PerspectivesCole Pepper Jacksonville Today Contributor
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SPORTS | Jaguars’ freefall ends outside of playoffs

Published on January 7, 2024 at 8:01 pm

The biggest collapse in Jaguars history is complete. A brutal final six weeks of the season saw the Jaguars lose five games, including a 28-20 loss in Nashville to their rival Tennessee Titans on Sunday.

What a fall.

From the inside track on the top seed in the AFC playoffs to no post-season at all. As if Jaguars fans haven’t suffered enough.

The first half of Sunday’s game played out like so many Jaguars-Titans games through the years. Tennessee bullied the Jaguars in the running game and the Jaguars turned the ball over, putting themselves in an eight-point hole at halftime.

It could have been worse, but the Titans couldn’t get a punt off late in the second quarter. Brenton Strange tackled the punter and the Jaguars took advantage with a field goal just before halftime.

Trevor Lawrence started the game on target, but two first-half interceptions cost the Jaguars.

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In the second half, things started much the same. Titans QB Derrick Henry ran for 69 yards to set up a touchdown. Henry, the Yulee High School alum, ran for more than 100 yards against the Jaguars for the seventh time in his career. Henry finished with 153 rushing yards in Sunday’s game.

Derrick Henry, pictured in November, is a Nassau County native who ran for 153 yards and a touchdown on Sunday to knock the Jaguars out of postseason contention. The Jaguars end their season 9-8. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

The fourth quarter began with a Trevor Lawrence-to-Evan Engram touchdown that cut the Tennessee lead to 28-20. On the following possession, Andre Cisco intercepted a Tannehill pass and returned it to the Titans’ 28-yard line.

Jacksonville trailed by eight. A touchdown and a two-point conversion could tie the game.

But the Jaguars did not convert. Lawrence came up short on a fourth-and-goal sneak attempt. They never had another good chance.

Now the blame game begins. There is plenty to go around.

Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson during the team’s game against the Carolina Panthers on Dec. 31, 2023. | Will Brown, Jacksonville Today

When a season ends in disappointment, the last images often weigh heavier in offseason plans than they might otherwise. In the immediate aftermath of the loss, fans on social media called for head coach Doug Pederson to be fired. That’s a preposterous idea. Pederson is a Super Bowl-winning coach who guided the Jaguars to consecutive winning seasons for the first time in nearly two decades.

The offense struggled when Lawrence was playing through injuries. First, it was a knee, then an ankle, then a concussion followed by the shoulder injury that kept him out of last week’s game.

The offensive line struggled in pass blocking early but improved as the season went on. They never blocked consistently in the running game. The defense was stout against the run in the first half of the season but got pushed around more often than not in the second half, including Sunday’s game, when they gave up 175 yards to the Titans.

Expect some mid-level changes to be implemented in the off season. Just don’t expect the kind of overhaul we have seen too often in Jacksonville in past years.

Lead image: Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Evan Engram (17) is tackled by Tennessee Titans safety Terrell Edmunds (38) during the game on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024, in Nashville. | AP Photo, Wade Payne


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.

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.