Jaguars silence most doubters with back-to-back blowouts
By MARK LONG
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) The Jacksonville Jaguars might still have some doubters, a few holdouts who view the past two weeks as more of a fluke than a factuality.
It makes sense considering the Jaguars (2-1) had a league-low four wins combined the past two seasons and have long been among the NFL's most dysfunctional franchises (see Urban Meyer).
But there's no denying what they did in consecutive games against two teams widely considered to be AFC playoff contenders in 2022.
They dominated Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers 38-10 on the road Sunday a week after pummeling Matt Ryan and Indianapolis 24-0. It's the best two-game stretch Jacksonville has put together since its AFC championship game run in 2017.
"We're still young and we're still learning how to win and how to do all that stuff," first-year Jaguars coach Doug Pederson said. "I think this is just a great step in the right direction."
But there's sure to be skeptics. The Chargers were without Pro Bowl receiver Keenan Allen, Pro Bowl center Corey Linsley, Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson and had quarterback Justin Herbert playing through a rib injury. The Bolts also lost star pass rusher Joey Bosa early and left tackle Rashawn Slater late.
The Colts played without starting receivers Michael Pittman and Alec Pierce as well as All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard.
Nonetheless, it's impossible to ignore what the Jaguars did in both games on both sides of the ball.
Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft, rebounded from a subpar opener with the two best games of his pro career. He threw for 487 combined yards in those games, with five touchdowns, no turnovers and no sacks.
James Robinson ran for 100 yards against the Chargers and scored for the third consecutive week. Christian Kirk, Zay Jones and Evan Engram have provided Lawrence with the kind of playmakers long missing in Jacksonville.
Defensively, the Jaguars have eight takeaways in three games, one shy of their 2021 season total, and haven't allowed a rushing touchdown through three games for the first time in two decades. Jacksonville ranks first against the run, second in points allowed and eighth in yards.
"Obviously, the way we have played, you can't deny that we are a really good team," Lawrence said. "But at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what they say about us. We know who we are."
Another victory Sunday at Philadelphia (3-0), the team Pederson led to a Super Bowl victory to end the 2017 season, would probably convince everyone else.
Play-calling has been nothing short of masterful in the past two games. Pederson's offense is operating with poise, precision and near perfection. Mike Caldwell's defense has been stout against the run and nearly as good against the pass, notching six interceptions and seven sacks.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Jacksonville's most lopsided victory since drubbing the Colts 51-16 in 2015 was missing one thing: better red zone efficiency. The Jaguars settled for three short field goals in the first half. They finished the day scoring touchdowns on three of six red zone opportunities and found the end zone twice in four goal-to-go situations.
Zay Jones caught 10 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown, his first with the Jaguars. Playing for his third team in four years, Jones has been a nice complement to Kirk and leads the team with 19 receptions. The 27-year-old receiver, who still holds the Division I record for career receptions (399), is on pace for a breakout season after signing a three-year, $24 million contract in free agency.
Tight end Dan Arnold played just eight snaps against the Chargers and has become an afterthought in a passing game that features Kirk, Zay Jones, Marvin Jones and Engram. Arnold has one catch for 8 yards while playing behind Engram and blocking tight end Chris Manhertz.
CB Shaquill Griffin sustained a hip injury in practice Friday and was inactive against the Chargers. He was the team's first starter to miss a game this season and the only guy on the injury report the past two weeks.
17 - number of consecutive losses for Jacksonville against NFC teams. After ending an 18-game road skid Sunday, the Jags can halt another lengthy losing streak at the Eagles. The franchise's most recent NFC road victory came in the 2018 season opener at the New York Giants.
Win three in a row. The Jaguars last won three straight in 2017 (did it twice that year) and have accomplished the feat just five times in the previous 14 seasons.
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Updated September 26, 2022