Urban Meyer has been asking for a spark. Something, anything, to give the Jacksonville Jaguars a jolt to flame the embers he's been stoking since arriving in January. The Jags had the beginning's of one, going up 19-10 on the undefeated Arizona Cardinals at the end of the first half on Sunday.
In the end though, there wasn't enough fuel or actual fire or whatever other metaphor you want to use to describe the Jaguars inevitable hot streak and ultimate fall.
Trailing 7-0 towards the end of the first quarter, Logan Cooke sent a booming punt to the pocket just outside the endzone, where Rudy Ford downed the ball. The special teams play mean the Cardinals had to start at their own 1-yard line. It was easy grass for the defense to work, and after a huge stop from Damien Wilson on 3rd and 1, the Cards were forced to punt.
It was the second third-and-out the Jags defense forced on the day, in route to holding Arizona to 1-9 on the money down, and it was the beginnings of a spark.
The one third down Arizona did convert was with nine minutes remaining in the ball game. Facing a 3rd and nine from their own 49-yard line, quarterback Kyler Murray dropped back and found AJ Green deep downfield. The veteran receiver beat the rookie corner Tyson Campbell for the 36 yard gain. Six plays later, James Conner went up the middle for the 1-yard touchdown, and Arizona put it away at 31-19. Spark extinguished.
"I feel like as a defense we—we're really hard on ourselves, so our job is for us to improve week in and week out to get better, to play together more, to celebrate when one of your teammates makes a play, to do that more, and that's what we're seeing week in and week out," noted linebacker Josh Allen after the game.
"That's another great thing about what we're doing this week. We play Thursday, man. We played our butts off today, but today is today. We lost. Now we play Thursday. We can focus on that. We can fly around, get our body back right and go make some plays even more. Yeah, we've just got to win. We've got to win
On the opposite side of the ball, the last three minutes of the first half and two-minute warning saw Trevor Lawrence put together a drive that was worthy of a No. 1 overall pick. A nine play, 74-yard drive on which Lawrence went 6-6 for 45 yards and a touchdown, ended with the rookie quarterback finally connecting with this Pro-Bowl receiver DJ Chark.
Still leading 13-10, the Jaguars found the ground game they'd been looking for in the third quarter. An eight play, 75-yard drive rode the length of the field entirely on the ground. Runs from James Robinson, Lawrence and Carlos Hyde ate up grass, and Robinson had 66 yards and the touchdown on six carries himself.
As Meyer continues to look for a bigger spark, he can lean on the one guy who has always provided one, as well as the supplemental veteran in Hyde.
"I thought [James] was fantastic," Meyer bragged after the game. "He's been practicing like that. I thought Carlos ran hard. Just probably need to give him the ball even a little bit more."
"That was a big spark," added wide receiver Marvin Jones. "We need those plays to provide that spark and [Hyde] did. All week, I think that was the word, the spark. So, I think there [were] a lot of sparks out there. It just didn’t go our way."
It didn't go there way because with a lead in the third, looking to fan the spark into a flame, the Jags elected to try a flea-flicker, deep in their own territory. It was over almost from the start, with Cardinals defensive lineman JJ Watt breezing through a blown gap from Andrew Norwell. The MVP was in Lawrence's face and forced him to throw of his back foot.
Arizona corner Byron Murphy read it the entire way and jumped the pass for a pick-six touchdown return.
"When I saw the running back had the ball, I was coming up, and then once he threw it back to the quarterback, I just said sprint. Turn around and sprint," laughed Murphy after the game. "Then I saw a guy wheeling to the sideline and I just went straight to him and the ball's in the air— like you said—the ball's in the air for a little bit so gave me time to get there and I made the play."
Lawrence, who had done so much to keep the Jaguars in a shot of this first win, knew as the ball was in the air that he'd just thrown a glass of cold water on their chances.
"That pick six killed us, obviously. That's all on me. Got to just be smart and eat it, throw the ball away right there...it was off my back foot, didn't help, and then got to just throw it away if a guy is close and protect that. Defense has been playing great, and just give them seven points there, which makes it tough."
The flea flicker gave the momentum back to Arizona...but if it had worked, it would've been the final match to light the fire Meyer is hoping to ignite. And with that in mind, he doesn't belabor offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell making the call.
"I always tell Bev to be aggressive, as I've always towards my coordinators all along the year, let me be the overruler, be the aggressive guy, and I heard it come over the headset, and I just—obviously I didn't stop it.
"Then I looked up and I saw DJ behind the defense. We were behind them. It was a big one. And then I look up and the ball was picked. You know, that's the decision I made a long time ago was be aggressive. You've got to be smart but be aggressive."
The biggest spark of the day though came from what is now a familiar source; Jamal Agnew. The dynamic returner was signed this offseason for one reason and one reason only—help the Jags special teams unit erupt. He did that last week, with a 102 yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
This Sunday, he struck again. With 0:02 left on the clock in the first half, Cardinals' head coach Kliff Kingsbury elected to attempt a 68-yard field goal attempt. Matt Prater owns the NFL record for longest kick in a game, a 64-yarder, so there was confidence he could hit the middle of the field attempt.
But as Cards quarterback Kyler Murray was standing on the sideline admittedly thinking, "why are we kicking this," the Jaguars sent Agnew to the back of the endzone, in case the kick was short.
It was, and Agnew brought it out from nine yards back. He got a head of steam and picked his way through the defense, picking up blocks along the way for a 109-yard touchdown return that turned a cool sideline ready for the locker room into an inferno.
"That was a spark," noted Josh Allen. "That's one of the prime examples of what we needed at that time. It's a momentum changer into the half. When I was out there, I was like, he’s (Cardinals kicker Matt Prater) about to make it (the field goal). I'm looking back where he kicked it from like he's about to make it, and then all of a sudden you see Jamal (Agnew) just take it out. I turned around, and it was get your block. Do your part. Do your job. Competitive excellence."
"That kid is a dynamic guy with the ball in his hand, Agnew," added Meyer. "Same thing we saw. That's why we went after him in free agency. That's a game changer and he's an even better guy than he is a player."
The Jags have a short turnaround, traveling north to face the Cincinnati Bengals (2-1) on Thursday night. They'll prepare knowing everything they want is right there for the taking, it's just a matter of not letting it slip away. Urban Meyer has been asking for a spark. The Jacksonville Jaguars found it on Sunday, then lost it again.
Said the head coach, "sparks everywhere, man. Just didn't do it."