Jacksonville falls to Carolina 24-23 in third preseason game

Concerns for Jaguars go beyond the quarterback position


Uncertainty at the quarterback position has been the prominent headline for the Jaguars throughout its preseason; yet after Jacksonville’s 24-23 loss to the Carolina Panthers, it’s far from the only concern for the team heading into the regular season. 

“There’s a lot of things we’ve got to clean up,” said Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone following the Aug. 24 game. 

For the second straight week, Jacksonville’s defense, to start, came out flat. Panthers running backs Jonathan Stewart and Christian McCaffrey torched the Jaguars first-team defensive unit, rushing for a combined 54 yards on eight carries in the game’s opening 75-yard drive, which took 6:26 off the clock. Quarterback Cam Newton threw the ball only twice during the drive, including a 9-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin that put the Panthers up 7-0 early. 

“We can’t come out and let a team march down the field like that,” said Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny, whose team allowed a similar opening drive against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week two of the preseason. “We need to come out and play fast right out of the gate. That was very disappointing for our defense.”

Cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Aaron Colvin, as well as defensive end Dante Fowler, did not suit up against the Panthers. Yet Posluszny said their absences can’t be used as an excuse for the defense’s performance, adding that injuries are a part of the game.

On the other side of the ball, the offensive line quickly showed why concerns surround that unit as well. A quick three-and-out on Jacksonville’s opening offensive drive featured a short yardage rush by running back Chris Ivory, a false start penalty by right tackle Jeremy Parnell and a sack on quarterback Chad Henne that pushed the Jaguars back 7 yards, eliciting early “boos” from the fans at EverBank Field.

With its starters playing most of the game, the offensive line would go on to commit four more penalties, three of which were called on right guard A.J. Cann. The unit also allowed two additional sacks on Henne. 

“I thought we’ve had two rough games now,” said Marrone of his offensive line. “So, we played (starters) a lot tonight, the main reason was because of the quarterback situation, but the other reason is they need the work, too.”

As for the quarterback situation, neither Chad Henne or Blake Bortles, the team’s named starter moving forward, made a strong case against the Panthers. If not for a fake punt run by running back Corey Grant for 51 yards and two penalties committed by the Panthers, Henne’s first scoring drive, which resulted in a Chris Ivory 1-yard touchdown run, would have been stymied.

It wasn’t until Henne’s third and fourth drives of the first half that he started to show some promise. He threw a beautiful ball to Keelan Cole deep down the left side of the field that was dropped by the rookie wideout. 

On the next Jaguars offensive drive, he threw another impressive pass down the left side of the field. This time, it was Allen Robinson on the receiving end of the pass who brought it in for 37 yards. Yet, two subsequent, head-scratching misses in the red zone —including one pass that sailed over the head of tight end Marcedes Lewis in the end zone—resulted in an overall inconsistent showing for Henne, who finished the night 8 for 14 for 73 yards. The drive ended with a 44-yard field goal by Jason Myers, tying the game 10-10 at halftime. 

“It’s just good to get back out there,” said Henne following the game. “Obviously there’s some things we can correct out there and can improve on. Ten points is still not enough. Still want to score some more points up there, but overall I felt decision making was fine.”

Bortles entered the game in the third quarter with the first team offense against many of Carolina’s backups, going three-and-out in his first drive. Jacksonville’s second drive with Bortles at the helm featured several runs from Ivory, providing the quarterback with little opportunity to make his mark. That drive ended in a Brad Nortman punt.

When Bortles did get a shot to make something happen on the next drive, he threw an interception to Panthers cornerback Zack Sanchez that was returned to the Jacksonville 2-yard line. Carolina capitalized with running back Cameron Artis-Payne punching the ball into the end zone, and took a 16-10 lead after its two-point conversion failed. 

Jacksonville would respond, however, with Bortles orchestrating an impressive 9-play, 65-yard drive in the beginning of the fourth quarter that consisted of two pretty passes to wide receiver Shane Wynn, including a 4-yard fade in the corner of the end zone that ultimately gave the Jaguars a 17-16 lead. Also during that drive, Bortles showed his athleticism, evading pressure at one point to find tight end Ben Koyack for a 30-yard gain.

After Carolina took a 24-17 lead with another rushing touchdown by Artis-Payne and a successful two-point conversion, Bortles rallied the offense again. This time, the Jaguars put together a 10-play, 60-yard drive that resulted in a Jonathan Grimes 1-yard touchdown run. Bortles’ pass to tight end Neal Sterling on the two-point conversion attempt, however, was incomplete, resulting in the final 24-23 score with Carolina on top. Bortles finished the night 12 for 16 for 125 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

“After everything that’s going on, having to come in here and go to practice every day, having to go through that grind, it’s fun to go out there and play in the stadium in front of other people,” said Bortles. “Play with your teammates and like you said get a chance to go compete because that’s kind of why we all do this.”

The Jaguars will face off against the Atlanta Falcons in their final preseason game Aug. 31 in Atlanta at 7 p.m.