HOUSTON | In their final two road games last year, the Jaguars sprinted out to leads of 13 and 17 points against Houston and Indianapolis but were unable to reach the finish line, losing both times.
The come-from-ahead losses put a bow on a miserable 13-loss season but also allowed coach Doug Marrone to preach about “toughness,” and “finishing” throughout the off-season.
If Week 1 is any indication, the Jaguars’ players have bought in … all the way.
It was on display in Sunday’s third quarter against the Houston Texans.
Their 19-point halftime cut by quarterback Deshaun Watson’s touchdown pass, the Jaguars’ offense returned to the field. The Texans were on the cusp of seizing the momentum. Would this be a same old Jaguars moment?
Not this time. The Jaguars answered.
Fullback Tommy Bohanon’s first career touchdown – a 1-yard pass from Blake Bortles – finished a 10-play, 75-yard march that allowed the Jaguars to re-take control of a stunningly thorough 29-7 win over the Texans.
How stunning? The 22-point margin of victory was the sixth-largest on the road in Jaguars history. It was the Jaguars’ first road win of at least 20 points in nine years (38-14 at Detroit in2008). And it was their first road-opening win in 10 years.
How thorough? The Jaguars averaged 4.7 yards per snap, compared to only 2.9 for Houston. The Jaguars allowed no sacks, compared to 10 by Houston. The Jaguars had four takeaways, compared to none for Houston.
“It’s the first game of the year – it’s a long journey,” coach Doug Marrone said. “We’ve put in a lot of hard work. We’ll see how it goes from here.”
Where it goes is back to Jacksonville for the home opener Sunday against Tennessee. The Jaguars won in Week 1 for the first time in six years.
Some of the post-game locker room talk centered on the opening drive of the third quarter.
Watson replaced the shell-shocked Tom Savage at halftime and used Jaguars penalties on Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler to set up a four-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins.
Could the rookie quarterback provide the needed spark? The Texans fans thought so.
On the Jaguars’ sideline, they were aware of the situation. A three-and-out or a turnover would swing things even more into Houston’s hands despite the deficit.
“We knew it was going to be loud when we got back out there,” tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “We just said, ‘Let’s continue doing what we’ve been doing.’ We were a lot better in the huddle than we have been as far as me, Blake, [center Brandon] Linder calming everybody down.”
The calmness led to execution.
Marqise Lee drew a 20-yard pass interference penalty on third-and-3. Allen Hurns caught a 13-yard pass on third-and-8. Leonard Fournette (26 carries-100 yards) gained seven yards. Bortles ran for 15 yards on a zone read keeper. Hurns ran a shallow cross for eight yards. And two plays later, Bortles rolled right and found Bohanon in the flat for the touchdown.
“That was great,” right guard A.J. Cann said. “They got the momentum when Watson came in and the crowd was cheering. We have to be able to [answer] to be a good team.”
Said defensive end Calais Campbell: “That was huge. That was the biggest difference in the game, to see the way the offense respond the way they did.”
Campbell’s entire game was huge. In his Jaguars debut, he had four sacks, a personal high and a Jaguars individual single-game record.
“[Marrone] pushed us and pushed us and pushed us [during camp] and it feels good to make some plays,” Campbell said. “I’ve had some good days at the office before. And this was a pretty good day.”
It was a great overall day for the Jaguars.
Fournette looked like a premier tailback. Bortles was efficient (11 of 21 for 125 yards). The offensive line answered the call after a rough preseason. And the defense produced the sacks and takeaways.
“It was good because of how hard we worked and the work we put in this summer,” Lewis said. “We earned this one.”