JACKSONVILLE – Three drives, two touchdowns. Then gone.
The Jacksonville Jaguars offense looks like they’re ready to score a bunch of points this season off of what quarterback Blake Bortles and the first-team offense did Saturday night.
Still, fourth-year coach Gus Bradley is being cautious.
“I think it’s a continued work in progress,” Bradley said after his team dropped a 27-21 exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at EverBank Field. “I think the timing things that we worked on in practice, we had some specific goals we wanted to accomplish in those two days and to see different guys and to really try different things. I think a lot of those things we worked on at that time, but now next week we’re going to play. You’re going to see really the first group play quite a bit.”
Bortles and the Jaguars worked well against the Bucs’ defense, scoring on the final two drives. The third-year starter out of Central Florida hit T.J. Yeldon with a flat pass and Yeldon did the rest out-racing defenders to the end zone for a 14-yard score late in the first quarter. Then Bortles hit Allen Hurns with a 24-yard scoring pass early in the second quarter.
Bortles finished his short night 8-of-11 passing for 85 yards and the two scores.
“Last week we were pretty sharp,” Bortles said of his effort against the New York Jets in a preseason road game won by the Jets. “I think we were a little sloppier this week. We had a couple of mental errors, but I think we rebounded quickly. (Bradley) talked about being able to face adversity and I thought we handled it well.”
And one of his favorite targets already sees a big difference in Bortles’ game from last year to this year.
“Our menu (play calling) at the line of scrimmage is much bigger,” said Allen Robinson, who had four catches for 34 yards Saturday night. “Last year was (Bortles’) first with Olie (offensive coordinator Greg Olson) and he was getting used to him. Our expectations are high when you see how we practice and how (Bortles) makes plays during practice. You see a calmness in him.”
“Being able to stay in the same system with Greg for the second year in a row is awesome and he and (quarterbacks coach) Nathanial Hackett have done a really good job of preparing us,” Bortles said.
After three drives, Bortles turned the ball over to backup Chad Henne, who had a nightmarish time. Henne, who had the starting job until Bortles took over four games into the 2014 season, was 4-for-10 for 33 yards and two interceptions, one of which was returned by former University of Florida standout Vernon Hargreaves III 28 yards to the Jaguars’ 19 with 19 seconds left before halftime and the game tied at 14-all. Two plays later, former Florida State kicker Roberto Aguyao nailed a 28-yard field goal to give the Bucs a 17-14 lead at the break.
Backup quarterbacks Brandon Allen and Max Wittek were no better for the Jaguars in the second half, each throwing an interception.
And the Jaguars’ knack for committing penalties reared its ugly head as well, committing 13 fouls for 121 yards, including a couple of costly third-down infractions – one on Telvin Smith for unnecessary roughness against his former Florida State teammate and Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, and another being a 15-yard pass interference call against fourth-year player Jonathan Cyprien.
Thankfully for the Jaguars, Aguayo shanked his 32-yard field goal wide right. But on the next drive – one that ended in a Winston touchdown pass of four yards to receiver Mike Evans on a jump ball in the back of the end zone – Sen’Derrick Marks, Ryan Davis and Peyton Thompson were all cited for penalties.
“It’s tough when you go through a game like that and you see a lot of unfortunate things happen with penalties, and we’ll get to that,” Bradley said.
But the Jaguars’ defense had its moments: Tyrone Holmes had a sack and Dwayne Gratz and Josh Johnson recorded interceptions, Johnson taking his pick of backup Ryan Griffin 79 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown that cut the Bucs lead at the time to 24-21.
And first-round draft choice Jalen Ramsey from Florida State, who was out of last week’s game as he continued to recover from a small meniscus tear suffered in May at rookie training camp, came up with three tackles in his debut.
“It felt good to be out there for the first time since Dec. 31,” said Ramsey, who last played on New Year’s Eve in the Peach Bowl in a 38-24 loss to Houston. “It’s been my dream to play in the NFL and I had a lot of emotions. I missed (last) week and I’m not mad about that. (Sitting out) last week was the best decision.”
The Jaguars host the Cincinnati Bengals in an 8 p.m. exhibition matchup nationally on NBC this Sunday.