When you lose a close dramatic game like the Jaguars did Sunday night to New England 24-20, everything is going to be scrutinized. Doug Marrone knows this, already.
However, a fair amount of scrutiny and debate is correctly being given to the end of the first half Sunday night in Foxboro.
To set the scene, after trailing 14-3, Tom Brady and the Pats finally did damage to the Jaguars defense and with the aid of two correct penalty calls on the Jacksonville defense, got their first TD on a James White run to make it 14-10.
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski kicked off out of the end zone and it was the Jags ball at their own 25 yard line.
With 55 seconds remaining in the first half and two timeouts to utilize, the Jacksonville Jaguars now, had a choice to make.
Their head coach, who had gone with a “full throttle”offensive mindset for the win the previous week in Pittsburgh, decided to have QB Blake Bortles, who had the Patriots on their heels in the second quarter, kneel on the ball and head to the locker room (photo above) with that 14 to 10 lead.
Now, with the understanding that each team was going to have the ball five or six or more times, at least, in the second half and that would decide the game, that decision at the end of the first half is worth debating.
Despite having completely outplayed the Patriots offensively in the first half, did Marrone send a signal to his team?
The signal? Unlike last week, when we kept stomping on the gas on the road even after having scored a bunch of points, we are not going to take risks to beat ourselves, today.
Instead, the Jaguars coached and played a lot of the second half, like a team relying on their tremendous defense alone to try and win the game for them.
Yes, ultimately Tom Brady did solve the Jaguars D by getting New England in the end zone not once, but twice, after trailing by 10 in the 4th quarter. As we wrote last night, Brady’s heroics were not unexpected.
Again, when you come up short you, as the Jags did, you can scrutinize any significant part of your loss.
Immediately after the game, Marrone was asked about having regrets about the decision to “play it safe” up 14-10 or was he looking to the second half and getting the ball first?
“I think it was more the second half kickoff. They had come down (Patriots scoring quickly). We had to make some adjustments at halftime… we just wanted to go in there knowing we’d get the ball back.”
In fairness, they did take the second half kickoff, picked up two first downs, and Josh Lambo kicked a 54 yard field goal, anyway for a 17-10 lead before Brady and Co. ever saw the field.
Still, the argument is: you needed aggressiveness and touchdowns, especially against a great team like New England at their house.
Clearly, Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and really everyone in the Jaguars building, will shake their head for a while that beginning with the kneel downs at the end of the first half, the Jaguars were not as aggressive, as they could have been from then on.
Yes, there was an attempt at a flea flicker pass later in the third quarter that the Pats were ready for and it only ended up being a short Bortles completion.
However, overall the risks/play calling toned down late in the first half and continued throughout the second half, including the Jaguars last four possessions of three punts and losing the ball on downs at the end.
In the end, after a tremendous turnaround in the regular season and two playoff wins, you cannot be too cruel about losing to arguably the greatest QB and head coach ever in Brady and Bill Belichick.
But ask yourselves this: same scenario reversed, Pats up 14-10, giving up a late score at the end of the half, knowing they get the ball to start the second half, does Belichick have Brady kneel?
We don’t think so, either.
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