JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Had the fourth quarter of the New England Patriots’ 31-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars gone slightly differently, you might be reading about a comeback right now.
With 13:30 left in the fourth quarter and the Patriots trailing just 24-13, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by linebacker Kyle Van Noy at Jacksonville’s 25-yard line. The Patriots would have put at least three points on the board that series, but quarterback Tom Brady was strip-sacked three plays later, giving the ball right back to Jacksonville.
Later in the quarter, still trailing 24-13, Brady and running back James White hooked up on a 5-yard first down pickup — until the Jaguars successfully challenged the play, pitting the Patriots at their own 19-yard line facing fourth-and-1 with 8:01 left in the game. It appeared the Jaguars jumped offsides as the Patriots lined up to punt, but it wasn’t flagged. The Patriots also didn’t jump in response to Jacksonville’s movement. If they had, the Jaguars might have been called for encroachment.
Belichick’s decision to punt in the first place could be questioned. The Patriots trailed by 11 points with just eight minutes left in the game. The Jaguars scored on a 61-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Dede Westbrook a play later, putting the game out of reach for good.
Here’s everything else that went wrong for the Patriots.
— We’ll get the excuses out of the way early. The Patriots’ best defensive player, Trey Flowers, exited the game with a concussion on New England’s fourth defensive snap.
— The Patriots struggled to pressure and contain Bortles with Flowers out of the game. They also didn’t have a consistent edge-setter against the Jaguars’ rushing attack.
— The Patriots recorded just four quarterback hits and no sacks, and Bortles ran the ball four times for 26 yards.
— Running back T.J. Yeldon, filling in for Leonard Fournette with an ankle injury of his own, carried the ball 10 times for 58 yards.
— Patriots safety Patrick Chung didn’t return to the game in the second half with a concussion.
The Jaguars converted on 9-of-13 third-down attempts. When a team keeps the chains moving 69 percent of the time on third down, the defense needs to force turnovers. The Patriots recovered a fumble and picked off Bortles, but it wasn’t enough.
NO RUSHING ATTACK
The Patriots’ run game was abysmal. New England has to hope Sony Michel (10 carries, 34 yards) and Rex Burkhead (six carries, 22 yards) still are rusty coming off their non-existent preseason. The Patriots averaged just 3.4 yards per carry.
The Patriots linebackers couldn’t keep up with Jaguars receivers on crossing routes, and Eric Rowe was torched for three catches on three targets for 68 yards with a touchdown.
Cornerbacks Jonathan Jones and Stephon Gilmore, as well as Chung, also let up touchdowns.