KANSAS CITY — Coming to an Arrowhead Stadium venue that might be the toughest environment in the NFL for opponents changed nothing about the prevailing theme of the 2022 Jaguars.
Doug Pederson and his coaching staff have put together an improved product that is good enough to compete almost every game, but the players have yet to seize those big moments that translate into winning.
As together and united as the Jaguars profess to be in their pursuit of a common goal, there is almost no yin-yang to them on game day.
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This much is clear about the season’s 10-game sample size so far: the Jaguars talk incessantly about the importance of playing complementary football, yet almost never do it.
What the Kansas City Chiefs did in a disjointed 27-17 victory over the Jaguars was expose them as the undeniable pretenders they are at the moment.
It’s a respectable team, an organization run far more competently than last year, but one that can’t stop finding ways to fall short.
“That’s how you win games is when you play complementary football,” said receiver Christian Kirk. “You can’t expect one phase to carry the other phase, especially when you’re trying to be contenders and play championship-level football.”
Everything about how the Jaguars’ lost to Kansas City for the sixth consecutive time revealed the flaws that Kirk alluded to. The Jaguars rarely get every phase of their team flowing in a positive direction, but seem to have this weird dynamic going of the offense, defense and special teams taking turns between well-designed execution and incompetence.
This raging inconsistency comes to the forefront when playing an opponent like the Chiefs, who are 65-18 (playoffs included) during their five-year run with Patrick Mahomes as their starting quarterback.
What we saw Sunday before a boisterous crowd of 73,493 was a classic difference between a team that knows how to win and another struggling to find the formula.
Always missing something
It wouldn’t seem to make sense that the Jaguars could have a plus-3 turnover ratio, yet find themselves trailing 27-10 midway through the fourth quarter.
You should probably be up 17 in that situation, right? Not this team. Not with the way it takes non-complementary football to absurd levels.
The first 30 minutes against KC was a textbook example of why the Jaguars are 3-7. And also getting dangerously close to official mathematical playoff elimination by the time Thanksgiving leftovers are consumed, just like so many years in the past decade.
Thanks to a successful opening-game onside kick, a Rayshawn Jenkins forced fumble and a 19-yard Jamal Agnew punt return, the Jaguars made three entries into KC territory on their first four possessions and had zero points to show for it.
“You hope that by stealing that possession right there, you go down and get three or seven and you take a little sting out of the game a little bit and out of the crowd,” said Pederson. “It is unfortunate we got stopped in that first possession. We had opportunities. They were there, we just didn’t capitalize on it.”
That’s really the story of the whole Jaguars season. Always missing that one thing needed on offense, defense or special teams at a critical time.
So a Trevor Lawrence-led offense had first downs at the KC 40, the Jaguars’ 48 and KC 31 against a pedestrian Chiefs defense (ranked 20th in total yards), yet the Jaguars were trailing 14-0 just 20 minutes into the contest.
“Too many missed opportunities too early,” said Lawrence. “We get those turnovers and don’t capitalize on them. The defense gets a big stop, we got to score. That’s what great teams do.”
Sadly, besides the Jaguars not being a great team, they have yet to pass the smell test of being an average one. The common rebuttal from team apologists of refuting that is by pointing to their six one-score losses, which carries only marginal weight because too many NFL defeats are by razor-thin margins anyway.
It’s non-complementary football
The sobering truth is KC played something far less than its best game, yet was never once in danger of losing. Maybe if offensive tackle Cam Robinson hadn’t been flagged for being downfield illegally, nullifying a TD pass to Evan Engram and cutting the lead to 20-14, things could have gotten interesting.
But isn’t that just like the Jaguars to hold the ball for 9:14, drive methodically down the field, lose a touchdown, then have Lawrence get sacked to force a Riley Patterson field goal for three points instead of seven?
Incidentally, that successful Patterson kick from 35 yards was his only one in three attempts. He went wide left on kicks from 51 and 41 yards, the last one at the halftime gun just as the Jaguars had built a sliver of momentum from one of two TD catches by Christian Kirk.
This is what the Jaguars do. They taketh on a Caleb Johnson forced fumble off a kickoff return, then giveth away by missing a very makable field goal.
All day long, they lost momentum just as quickly as they gained it. In other words, the epitome of non-complementary football.
The defense finally generated multiple turnovers for the first time since Week 3 against the Los Angeles Chargers, and special teams adds another for good measure. But the Jaguars turned all that good fortune into just seven points, and that Kirk TD for the final margin came with just 5:26 remaining.
So how does the defense respond? Naturally, it never gets off the field. Three first downs later, Mahomes was in victory formation.
Pederson lamented wasting all that good field position early on, saying: “We have to score more. We have to score more points off of those takeaways.”
Same old story
The Jaguars’ big issue heading into a bye week is lack of consistency and having too many things that need fixing, primarily making plays in the game’s critical moments.
“It’s still frustrating when you feel like you’re in these games and you don’t make all of these plays that you have to make to win,” Lawrence said. “It’s the same story we’ve talked about.
“We’re right there with winning these games. We’ve said that. the whole season.”
And they’re going to keep on saying it after the remaining seven games until this team acquires a semblance of symmetry.
It just feels like the Jaguars are a year away from being relevant because they either can’t get on the same page, or more likely, need a couple more difference-making players
Right now, there are too many holes in the dike that need plugging.
Just when the offensive line elevated into becoming the team’s most dependable unit, it gives up five sacks and failed to provide much push for emerging star Travis Etienne (11 carries, 45 yards) to do any damage running the ball.
Too many blown coverages
Yes, the defense had some nice highlights, particularly safety Andre Cisco getting his team-leading third interception and delivering two monster hits by properly leading with his shoulder for the team’s only pass breakups.
But how about the rest of the unit when in terms of pressuring Mahomes, who was never sacked? He also threw four touchdown passes to four different targets that had one thing in common: tight ends Travis Kelce and Noah Gray, along with receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Kadarius Toney, were ridiculously wide open when they caught them.
“Three of the touchdowns were blown coverages,” said Jenkins. “You can’t do that. You got to be spot on with everything you do.”
If that’s not problematic, the Jaguars allowed a rookie seventh-round draft pick, Isaiah Pacheco (at least when he wasn’t fumbling) to ramble for 82 yards on 16 carries.
So you see, nobody specifically is to blame for the Jaguars’ sixth loss in their last seven games. It’s a little bit on everybody across the board.
The pass-rushers, the blockers, the kicker and the candlestick maker. All of them either messed up or didn’t do enough.
You can’t beat the Chiefs, who had zero penalties, or anybody for that matter going 4 of 14 on third down and a defense allowing 7.8 yards per play.
“That’s how you win games is when you play complementary football,” said Kirk. “You can’t expect one phase to carry the other phase, especially when you’re trying to be contenders and play championship-level football.”
When Josh Allen was asked about the difficulty of trying to keep Mahomes from dissecting the defense, he replied: “He’s a generational QB. He made plays when he had to make plays and got the ball to the playmakers. Ba-da-bing. Ba-da-boom.”
One day, the Jaguars can only hope opposing pass-rushers are saying that about Trevor Lawrence.
It’s anybody’s guess how far off that time is. First, the Jaguars got to do something about finding some kind of yin-yang.
Gfrenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540
Gene Frenette Sports columnist at Florida Times-Union, follow him on Twitter @genefrenette