JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Between a costly lapse in judgment from rookie defensive end Travon Walker and some ill-advised throws from franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence, it was an extremely rough day for the Jacksonville Jaguars‘ pair of former top overall draft picks.
Losing to the previously winless Texans for their ninth consecutive loss to their AFC South division opponent represents a bitter pill to swallow for a football team that has experienced some reasons for optimism under new coach Doug Pederson.
Trevor Lawrence Struggles Against the Texans’ Defense
This was clearly a step backward for the Jaguars, and the regression of Lawrence is concerning. One week after losing four fumbles in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the towering former Clemson star was a major reason why the Jaguars absorbed a 13-6 defeat Sunday afternoon at TIAA Bank Field.
Lawrence was intercepted twice, including once in the end zone, as Texans rookie cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. adeptly read his eyes and picked him off to prevent the Jaguars from breaking a 6-6 tie in the third quarter.
“Honestly, I just forced it,” Lawrence said. “The field shrunk down there. We were in the boundary. I thought I might have had a shot at the back baseline, and just Stingley fell off the corner there. It was just a bad decision. That’s one you just throw away, maybe try to run it in, live to play another down. Just bad, Just forced it and tried to do too much there. Just a bad decision.”
Lawrence’s desperation Hail Mary heave was intercepted by nickel back Desmond King to end the game.
With five turnovers against the Eagles and two more this week, Lawrence has to take better care of the football. He has eight touchdown passes and four interceptions, with eight total turnovers. All of the turnovers have come in the 2-3 Jaguars’ three losses.
“Just frustrated, obviously,” Lawrence said. “It’s frustrating to watch the tape. Like I always say, I like to watch the tape before I say too much. But really, I’d say I had a few plays out there that I want back, missed a few, that one play in the red zone. This one stings, and everybody feels it in there, as you should. It’s a division game. It’s a game where we feel confident and thought we had a good plan and just didn’t execute it. We have to be better.”
Lawrence stared directly at his intended target — wide receiver Zay Jones. It was an easy play for Stingley, the third overall pick of the draft, as he notched his first NFL interception.
“I think (Lawrence) would tell you and I’m going to tell you, that you just can’t do that that deep in the red zone like that,” Pederson said. “That was just unfortunate. Turnover right there, just can’t do it when you are about to score.”
Lawrence completed just 11 of 19 passes for 137 yards in the first half as Jacksonville went 1 for 6 on third downs. He finished the game, completing 25 of 47 passes for 286 yards and a substandard 54.0 passer rating.
“I think that we as a staff have to figure out a way to kind of get him settled into the game, No. 1,” Pederson said. “Then, obviously, Trevor has to make sure that he is in a good spot. The thing is, he sees everything. He sees the field well. We just have to continue to keep throwing and keep putting him in situations like that. He is going to get better. He will get better. I’m not worried about that at all.”
The Jaguars managed to lose despite gaining 422 yards of total offense, largely because they went 0 for 3 in the red zone with Lawrence’s turnover and settled for two field goals.
“They came out and played a lot more Cover Two than we expected, you know, smart by them,” Jaguars wide receiver Christian Kirk told Jacksonville reporters. “They game-planned us well, kept everything in front, took away our play-action explosives, and that’s one of the things we wanted to get going this week.”
The Jaguars haven’t defeated the Texans since a 45-7 win in 2017 to click the AFC South division title. The Jaguars have now lost 15 of their last 17 games to the Texans.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to finish games,” Lawrence said. “It hurts. It’s frustrating, but we’re going to get better. We can’t panic. We’re a good football team and we believe that. We just got to play like it. We didn’t play like one today. We played bad.”
Despite the setback, Lawrence emphasized that his belief in himself remains strong.
“I mean, I haven’t lost any confidence,” Lawrence said. “You look at some of the stuff we did. We moved the ball great. Guys made plays downfield. I thought I was confident, ripped a few in there, had some good plays, but it doesn’t matter if you don’t win.”
Elsewhere on the offensive side of the ball, Jaguars running back Travis Etienne got off to a hot start, rushing for 61 yards on six carries by halftime, along with a 20-yard reception.
However, the Jaguars didn’t get him the football in the second half, and he finished with 10 carries for 71 yards and three catches for 43 yards.
“Yeah, that’s on me, play-caller,” Pederson said. “Got to call more plays to him. We’ll figure that out.”
Jaguars Defense Struggles Against Texans’ Offense
Self-inflicted damage wasn’t the only problem the Jaguars had to deal with Sunday.
They might need to practice some tackling drills.
Texans punishing rookie running back Dameon Pierce ran roughshod over the Jaguars’ defense to put the game away in the fourth quarter.
Pierce has a rugged, downhill running style, and he slipped out of safety Rayshawn Jenkins’ futile tackle attempt in the backfield before bulling and spinning away from six to seven more would-be tacklers, including Foye Oluokun, Tyson Campbell, Darius Phillips, Shaquill Griffin, Andre Cisco and Devin Lloyd on a 20-yard run that quickly becoming a staple on highlight films and social media. That run, finally stopped by Dawuane Smoot, set the stage for his game-winning touchdown run with 3:11 to play.
Pierce rushed for 99 yards on 26 carries, averaging 3.8 yards per run. He did so despite facing at least seven defenders in the box on 22 of his 26 runs, which is tied for the most such carries in a game this season.
“Go country boy, go,” Pierce said when asked to recall his thoughts during the epic tackle-breaking run. “I was trying to get to that touchdown. I know I had them big boys coming, eventually. They were going to run behind me at some point. So I was just trying to fight to get in the end zone.”
Travon Walker’s Costly Mistake
On the Texans’ game-winning drive midway through the fourth quarter, Walker committed a false start penalty on 3rd-and-20 at the Houston 47-yard line.
Walker compounded that error by slinging Texans quarterback Davis Mills to the ground for a personal foul, and the costly unnecessary roughness infraction created an automatic first down and set the stage for Pierce’s touchdown eight plays later.
“Again, those are unacceptable plays that come up,” Pederson said. “I keep telling the guys that a game usually comes down to three to five plays. You just never know which ones are going to be those plays.
“Trevor’s interception late, that penalty late in the game like that, I mean, those are hard to overcome. Again, they’re all valuable lessons for us as a staff to teach and correct.”
Afterward, Walker said he didn’t know the play had already been blown dead.
“Just playing ball,” Walker said. “Very disappointed in myself, but, you know, moving on to next week.”
“He’s a smart kid; he knows what he did,” Jaguars linebacker Foye Oluokun said. “I’m not going to beat him down him for it. We all hold each other accountable. I’m not going to be mad at him for playing hard. I don’t want to take that edge off him. Just play smart in that situation.”