JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP)The Jacksonville Jaguars are building double-digit leads and closing out games regularly this season, a combination that’s led to a four-game winning streak and their best start since 2007.
Impressive, no doubt. But what’s happening in between has coach Doug Pederson a little concerned.
Pederson would like to see his Jaguars (5-2) avoid second-half hiccups that have allowed the last three opponents – Buffalo, Indianapolis and New Orleans – to make games interesting, maybe even uncomfortable, down the stretch. The Saints rallied from a 24-9 deficit Thursday night to tie the game in the final minutes.
“I don’t know if it’s frustration, but it’s something that we’ve got to continue to work through,” Pederson said. “It goes back to learning how to win. You just can’t have those letdowns and those lulls in football games. … We’ve got to continue to work on that. We’ve got to continue as coaches to look at those lulls and see if there’s something we can do different schematically.”
Trevor Lawrence responded with a 44-yard touchdown pass to Christian Kirk, but the Jags still needed a goal-line stand – and a dropped TD pass – to escape the Big Easy with a 31-24 victory. It was Jacksonville’s fourth win in 19 days and further stamped the team as a contender in the stacked AFC.
The Jaguars have won 11 of their last 14 games dating to last season, with two of the losses coming to Kansas City. Pederson credits his players for learning how to win. Last year, they needed second-half comebacks to beat Las Vegas, Baltimore, Dallas, Tennessee and the Los Angeles Chargers.
This year, they’ve had to avoid late-game meltdowns.
“Definitely a product of learning how to win,” Pederson said. “Last year, we probably would have made an effort but maybe come up short in a game like (Thursday night). Now, what we’ve been able to accomplish at the end of last season and the first part of this season, these guys are locked in for 60 minutes.
“I think our guys are figuring that out and it’s good to see.”
Jacksonville’s third-down defense was the best it’s been all season. The Saints finished 3 for 18 (16.7%) on the all-important down. It helped the Jaguars’ cause that New Orleans dropped a sure touchdown pass on third down on its final drive and had more offensive communication breakdowns than the visiting team. But the Jags also pressured Derek Carr and blanketed receivers down the field, forcing countless checkdowns.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Short-yardage situations continue to haunt the Jaguars. With a chance to seemingly put the game away in the fourth quarter, Travis Etienne was stopped for no gain on third- and fourth-and-1 runs. Jacksonville has endured similar issues all season, constantly failing to get enough push from its interior offensive line.
Despite the short-yardage woes, Jacksonville’s O-line had its most impressive showing of the season. It was a much-needed effort given Lawrence’s sprained left knee.
The Saints didn’t record a sack or even a quarterback hit. Lawrence also ran for a career-high 59 yards. The Jaguars improved to 4-0 when Lawrence runs for 40 or more yards.
Pass rusher Travon Walker, the overall No. 1 pick in the 2022 draft, was nearly invisible against the Saints. Walker finished with half a tackle in 66 snaps, one of his least-productive games in two seasons.
The Jaguars insist he will be better than Detroit’s Aidan Hutchinson, the No. 2 selection, but his inconsistency has created plenty of doubts outside the building.
With 10 days to rest, the Jaguars expect to have CB Tyson Campbell (hamstring), WR Zay Jones (knee) and LG Walker Little (knee) close to full speed when they play at Pittsburgh on Oct. 29. DT DaVon Hamilton, who continues to work his way back from a back infection, is more likely going to make his season debut after Jacksonville’s Week 9 bye.
8 – number of wins for Pederson in Thursday night games. He is undefeated with Philadelphia (6-0) and Jacksonville (2-0).
After crossing several times zones (Jacksonville to London to Jacksonville to New Orleans) to win four in a row, the Jaguars now play just once in a 23-day span.
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