A series of special teams blunders proved to be too costly for Jacksonville to overcome tonight, with the Jaguars losing to the Los Angeles Rams 27-17 and ultimately continuing its rollercoaster of an inconsistent season.
The challenges began on the first play of the game when LA’s Pharoh Cooper returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown to give the Rams an early 7-0 lead. Then later in the half, Cory Littleton of the Rams blocked an attempted punt by Brad Nortman, and Malcolm Brown recovered in the end zone for a Los Angeles touchdown, making the score 24-14.
“It’s very difficult when you give up that many points [on special teams],” said Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone after the Oct. 15 loss at EverBank Field. “We were trying to battle our way back in there, but obviously that hurt. We weren’t able to overcome that, which is difficult to do in this league.”
Adding to the special teams struggles, Nortman had a rough night punting the ball, finishing with an average of 39.1 yards per punt, including two punts that only sailed 16 and 28 yards respectively.
“I felt I could have played better, and today I didn’t play up to my standards,” said Nortman. “Our standards on special teams are higher than what we’ve put on the field.”
Jaguars kicker Jason Myers also struggled. He missed a 54-yard field goal at the end of the first half that would have put Jacksonville within seven points of the Rams, as well as another 54-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter that Marrone said was critical to the team’s potential comeback.
“My whole thing was make the field goal, get the onside kick, which he worked on a ton, and have enough time to go out there and score,” said Marrone, whose team trailed 27-17 at the time of Myers’ second miss. “So my confidence in him at that point was fine. Obviously, we’ll need to see where he’s at.”
The Jaguars did find success in the first half of the game thanks to the play of Leonard Fournette. The star rookie running back rushed for 100 yards in the first quarter, due in large part to a 75-yard touchdown run exactly two plays after the Rams’ opening kickoff return by Cooper.
Fournette, who finished the game with 130 yards on 21 carries, didn’t have much running room throughout the rest of the game, however, and would leave the contest in the fourth quarter because of an ankle injury. Following the loss, he said he twisted his ankle, and that "it's nothing serious."
Quarterback Blake Bortles finished the day 23 of 35 for 241 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Following Fournette’s early touchdown and a subsequent Rams field goal by Greg Zuerlein, the Jaguars' quarterback led his offense on an impressive four-play, 75-yard scoring drive that was capped off by a 22-yard touchdown pass to running back Chris Ivory.
Following the score, Jacksonville led 14-10 but would not hold a lead for the rest of the game. In addition to the blocked punt touchdown, the Rams scored on an seven-play, 66-yard drive that ended in a 4-yard shovel pass from quarterback Jared Goff to tight end Gerald Everett. The Rams entered halftime 24-14.
About 10 minutes into the third quarter, Jacksonville added three points after Myers nailed a 41-yard field goal, pulling within a touchdown of the Rams at 24-17. On the following Jaguars drive in the fourth quarter, however, Bortles threw a costly interception on the Rams’ 31-yard line to Nickell Robey-Coleman. A few drives later, Zuerlein added three points for LA on a 29-yard field goal, ultimately putting the game out of reach for Jacksonville with the score at 27-17. That score would stand after Myers’ second missed field goal with 1:12 remaining in the game.
The loss to the Rams follows a surprisingly impressive and lopsided 30-9 win against the Steelers in Pittsburgh last week. Jacksonville, who now stands at 3-3 and faces the Indianapolis Colts next week, has been unable to string together two consecutive wins so far this season.
“Inconsistent is definitely the best word to describe it,” said Bortles. “I think the times we’ve been rolling and playing the way we know how we can play, I think that’s who we are. That’s who we can be every single Sunday. I’m not necessarily sure what exactly it is that gets us not to be able to play like that every Sunday. That’s something we need to find out. And fix. And fix quickly.”