For fleeting moments in the middle of Sunday's game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Los Angeles Chargers, it appeared as if the Jaguars had finally gotten out of a slump that has sent the team's season down the drain.
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, those moments were not only fleeting, but they refused to occur at either the beginning or the end of the game. Despite battling back-and-forth all game, the Jaguars left Los Angeles with a 39-29 loss, dropping their record to 1-6. The Jaguars have now lost six straight games.
To the surprise of likely many nationally, the Week 7 matchup between the Jaguars and Chargers ended as one of the weekend slate's most entertaining games, one which featured four lead changes in the second half.
Jacksonville fell into a 16-0 hole early in the game due to disastrous results on both sides of the ball. This included the Chargers scoring on three of their first four drives, including a 22-yard touchdown pass to Donald Parham from Justin Herbert.
The biggest issues arose on offense, however, with the Jaguars failing to convert a first down until the fifth drive. Through the first four drives of the game, the Jaguars had zero pass completions and went three-and-out four times, averaging fewer than 1.3 yards per play.
"We just have to keep working to put a complete game together. I think it hurts, but I wouldn't say we are discouraged," Gardner Minshew said after the game. "It is a fight. It is tough right now and we know that."
The Jaguars roared back after falling to 16-0, in large part due to big plays from DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault. Chark got the team's first first-down on a 26-yard catch (his only catch), while Shenault took a third-down pass for 36 yards and into Chargers territory.
These two huge plays helped set up a four-yard James Robinson touchdown run, the first of two touchdowns Robinson would score. Robinson ended the day with a career-high 22 carries for 119 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and a touchdown, along with four catches for 18 yards and a nine-yard touchdown later in the second quarter.
While Robinson led Jacksonville's offense on the ground, it was Herbert who starred for the Chargers. The first-round pick completed 27-of-43 passes (62.8%) for 347 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran nine times for 66 yards and a touchdown, leading the Chargers in rushing,
The Jaguars stifled Herbert toward the end of the first half, allowing eight yards on the final eight plays of the first half. This led to back-to-back punts, and the Jaguars defense then forced Herbert off of the field again to start the third quarter.
With the Chargers forced to punt, rookie safety Daniel Thomas shot through the middle of the line and blocked the punt, returning it himself for a 16-yard return touchdown. With the Chargers missing a field goal on the next drive, it looked like the Jaguars were set to expand upon a 21-16 lead.
The Jaguars' offense stalled, however, and was forced in a fourth down in their own territory. In an attempt to aggressively get in front of the Chargers, head coach Doug Marrone opted to go for it on fourth down, but the Jaguars were stuffed.
Jacksonville's inability to convert fourth downs ended up making the difference. The Jaguars went 1-of-4 on fourth down, and the Chargers were able to take advantage by scoring a touchdown following the failed fourth-down attempt at the 42-yard line.
"I just wanted to be aggressive. I wanted to try to go up by two scores. I thought that was going to give us the best chance to win, " Marrone said after the game.
"I think those are critical times that you have to be right on it and focused and you have to execute it."
Add in a fumbled Dede Westbrook kickoff in the third quarter, and the Jaguars simply made too many mistakes to give themselves a chance to snap their losing streak. Offensively, the Jaguars failed in critical situations. Defensively, the Jaguars allowed nearly 500 yards and allowed 30+ points for the sixth-straight game, a franchise record.
As for Minshew, he was able to lead the Jaguars on three touchdown drives and threw a beautiful 28-yard touchdown to Chris Conley in the third quarter, but he was still mostly uneven. He started and ended the game on bad notes, leading to a stat line of 14-of-27 (51.9%) for 173 yards and two touchdowns.
Minshew was under duress all game, however, as Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa had their way with the Jaguars' offensive line. Include Keenan Allen's dominant performance against CJ Henderson, and the Jaguars struggled to stop LA's best players throughout the game.
The Jaguars came close on Sunday. Other than a terrible first quarter, they were far from outclassed. Without the excruciatingly slow start, they likely are in the game at the end of the fourth quarter.
But for a young team that can't find a way to win, Sunday was yet another example in what has quickly become a long season. The Jaguars saw several young players excel, but they dropped to 1-6 regardless, putting their season on the brink of going even further off the rails.
The Jaguars have a Week 8 bye. Their next game will be a Week 9 home game against the Houston Texans.