JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)Coming off three consecutive losses and some of their worst defensive performances in years, the Jacksonville Jaguars might have believed they could get things turned around at home against Tampa Bay.
Then they looked at the injury report.
The Jaguars (4-7) will be without safety Ronnie Harrison (concussion) and could be without linebacker Myles Jack (knee) against the Buccaneers (4-7) on Sunday. Those are troubling injuries that might land an undrafted rookie and a street free agent their first career starts against one of the NFL’s highest-scoring offenses.
”To me, it’s not an excuse,” Jacksonville defensive coordinator Todd Wash said. ”We have to play better and we have to coach better regardless of the 11 that are on the grass. We have confidence with the ones that we put out there and we just have to do a better job of executing.”
Jacksonville has given up more than 423 yards a game over the last three, all losses to AFC South foes, and that was with Harrison and Jack in the lineup. Now, the team expects rookie safety Andrew Wingard and third-year linebacker Donald Payne to be thrust onto the field for their first career starts. Adding to the defensive woes, cornerback Tre Herndon (shoulder) showed up on the injury report Friday and listed as questionable along with Jack.
The Jaguars also will be without linebacker Najee Goode (knee), who was placed on injured reserve early in the week.
The mounting injuries could be problematic against Tampa Bay, which is averaging 28.4 points a game and coming off a 35-22 victory at Atlanta.
”This year has been not really other teams stopping us,” Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston said. ”It’s really been us stopping us. We have the utmost confidence in our offense every single week, but we just have to do our job to give us a chance to win and not beat ourselves.”
Winston has thrown for 300 or more yards in six consecutive games. He had 11 touchdowns in those outings, but also turned over the ball 19 times: 15 interceptions and four lost fumbles. Winston leads the league with 20 interceptions and 24 giveaways.
Still, Winston has the league’s most potent receiving duo. Mike Evans has 1,043 yards and seven touchdowns, and Chris Godwin has 1,071 yards and nine scores.
”I look at them very different,” Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye said. ”Mike is more like a basketball guy. Godwin reminds me of a running back once he gets the ball in his hands because he’s breaking tackles and you see him going up the seam making big plays. Those are the guys making big plays for them.”
Here are some other things to know about Tampa Bay and Jacksonville, which are playing for the seventh time:
Byron Leftwich returns to Jacksonville in a much different role. The former Jaguars quarterback is in his first season as Tampa Bay’s offensive coordinator. The Bucs rank fourth in the league in total offense, fourth in passing offense and third in points.
Leftwich is 1-0 against his former team, winning as Pittsburgh’s backup quarterback in 2008. The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl that season.
”It’s difficult to win in this league,” Leftwich said. ”You’ve got to play well across the board, especially from a situational football standpoint, to consistently win. We understand that, but it’s still about getting it done when we have to get it done within the game. That’s where you win the game. … I think we’ve got the right recipe, with the way these guys attack the game of football, to win.”
The Jaguars have been gouged on the ground the last three games, allowing more than 200 yards rushing against Houston, Indianapolis and Tennessee. It was the fourth time in the last seven games an opponent topped 200 yards rushing against Jacksonville, a franchise record.
Bucs outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett has a career-best 12+ sacks, tied for the most in the league. He was a virtual one-man pass rush the first two months of the season. However, others are beginning to show up. Jason Pierre-Paul has 2+ sacks since returning to the lineup from injury five games ago, and linebacker Devin White, Tampa Bay’s first-round draft pick, had his first multi-sack game with two against Atlanta last week.
The Jaguars believe their best chance to beat Tampa Bay is to get an early lead and rely on their defensive front. Rookie Josh Allen, veteran Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue form the only trio of AFC teammates with at least five sacks and two forced fumbles each.
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