SPORTSTALK: THE JAG-OFF

THAT WAS … UGLY: WEEK 12, JAGS VS. COLTS

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The Jags got through their bye week without much in the way of scandal, besides a besotted Dwayne Gratz going to Miami, getting trashed and attempting to pay for purchases at a shop with bubble gum. That will be yet another addition to the Jags’ canon, along with Keep Choppin’ Wood and Jimmy Smith getting popped riding home from the Voodoo Lounge. But as distractions go, it isn’t much.

The biggest issue they had to deal with were the Colts, who embarrassed them on their home field earlier this season, driving Chad Henne out of the game, starting the Blake Bortles era earlier than Gus Bradley wanted. At first, they seemed determined not to let the Colts embarrass them again.

They came out strong on defense, forcing an Andrew Luck fumble, only to give it back quick with a Bortles pick. The pass rush — the Jags’ strength — initially overwhelmed the Colts’ offensive line (an area of weakness for Indy). Even the post-interception drive was a defensive win, as the Colts were held to a field goal. And then on the next drive, they forced another Luck fumble deep in Colts territory on a 37-step drop where the Colts’ line collapsed. The teams traded field goals early on, and compared to the apocalyptic first half in Jacksonville, the Jags were in good shape, nursing a 3-3 tie, having forced four sacks and a couple of fumbles in the first quarter, and holding the certain Pro Bowl QB to negative-two passing yards. It was a blitzing, swarming, nasty defense that solved a lot of the early-season assignment issues.

Neither team could get in the end zone in the first half, and the Jags had to see going into the second half down only 6-3 as a victory. Certainly it beat Vegas’ expectations.

The Jags defense alone was not going to win this game, though. The offense couldn’t get anything going in terms of downfield passing, and the 13-3 deficit they faced midway through the third quarter looked like the end of the game. We’ve heard so much, and I’ve written so much, about the Jaguars’ talented wideout corps, but let’s be real: Cecil Shorts was not a factor. Marqise Lee is very much a work in progress. And Allen Hurns? Great when he’s uncovered. Not a mistake the Colts are going to make.

This team misses Justin Blackmon. No one wants to talk about that. Yeah, dude liked his liquor and his weed. But you know what that dude also liked? Getting the ball downfield.

Blackmon has been gone for a year, and there’s no replacing him, at least with the current roster. I remember too well all the crowing in our zero drug tolerance media about the Jags being better off without him. The fact is, they aren’t. Our lapdog press loved Roger Goodell’s tough discipline, but it wrecked the franchise, and I don’t know if it has done Blackmon much good to be away from the game for a year, left to his own devices.

Third and long, throughout the game, and that’s what you face when every first down is an existential crisis. The Colts got the ball back after a Bryan Anger punt, up 13-3, and went deep to T.Y. Hilton with a bomb down the sideline: 20-3, and they might as well have blown the final whistle.

The No. 1 pick in the Draft is in sight for this 1-10 franchise, and so is the Year Three of the vaunted Three-Year Plan.

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