JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Fast starts in games are a big reason for Jacksonville’s fast start to the season.
The Jaguars (4-3) have scored on their opening possession in six of seven games, two shy of the franchise record set in 1997 and matched in 2007 and 2009. Getting those early leads have been the key for a team built to pound the ball with rookie running back Leonard Fournette and play solid defense. They also have propelled Jacksonville to a first-place tie in the AFC South and the team’s best start in a decade.
“I think it’s just the attention to detail,” quarterback Blake Bortles said. “I think guys are pretty locked in and have a really good idea of what we’re running, when’s it going to be called, what look, who we’re going to get. So I think guys are pretty locked in and focused on that.
“It’s something that we’ve talked about for a long time in Jacksonville — the past couple years for sure — being able to start fast, and we haven’t always been able to do that, so I think for us to be able to take the next step and be able to do that this year has been big.”
The Jaguars have more first-quarter points (51) than any other team and haven’t committed a turnover in the opening 15 minutes. Those initial drives have undoubtedly set the tone for the rest of the games.
Jacksonville has three touchdowns and three field goals on opening possessions. The only time the team failed to score on its first drive was at Pittsburgh, a game the Jags managed to win 30-6 .
“When you go out there and get off to a good start, it’s like two-minute (drill),” coach Doug Marrone said. “You make that first completion and you get on a roll. If you miss the first one, then it’s very difficult when you study all the two-minute stuff.
“Don’t let that last drive hinder what you can do on the next one. And then when you do well on it, go on the sideline, keep that momentum going for the next drive. It is a matter of the consistency and the execution.”
The Jaguars are designed to play with a lead. They have Fournette and former 1,000-yard rusher Chris Ivory in the backfield, have a rookie left tackle, have a quarterback with accuracy issues, have played without former Pro-Bowl receiver Allen Robinson all season, and have a defense that might be the best in the league.
Being ahead minimizes what the Jaguars ask Bortles to do and turns loose the league’s top pass rush .
The results have been staggering, really.
All four of Jacksonville’s wins have been by at least 20 points. To put that in perspective, the team had three such wins over the previous seven seasons.
And the Jaguars feel like they should be 5-1. They gave up 17 points on three special teams blunders in a 27-17 home loss to the Los Angeles Rams in Week 6. Two weeks before that, they gave up 17 points on three running plays totaling 177 yards in a 23-20 overtime loss at the New York Jets. Those included a 75-yard TD run in which defenders failed to touch Bilal Powell when he fell to the turf.
Jason Myers also missed a 52-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, and Marqise Lee dropped a third-down pass in overtime that likely would have set up a winning attempt.
Pulling out close games late is the next step for Jacksonville.
For now, though, the team will settle for making huge progress early in games.
The Jaguars haven’t finished a season outscoring opponents in the first quarter since 2007, the last time they had a winning record and made the playoffs. They trailed at the end of the first quarter in seven games last season and 10 in 2016. They’ve been behind after the first quarter just twice this season.
“When you go through the week, you have a sense of what you would like or think that the players can do well and what you want to do in those situations,” Marrone said. “During the course of the week, you’re going to practice those plays. You’re probably practicing them pretty much in the order that you would probably want to call them.
“I really think if you are really focused in and really paying attention to what we’re doing during the week, then you are going to know exactly what we’re going to be able to call on Sunday.”