JACKSONVILLE -- They are called preseason games for a reason. Mainly because they don't count and they give teams a chance to evaluate border-line roster players, and they give players a chance to audition for not only their own team but the other 31 teams who might have a particular position need later in the season.
All that in mind, the Jacksonville Jaguars must be careful not to read too much into their 31-24 win over the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots Thursday on the Patriots' home field. Just knowing how many of the Patriots' starters didn't play, starting with quarterback Tom Brady, puts a slight damper on the Jaguars' win. Yet for a team whose coach has continually emphasized the need and importance to win, "just win guys", the Jaguars did just that.
There were plenty of positives for the Jaguars to build on. One of the biggest was that Jacksonville didn't commit a turnover. That only happened three times last year where the Jaguars didn't throw an interception nor did they lose a fumble in a game. It's almost like quarterback Blake Bortles dictates the Jaguars' fate. Bortles threw 16 interceptions last year and they came in 10 different games. In the six contests that Bortles didn't throw a pick, the Jaguars lost just four fumbles, those coming in three games.
Another area the Jaguars were deficient in 2016 were lengthy scoring plays. In 16 games last year, the Jaguars had two pass plays (42 and 51 yards) of more than 40 yards that resulted in a touchdown. There was only one run of more than 40 yards for a touchdown, that being a 57-yard run by Corey Grant in the last game of the season.
Against New England, Jacksonville matched their total from the 2016 season with three scoring plays of more than 40 yards. All participants were non-starters, but all five players involved in the long plays are likely to be on the Jaguars' final 53-man roster. Backup quarterback Chad Henne threw a 97-yard bomb to receiver Keelan Cole, Grant broke free for a 79-yard touchdown run and third-string quarterback Brandon Allen hooked up with rookie receiver Dede Westbrook on a 42-yard scoring play. Once again, all three plays were primarily against backups, but for a team that struggled for lengthy scoring plays a year ago, it was a welcome sight to see.
Blending in with the aforementioned good news was the good reviews on rookie running back Leonard Fournette's first game in a NFL uniform. Fournette gained a pedestrian 31 yards on nine carries, but it was the form and determination that the rookie from LSU showed that was so encouraging. The Jaguars' offensive line, with the starters playing all of the first half, did not provide much space for Fournette to run through. It didn't matter. Fournette found a way to twist, turn or bull his way past defenders to gain yardage.
Of special importance was Fournette's 1-yard touchdown run on third-and-goal from the 1. It may not seem like much that Fournette got through the line and into the end zone standing up, but it's something the Jaguars couldn't do in four tries from that distance in one of their practices with the Patriots earlier in the week. Five of Fournette's nine carries were for four yards or more. It likely would have been six attempts for at least four yards had Fournette not been limited to a yard when scoring from the 1-yard line.
"It was interesting to see him go in there. I have never seen him live, I have never been on the sidelines, and we haven't been in drills where there is live tackling except for goal line," head coach Doug Marrone said. "I was happy and I thought, one of them he was little high when he was running and I think he learned from that and then it was low. I think you can see he is a powerful kid, powerful running back and I just wanted to make sure about ball security, things like you don't see when you are at this level. You want to see, obviously it is a physical game, and you want to see how he reacts to it, and he had no issue with that at all."
The Jaguars would love to retain the balance of run and passing yards that they gained against the Patriots. Led by Grant's 79-yarder, the running game totaled 207 yards on 37 carries (5.6 per attempt). The passing game was even better with 240 yards through the air, 97 of which came on Henne's bomb to Cole.
Quarterback Blake Bortles, the player under the most scrutiny during training camp, only played two series, completing three of five passes. None were lengthy throws however, as the three receptions netted just 16 yards. Bortles did guide the Jaguars to a field goal in the first quarter following Rashad Greene's 41-yard punt return.
Greene's return was another of the bright spots in the game for the Jaguars. It was an area that Jacksonville struggled with a year ago, trying half a dozen players for the job, none of which were overwhelming. Greene will need to win the job to assure himself a spot on the roster. He's at best the team's sixth receiver and may not be included on the final 53-man count if he isn't the regular punt returner.
The Jaguars now turn their attention to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who will join the Jaguars on the practice field both Monday and Tuesday before the teams meet at EverBank Field on Thursday in a nationally televised game. Marrone was pleased with the team's three days of working with the Patriots leading up to the game and was appreciative of the Patriots' organization.
"I appreciate Mr. (Robert) Kraft, (head) coach (Bill) Belichick and their coaches for giving us this opportunity," Marrone said. "I really thought that we were able to get better. And I think that was the key in coming up here. I really thought the game, for the most part, obviously we have some big plays. I think that it was a clean game by both sides from a standpoint of penalties. And that's something we harped on our players about, putting yourself in position where you could lose the game. You know, so we had no turnovers, which is something that has hurt our football team in the past.
"So that's been a big concentration for us, something we've put a lot of emphasis on, but obviously we understand that it's the first preseason game. It's always good to win no matter what you do, but we still have a long way to go and we got to be ready to go back to work and keep building on these experiences from these two practices that we had and this first preseason game."
Notes: Wide receiver Shane Wynn continues to draw rave reviews with his play in training camp, including from head coach Doug Marrone. "I think Shane has had a really good camp, I really do," Marrone said. "He goes out there, gives 110 percent every time. Don't be fooled by his size (5-foot, 168). He's tough as hell, can get off press coverage and make big plays, and can run." ... Tackle Cam Robinson hasn't been declared the starter at left tackle, but he's close to it. Robinson started at that spot against New England while Josh Wells, who is battling for the starting spot, was a starter at right tackle. Said Marrone, "I thought the more snaps (Robinson) can get, the better he'll be. I think he's someone that, obviously, we understand that he has the ability to play the position." ... Kicker Jason Myers missed field-goal tries from 50 and 53 yards against New England when he pulled both kicks to the left. "Good hits, but just a little bit left," Myers said. His kickoff attempts were falling short of the end zone where he normally places them, but Myers said that was by design. "We're working on giving our guys a chance to cover the ball - try and keep it short and make them return it," Myers explained.
Linebacker Myles Jack stayed in the game after the second series when most of the Jaguars' defensive starters came out for the rest of the game. Jack is still learning a new position at middle linebacker and the coaching staff wanted him to have extended playing time so they could evaluate his play. "I thought he played better in the game than some of the practices, I really do," head coach Doug Marrone said. "I thought he did a nice job." ... Tackle Josh Wells had 42 offensive snaps against New England, the most among the Jaguars' offensive players. Wells was given extra reps for coaches to evaluate his progress in his battle with Cam Robinson for the starting spot at left tackle.