Growing pains were inevitably going to be part of Jacksonville’s season, especially with one of the youngest teams in the NFL.
They showed up in Week 2, contributing to a huge hole and a 33-30 loss at Tennessee on Sunday.
Second-year safety Andrew Wingard, starting in place of Jarrod Wilson, got picked on for a touchdown early. Rookie receiver Collin Johnson tipped a pass that was intended for a teammate, leading to an interception and a 14-0 deficit.
It wasn’t the way the Jaguars (1-1) had hoped to start in their first road game of the season. But it probably should have been expected given the team’s youth and inexperience.
“These guys are going to continue to get better,” coach Doug Marrone said. “I don’t want to say growing pains because I really feel like those guys can do it. There may be plays they lose, but that’s football.”
Marrone and general manager Dave Caldwell took a big swing at revamping the locker room and both huddles in the offseason, parting ways with a number of aging or high-priced starters and gambling with unproven players a number of positions.
It paid off with a 27-20 victory over Indianapolis in the season opener as Jacksonville rallied for a victory at home. The team looked as if it might do the same against the Titans — and end a six-game losing streak in Nashville — but mistakes down the stretch sealed another setback in the Music City.
And these weren’t by newcomers.
Linebacker Myles Jack was flagged for pass interference following a third-down stop, putting the Titans in position for the go-ahead field goal.
Gardner Minshew threw an interception to end Jacksonville’s final drive, a ball intended for Keelan Cole that got tipped at the line of scrimmage by Jeffery Simmons and picked off by Harold Landry.
“Just a bad way to lose,” Minshew said.
More egregious than both of those, Josh Lambo botched a squib kick at the end of the first half by hitting it right at an opponent and essentially giving the Titans three points with little effort.
The Jaguars trailed 24-10 at the break, but rallied behind Minshew and rookie running back James Robinson.
Minshew completed 30 of 45 passes for 339 yards, with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Robinson ran 16 times for 102 yards and a score.
But neither could do much about the early hole they found themselves in for the second consecutive week; Indy scored on its opening possession in Week 1 and were a failed fourth-down play away from going up 10 or 14 points.
The Titans picked on Wingard from the opening kick as Ryan Tannehill connected with tight end Jonnu Smith twice for 76 yards, including a 13-yard score.
Minshew tried to drop a pass down the sideline on the ensuing possession, but the 6-foot-6 Johnson jumped and got a hand on it. Kristian Fulton picked off the deflection, and the Titans scored five plays later to open up a double-digit lead.
“You see our resilience, but we also learned that we have to start faster," Minshew said. "We don’t need to be getting down (14 points) in the first place. If we jump out and play every quarter like we played that fourth, we’ll be a really, really good football team.”
There's no doubt Jacksonville's confidence grew with another eye-opener. The Jaguars were 10-point underdogs in Nashville, with hardly anyone giving them a shot a week after stunning the Colts.
“We feel like we can go toe to toe with anybody," receiver DJ Chark said.
A better start surely would help. Jacksonville is back on the field Thursday night against Miami.
“I think it has to be a mindset," defensive tackle Abry Jones said. “I think the two weeks that have gone by it’s been a little bit of a trend. We have to know how teams are going to attack us and go out there and make the right plays and get off the field.”
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