johnson with a 25 yard floater targeting Josh Evans, which put San Diego at the Jacksonville 22. Then a throw to Malcolm Floyd in the same spot, which set up first and goal. A Chargers’ holding penalty pushed them back, stalling out the drive, and setting up a field goal.
San Diego 24, Jags … 12.
The Jags came back with some new wrinkles, with speedsters Marquis Lee and Denard Robinson getting Jacksonville to midfield as the fourth quarter began. A pivotal third down conversion to Greene got Jacksonville inside the Bolts’ 40. And then a jump ball to Julius Thomas got the Jags inside the 25.
They needed 6. Bortles hurled a dart into traffic to depth wideout Bryan Walters, which fell incomplete. Then a scramble that got Jacksonville to near the 20, setting up a pivotal third down.
Then, inexplicably, Bortles forced the ball to Allen Robinson, ignoring Allen Hurns, who was running across the middle.
And it didn’t matter. On 4th and 7, Bortles slung the ball to Julius Thomas for the six, the tight end’s sixth and biggest catch of the game. The extra point made it 24 to 19.
The 12 play, 80 yard drive took just over 5 minutes, and brought hope back to EverBank.
The Chargers were in attack mode, challenging the Jags’ secondary, and getting into Jaguars’ territory with a 19 yard pass to Ladarius Green. With 3rd and long at the Jags’ 43, San Diego went empty backfield, and the Chargers came up empty.
No matter. They would go for it on 4th down. And Rivers, one of the slowest quarterbacks in the game, ran a naked bootleg and got the eight yards he needed, putting San Diego on the Jacksonville 30 with 8:31 left.
The question from there became one of how quickly would San Diego relinquish possession, and by how many points would the Jags be behind.
The Chargers moved, slowly and inexorably, down the field, milking the clock before throwing a definitive strike to Stevie Johnson, for an 11 point lead with 4:45 left.
The requisite last gasp drive followed; the non-requisite low light; Allen Hurns, twisting his neck and having his helmet jammed into the turf.
Hurns was taken off the field on a cart. And so too was the Jaguars’ season.
Yet, as happens with football, one more blast of hope.
A blocked punt with 90 seconds left gave the Jaguars one last chance at the Chargers’ 15.
And Bortles found Allen Robinson in the end zone two plays thereafter for six.
Six points down, and Jason Myers missed the extra point.
Just one of those days.
Jaguars Coach Gus Bradley, facing a media that wanted real emotion or anger of one type or another, was his usual even-tempered self.
“Highly competitive game. What can you say? They’ve got a great quarterback,” Bradley said.
“With us, we’re creating a standard of what’s acceptable” and “it’s a high standard.”
“The big story is the red zone,” Bradley said, both offensively and defensively.
One big story: Yeldon had no carries in the red zone, an odd move for a franchise back.
“I thought we moved the ball,” Bradley said, but field goals instead of touchdowns “change[d] the dynamics” of the game.
Bortles, meanwhile, made some “big plays,” “flashes of things,” said Bradley.
“I see him make some of the throws and the decision making we’re applauding … but in the red zone, there’s not enough there.”
Bradley spent much of the press conference enthusing about Rivers, the quarterback of a 3-8 team that will finish last in its division.
Meanwhile, what happened today “was something more than unfortunate” and was “unacceptable,” Bradley said. But no worries; there will be no lineup changes.
Bortles, in his comments, said the team did a “good job moving the ball” down to the red zone, but a “lack of execution” sealed the Big Cats’ fate.
“I’ve got to be sharper on reads and progressions,” Bortles said, citing the two illegal forward passes as attempts to extend the play as “long as possible.”
“I don’t know from a coach’s perspective what you tell a guy who did that,” Bortles said.
“Quit being an idiot or something,” he added.
The one bright spot: Allen Hurns is moving and “responsive,” said Bradley.
Next week finds the Jaguars in Tennessee.