AFC South Reporter
This was supposed to be a joyous occasion for the Jaguars.
For a franchise that had endured so much disappointment, losing and dysfunction pre-Doug Pederson, here was Jacksonville with the chance to take control of the AFC. To secure the conference’s No. 1 seed heading down the home stretch of the regular season. To inch a step closer to a path to the Super Bowl through Duval County — and to do so while hosting their first Monday night game in 12 years.
What Jacksonville received instead was a major hit to its hopes and aspirations.
Not only did the Jaguars blow their chance for the AFC’s top seed — the Jake Browning-led Bengals won 34-31 in overtime with a 48-yard field goal from kicker Evan McPherson — but franchise quarterback Trevor Lawrence could miss time.
The former No. 1 overall pick suffered an ankle injury after getting the back of his right foot stepped on late in the fourth quarter by left tackle Walker Little, who was pushed into Lawrence while blocking Bengals edge rusher Trey Hendrickson. Lawrence’s right leg also got bent back awkwardly as he fell to the ground.
The quarterback was visibly frustrated and in pain after the play, slamming his helmet on the field as trainers attended to him. He was eventually helped to the locker room.
NFL Network reported that the initial diagnosis for Lawrence is an ankle sprain. He has an MRI planned for Tuesday. He was spotted in the Jaguars’ locker room postgame, talking with teammates. He exited the locker room on crutches and in a walking boot.
“I don’t have any information yet on Trevor,” coach Doug Pederson said. “We’re still evaluating him.”
To make matters worse, the Jaguars have another injury to worry about. Leading receiver Christian Kirk tweaked his groin on Jacksonville’s first play from scrimmage — on a leaping 26-yard catch — and did not return.
Little, defensive lineman Foley Fatukasi and cornerback Tre Herndon — all key contributors — were hurt as well.
“We’re too far down the road,” Pederson said when asked about the injuries impacting the team. “Got a little over a month of football left. It’s full steam ahead. We’ve got to get the guys who are hurt treated. We’ve got to get the next guy ready to go.”
But it’s difficult to put into words how much of a nightmare Monday was for the Jaguars, who have Super Bowl aspirations.
Beyond the stakes and the injuries, Jacksonville was exposed all night by a quarterback in Browning making his second career start. He registered a game-winning drive, completed 86.5% of his passes for 354 yards and a touchdown and added two carries for 22 yards and another score on the ground. He went 7-for-7 on pass attempts over 10 air yards, the most downfield completions without an incompletion since Week 16 of 2021, according to Next Gen Stats.
Cincinnati put up 491 yards of offense, the most Jacksonville has allowed by far this season. Defense has been the strength of this Jaguars team — despite all the hype around the offense entering the year — and it failed Monday.
Pederson acknowledged the inability to stop the run, which has generally been a strength for Jacksonville. The team entered the game allowing 87.4 rushing yards per game, ranked third in the NFL. Cincinnati had 156 yards on the ground Monday.
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The Jaguars coach also got a little testy with a reporter when asked about communication issues that team had on defense.
“We have to reiterate communication,” Pederson said. “That’s all it is. It’s just double-checking with everybody. It’s not communication issues. It’s just being able to communicate the calls effectively. So there’s a lot of talk that has to go back and forth because of the crowd. And the crowd was great today. And that’s what you want. It does kind of put your defense in a little bit of a bind because of that. It’s no different than an offense going into an environment that was very loud. You just have to over communicate.”
“[It’s] eye contact,” he added. “You have to get closer. It’s just part of a loud environment. It’s repeating yourself as much as you can out on the field. It’s Foye [Oluokun] to the front. The secondary [speaking] out to the corners and all that. Everybody has to be on the same page.”
The Jaguars had the AFC’s No. 1 seed within their grasp. Now, they’re in the No. 4 spot instead — the Chiefs (8-4) have the tiebreaker from their victory in Jacksonville in Week 2 — and have lost some ground atop the AFC South. Jacksonville now has just a one-game lead over the Colts and Texans, both of whom are 7-5.
A lot of football is left. But by every metric, this was a disheartening loss for the Jaguars.
And if Lawrence is out for an extended period, it will be a lot worse.
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
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