Jaguars defense needed a stop in the second half. Just one. It didn't happen
The Jaguars' defense pitched a shutout in the first half on Thursday at Cincinnati.
Then it couldn’t get a stop in the second half when one – just one, a punt, a turnover, anything – would have likely resulted in a victory or at least overtime.
The Bengals scored on every possession in the second half, beginning with a four-play, 69-yard drive to begin the third quarter that consumed only 100 seconds, and ending with a 10-play, 73-yard possession that took the final 5:33 of the game and led to former Florida Gator Evan McPherson’s 35-yard field goal to beat the Jaguars 24-21.
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Cincinnati (3-1) piled up 313 yards and 17 first downs in the second half after the Jags held them to 18 yards rushing and 95 passing in building a 14-0 halftime lead.
Job one was stopping running back Joe Mixon, and that happened in the first half as he gained only 14 yards on five carries. Quarterback Joe Burrow hurt the Jags early when he completed six of seven passes for 74 yards but the Bengals came up empty when McPherson missed a 43-yard field-goal attempt.
Burrow appeared perplexed the rest of the half, as he hit on only 2 of 5 passes before the break and was sacked once, a combo hit by Adam Gotsis and Dawuane Smoot.
But the Bengals made two key adjustments in the second half: they brought in an extra tight end on running plays and on a 12-play, 86-yard drive late in the third quarter, Mixon gained 37 yards on six carries and scored on a 1-yard plunge to tie the game 14-14.
The Jags became run-conscious after that and Burrow began using more quick-striking pass plays, getting the ball out earlier to counter the rush.
The Jaguars secondary also was focused on not letting speedy rookie Ja’Marr Chase beat them deep and Burrow was content with underneath routes to slot receiver Tyler Boyd (nine receptions, 118 yards) and tight end C.J. Uzomah (five for 95 yards and two touchdowns, a 22-yard reception to open the third-quarter scoring and a 31-yard catch and run with 8:59 left to tie the game 21-21.
Burrow finished with 25 completions in 32 attempts 348 yards, his second-best output as a pro. Cincinnati converted all five of its third-down situations in the second half, three on Burrow passes, and he was 17 of 20 in the second half, for 253 yards.
The Jags also made three crucial mistakes on Cincinnati’s final drive.
On third-and-one at the Bengals’ 31, linebacker Damien Wilson sacked Burrow but the play was nullified and Cincinnati awarded a first down when cornerback Tre Herndon was called for defensive holding.
After getting flagged for a false start on the next player, the Bengals faced a first-and-15. Mixon was on the bench for the final drive, apparently suffering from cramps, and Samje Perrine had replaced him.
Burrow took a peek downfield, looked to his right and saw Perrine in the flat, uncovered. Burrow flipped the ball to Perrine, who went 15 yards to convert the first down.
The Jags then let the Bengals out of first-and-20 hole at their own 47 after guard Quinton Spain was called for holding DaVon Hamilton. Burrow got 7 of those yards back on a pass to Boyd, and then made the key play of the game – audibling to a bubble screen to Uzomah when the Jags blitzed, for 25 yards that got the ball to the Jags 21.
Jaguars inside linebacker Myles Jack recognized the play too late, dropped back but was blocked by tackle Riley Rieff, and Boyd threw a block on Herndon to get Uzomah in the open field.
Burrow was 5 of 5 for 68 yards on the final drive
And some of the defense’s familiar problems surfaced: there was only one sack (the Jaguars only hurried Burrow two other times as he consistently operated from clean pockets); the Jags failed to get a turnover for the third time in four games this season; and rookie cornerback Tyson Campbell appeared to lose track of the ball once again while appearing to be in a position to make a play, resulting in a 44-yard play from Burrow to Chase that helped set up Cincinnati’s first touchdown.