4. Grasping the moment.
We begin this pre-Jets Fabulous Four with an issue that in a sense has helped define the Jaguars’ season. Not quarterback, or pass rush or any position group, but an inability to overcome negative plays. The trend rose up again this past week. The Jaguars led the Bills, 10-7, late in the first half in a game that at the time the Jaguars had every chance of winning. The offense had shown signs of life and the defense had limited the Bills’ running backs enough to stay in the game; in other words, the Jaguars had played like a .500 team, which many believed it could be entering the season. One play after quarterback Chad Henne
gave the Jaguars the three-point lead with a 1-yard run, the Jaguars allowed a 55-yard kickoff return that was exacerbated by a 15-yard penalty on Richard Murphy
. Three plays later, the Bills went ahead and added 20 more consecutive points, scoring on five consecutive possessions. Similar runs this season have occurred in losses to Chicago, Cincinnati and Houston. Head Coach Mike Mularkey talked this week about needing to have all three phases work together at such critical moments – i.e., have the special teams follow a score with good coverage, and have the defense make a play to secure the lead – and players this week agreed it’s a major factor keeping the Jaguars from the season they wanted. “We’ve got to understand how much momentum can change a game,” safety Dwight Lowery
said. “We have to know when we have momentum and when we have to stop it, and when we have to play complementary football. Whatever it is, we have to understand the situation. When it happens as much as it happens this year, it’s an issue. We have to know when we have momentum and how to capitalize.”
3. Run aground.
Few around the Jaguars expected this, particularly not members of the offensive line. But through 12 games, an offense that for nearly a decade had been able to rely on its ability to run has very much struggled to do so. The Jaguars in Week 3 beat the now 8-4 Indianapolis Colts largely because they did what this offense long has been able to do – run with Maurice Jones-Drew
and control the game. He ran for a season-high 177 yards, and while the Jaguars won on a late 80-yard pass from Blaine Gabbert
to Cecil Shorts, they controlled the second half by running. Since that game, the run has gone silent, and even before Jones-Drew sustained a foot sprain against Oakland in Week 7, the running game was struggling to produce more than 70 yards rushing in a game. Since that Colts game, the Jaguars have rushed for 100 or more yards once – in a 24-19 victory over the Titans when they rushed for exactly 100 yards. The development was unexpected, because while Mularkey was brought in in part to improve the passing game, his offenses historically have been strong running units. It’s a trend that bothers an offensive line that took pride in making Jones-Drew the NFL’s leading rusher last season. “As an offensive line, we always want to be able to run the ball,” center Brad Meester
said. “We take it upon ourselves. Obviously, whatever is called is called, but we like that run mentality, because it makes the passing game a little easier. We know we’re better than that. We know we can do a better job than that and we know we’ve got to do a better job than that. We’re going to figure out what we need to do to correct.”
2. Deserved respect.
One of the biggest ripples around the Jaguars-Jets – aside from a week-long Tim Tebow ripple or, more accurately, non-ripple – came Monday, when Mularkey told media he had erred in how he used cornerback Rashean Mathis
the day before. Mathis, a 10-year cornerback, late Monday morning spoke to reporters and expressed disappointment at playing just eight plays against Buffalo, saying he had a “right to act up” over not playing when he was healthy enough to play. Mularkey shortly thereafter spoke to Mathis, and told reporters later that day he had made a mistake not playing Mathis more against the Bills. Mathis was right. As a 10-year veteran – and as a player who historically handled difficult situations with class – he had every right to speak up, and as might be expected, he handled this situation well. His comments to reporters weren’t profanity-laced, and they didn’t smack of lashing out or being irrational. He merely said he had considered the possibility that the final four games of the season could well be his last four with his hometown team. At the time, that was how he interpreted the situation, and he said while that’s not what he wanted, he understood that the NFL worked that way at times – a lot of the times for older veterans, actually. Mularkey acted quickly to ensure Mathis understood the situation, the proper thing for the head coach to do considering Mathis’ stature and tenure with the organization. Mathis, who missed four games with a groin injury, returned and played about 50 plays against Tennessee the week before Buffalo and said he was ready to help a struggling Jaguars defense. Mularkey said Mathis is not being phased out of the defense or the team and he expects Mathis to play more moving forward.
1. And finally, a word on the quarterback.
We close again discussing Henne, who knows well the fickle nature of the quarterback position. In the last three weeks – and through the course of this season, actually – he has dealt with it yet again. Henne was roundly criticized by fans and observers in training camp and preseason, then again following the Jaguars’ loss to Oakland. There were those who called each time for Henne to be released. He entered the game against Houston two and a half weeks ago, threw four touchdowns and drew praise after that game and again the following week. Now, following a 19-for-42 performance against Buffalo, he is being criticized again. That’s the nature of the quarterback position in the NFL, and the truth is that Henne likely is somewhere between the two extremes. He is no more the franchise savior than a player who should have been released in favor of Jordan Palmer
in August. Instead, he is a player who has a chance to prove himself a capable quarterback in the final four games of the regular season. He showed for two games he can play winning football, and for those two games he gave the offense a lift. If he can do it for two or three of the final four games of the season, he’ll probably get a chance to go into next season as the starting quarterback, and because acquiring a franchise quarterback doesn’t seem likely, that wouldn’t be a bad option for the Jaguars in the short-term.