• Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne fires between Bengals defenders Margus Hunt (99) and DeShawn Williams during Sunday night's exhibition game. (GREG OYSTER / Special To The Palatka Daily News)

First-Team Follies

Backups carry Jaguars to preseason win over Bengals

JACKSONVILLE – Only in the preseason can a team score a victory and the main effort looks awful.

That’s because in front of a national television audience, the Jacksonville Jaguars managed 90 yards of offense with their first team against the Cincinnati Bengals’ first-team defense.

“It’s one of the worst halves we’ve ever had,” wide receiver Allen Hurns said after the Jaguars rebounded with their second team to defeat the Bengals, 26-21 for their first preseason win. “It’s good that it happened in the preseason. This way we’ll be able to be more focused and fully be ready for the season. Everything’s still good. Cincinnati did a good job on us, but we have to execute no matter what.”

Blake Bortles, who will go into the season as the starting quarterback for the second straight year, had a good game when it came to completion percentage, completing 10 out of 16 passes. But he netted just 52 yards and had five drives in the first half, only to get into Bengals territory once for a Sam Ficken 29-yard field goal.

“It’s a wakeup call,” Bortles said. “It wasn’t the way we wanted to start. We really didn’t play good at any position. We really struggled, but that’s really the first adversity we have gone through this preseason. I think it’s good. Guys get a chance to watch that and learn from it. So now, we really have two weeks to get ready to play Green Bay (in the regular-season opener).”

Yes, the Jaguars will open at home on Sept. 11 against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. They will have one more preseason game in which players still on the fringe of making the opening day roster have a chance to prove themselves to coach Gus Bradley and his staff.

“It’s great to come in after the game with a win,” Bradley said. “Offensively, we’ve had some good drives now in the preseason so I think we’ll take a lot from this. We got punched in the mouth and we came out like we’ll score, we’ll drive. We had in the first two preseason games and it didn’t go quite as planned (Sunday night). And we talked about, ‘Hey this could be adversity now.’”

Bengals All-Pro quarterback Andy Dalton left before the end of the first half and showed he was ready, going 6-of-10 passing for 77 yards and a touchdown off a short pass in the middle to Giovani Bernard, who went most of the way untouched for 19 yards to give the Bengals a 7-0 lead. 

The Bengals recovered a fumble by T.J. Yeldon off a short Bortles pass as Vincent Rey picked up the loose ball and took it back to the Jaguars’ 22.

The Bengals finished another drive early in the second quarter, this one a 16-play, 69-yard drive that ate up 8 minutes and 57 seconds and finished with a 1-yard scoring run by Jeremy Hill.

“The Bengals are a good team and they’ll be better because they’ve been together a long time,” said Jaguars linebacker Dan Skuta, who finished with a couple of tackles. “Us having a young team, we’re still learning each other, but in some time, our defense can be a lot like (the Bengals’) defense.”

The Jaguars’ first team didn’t score a lot of points and left NBC viewers with doubts about the Jags in general.

“There will be speed bumps, there is no doubt,” Bradley said. “To me it is a challenge to this team and now let’s see how we respond. If it is anything like we responded in the second half, where we came out down 21-3 and came back and ended up winning the game, well, this team has that make up. They are a very resilient team so now we have to call on those character traits to come through for us in the next 10 days or so.” 

Speaking of the second unit, it came to the rescue against the Bengals’ backups. Coming off an awful performance the week before in backing up Bortles in Tampa Bay’s 27-21 win over the Jaguars, Chad Henne was 7-of-18 passing for 75 yards and a touchdown.

Bengals backup A.J. McCarron threw a short pass to Alex Erickson, who did the rest to complete a 21-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-3 early in the third quarter. Then Henne brought the Jaguars back on an eight-play, 40-yard drive, capping it with Texas A&M fourth-year back Joe Banyard’s 7-yard scoring run with 3:31 left in the third quarter to make it 21-11 as Denard Robinson added the two-point conversion run. 

Henne then took the Jaguars 61 yards on 12 plays with the next drive and finished it with a 3-yard scoring strike to Neal Sterling, a wide receiver-turned tight end from Monmouth University in New Jersey. Henne then hit second-year pro Tony Washington with the 2-point conversion pass to cut the Cincinnati lead to 21-19.

Shortly after that, third-string Bengals quarterback Tony Licata had his pass picked by Hayes Pullard II, a second-year linebacker who and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown with 7:48 left in the game to give the Jaguars the lead for good.

“When your number is called, you need to step up,” said defensive lineman Chris Smith, who recorded two tackles and one of five sacks Jacksonville had in the game. Smith is a third-year pro out of Arkansas. “You start fast and finish faster and that’s the main thing if you’re a part of the No. 2s (unit). You do as you are asked by the coaches for the team and answer the bell. Our offense and defense in the second half fed off each other. Our units and special teams just played for each other.”

The Jaguars will have their last preseason game on Thursday night at the Georgia Dome against the Atlanta Falcons at 7 p.m.

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