Jacksonville Sports Day

NFL: Depleted New York Jets Fly Past Jacksonville Jaguars, 26-21

NEW YORK – With the Jets minus head coach Robert Saleh and 14 players on the active roster and Injured Reserve because of the NFL’s Covid protocols, interim head coach Ron Middleton led the Green & White to a 26-21 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Jaguars’ lone first-half touchdown came when guard Will Richardson Jr. recovered a fumble in the end zone in early in the second quarter. Dare Ogunbowale’s one-yard touchdown run with 5:25 remaining pulling the Jaguars to within two with 5:25 remaining. Ogunbowale rushed for 57 yards on 17 carries and the Jaguars as a team rushed for 132 yards.

While Covid dominated the headlines this past week, the matchup was the fourth time in the common draft era that QBs drafted first (Jacksonville QB Trevor Lawrence) and second overall (Jets QB Zach Wilson) faced each other as rookies.

Lawrence’s pass on 4th-and-goal from the Jets 1 with :12 remaining fell incomplete to secure the Jets’ victory. Lawrence completed 26 of 39 passes for 280 yards

Jaguars running back James Robinson, the team’s leading rusher and a 1,000-yard rusher as a rookie last season, sustained an Achilles injury early in the second quarter and did not return.

Wilson set a franchise record for a QB running the football, amassing 89 yards on the ground on three carries.

“Wow,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing for me or a bad thing for everybody else. It worked out. I wasn’t planning on running, it just kind of happened. I felt like I needed to take advantage of what the defense was giving me.”

It looked as though the Jags had a shot at Wilson late in the first quarter, but the rookie QB had other ideas on a third-and-5 that resulted in a 52-yard touchdown scamper. Wilson stepped up in the pocket to avoid pressure and sprung free, sprinting up the home sideline. A Jaguars defender couldn’t get an angle on him at the 28 and then the BYU product did an excellent job tip-toeing before he juked inside and left yet another Jag in his dust.

Wilson’s score was the longest quarterback run — TD or not — in franchise history. Since returning from a PCL injury, he has rushed for 4 TDs in five games. He also had a 17-yard scramble in the second quarter.

Then on the final play of the third quarter, Wilson’s 20-yard run gave him the highest single-game rush output by a Jets QB.

“I was just hoping we got a stop,” Wilson said. “It was coming fast, they did a good job driving. I was just praying our defense could get a stop right there, so awesome job by them locking it up. It felt good. I wish it could have been easier and not on the 1-yard line, but we got it.”

After Wilson’s run gave the Jets a 6-3 advantage, Braxton Berrios answered the Jags’ first TD with a 102-yard kick return to give the home team a 13-9 lead.

Berrios, who entered Week 16 ranking 1st among qualified players with a 28.7-yard kick return average, produced the Jets’ longest play since Joe McKnight’s 107-yard kick return at Baltimore in in 2011. Named a Pro Bowl first alternate earlier this week, Berrios was as decisive as ever and got some good blocking from his return team on his way to paydirt.

“I have to give credit to the 10 guys up front,” he said. “They created seams and I did my job in hitting them. It just worked out.”

This was the first game in Jets franchise history they had a run of 50+ yards and a return of 100+ yards. Berrios also hauled in five catches for 37 yards including a 12-yard reception over the middle on third-and-9 nearing the end of the fourth quarter.

The next play, fourth-round rookie running back Michael Carter found a hole up the middle and kicked it out to the sideline for a 38-yard run that put the Green & White on Jacksonville’s 7-yard line. The Jets ended that drive with Eddy Pineiro’s 20-yard field goal to extend their lead 26-21.

“It was a great playcall,” Carter said of his run. “It was right on time. The guys blocked up it front. Nick Bawden had a key block and all I had to do was squeeze through the hole. It was small, but I squeezed through it. Coaching myself up, I probably should have stayed in bounds there. I’m glad I have a defense that I can lean on. I’m just so thankful.”

Carter was not to be outdone, averaging 7.4 yards a carry and reaching double digits (118) for the first time in his pro career.

“We had some guys step up,” Carter said. “Up front, especially. They blocked until they couldn’t anymore. I have to give a lot of credit to God and the guys up front and the receivers blocking out wide.”

After spending the past eight seasons as the Jaguars’ tight end coach, Middleton took an aggressive approach against his former team. The Jets made it a two-score game early in the fourth quarter when Wilson backpedaled seemingly forever before finding reserve tackle Conor McDermott in the back of the end zone for a 1-yard TD. It was McDemott’s first career TD in his 34th career game.

“Well I heard the playcall and I just got so excited,” he said. “We’ve been running it all week and when the ball was snapped and I released, I realized there was no one on me. I saw Zach start scrambling and right when he pulled up, we made eye contact. I called for it, he made an unbelievable throw and I just did my best to catch it.”

On five occasions, the Jets went for it on fourth down and converted on three of those attempts. After two fourth-down conversions on the Jets’ final drive of the half, Wilson threw incomplete to Denzel Mims on a fourth-and-goal from the Jacksonville 2. Then past the midway point in the third quarter, Middleton attempted a fake field goal that was thwarted when punter Braden Mann was stopped one yard shy of a first down at the Jacksonville 3.

“Yes it was [something we talked about],” Middleton said. “We were going to be aggressive, but we weren’t going to be foolish. Every time we went for it on fourth down, it was discussed. It was our game-analysis person, Matt Burke, was giving information and all the decisions were based on that information. It was as a staff that we were going to be aggressive, but again, not foolish.”

On the fourth play from scrimmage, the visitors got a first down when safety Andrew Wingard took a direct snap and got 4 yards on a fourth-and-2.

The Jets moved to 4-11 and the Jaguars dropped to 2-13.

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