PerspectivesCole Pepper Jacksonville Today Contributor
Cleveland Browns cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. (23) breaks up a pass intended for Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Zay Jones (7) during an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Kirk Irwin)

SPORTS | Bad start, bad finish as Jaguars lose in Cleveland

Published on December 10, 2023 at 8:39 pm
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It was a grey day in Cleveland and a muted performance by the Jaguars in a 31-27 loss to the Browns.

Who’s to blame?

How much time do you have?

Let’s start with the offense. Trevor Lawrence played on a bad ankle, although it didn’t appear to impact his movement. With Cam Robinson and Walker Little out with injuries, the Jaguars started the game with Ezra Cleveland playing left tackle and finished it with a fourth option, Blake Hance at the position. The offensive line was no match for the NFL’s No. 1 defense. Lawrence was sacked four times in the game.

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The Jaguars turned the ball over four times. There were inaccurate passes. Calvin Ridley didn’t turn around for one pass that became a turnover.

The defense made Joe Flacco look like an MVP candidate, despite the fact the 38-year-old began the year watching NFL games with his family at his parents’ house. Flacco finished the game with 311 passing yards and three touchdowns.

The Jaguars played without cornerback Tyson Campbell, and the pass defense struggled. So did the pass rush, which totaled only one sack of Flacco, a notoriously immobile quarterback.

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And yet, somehow, with just under nine minutes to play, the Jaguars were down by just seven points after rookie Parker Washington’s second touchdown catch in as many games.

But the Jaguars couldn’t stay out of their own way.

With Cleveland lining up for a punt, Adam Gotsis jumped offsides. The penalty made it fourth-and-one. The Browns sent the offense back on the field, picked up the first down, and eventually kicked a field goal to make it a 10-point game.

Plenty of blame to go around on offense, defense and special teams.

The shame of the loss was more than just the disappointing performance. As the Jaguars were losing in Cleveland, the two pursuing teams in the AFC South were struggling. The Houston Texans sloshed their way to a 30-6 loss to the Jets in New York. The Indianapolis Colts lost in Cincinnati 34-14. Had the Jaguars won, they would have distanced themselves in the divisional race.

The Jaguars could have closed ground in the race for the AFC’s top seed as well. As it is, the Jaguars maintain a one-game lead over both, while holding the tiebreaker over the Colts after sweeping the season series with Indianapolis.

The loss also makes next Sunday’s home game against the Baltimore Ravens less of an opportunity than it might have been if the Jaguars had won.

Another team chasing the AFC’s top seed, the Miami Dolphins, play Tennessee on Monday Night Football.

The Jaguars can be pardoned for losing a game when they were so limited by injuries, but the timing of the loss, coming off Monday’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, all but ends the Jaguars’ chances for the top seed. All focus must now be turned to getting healthy for the final four games of the season and winning the division. 

Lead image: Cleveland Browns cornerback Martin Emerson Jr. (23) breaks up a pass intended for Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Zay Jones (7) on Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, in Cleveland. | AP Photo, Kirk Irwin

author image Jacksonville Today Contributor

Cole Pepper has covered sports in Jacksonville since 1996, most recently for News4Jax. He is currently broadcast director for Sporting Club Jacksonville and has called play-by-play for a number of teams, including the Suns, Tomcats, Jacksonville University, Sharks and The Bolles School football. He also served as the studio host for the Jaguars Radio Network.

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