JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The season-long struggles for Gus Bradley’s team continued, as the Jacksonville Jaguars fell in their last home game of the year to the Minnesota Vikings 25-16.
The loss drops the Jags to 2-11 and marks the team’s eighth consecutive loss, a streak dating all the way back to early October. Bradley says its tough being in this situation at this point in the season, saying “it challenges you inner strength… but they’ll still play hard.”
The Vikings meanwhile improved to 7-6 with the victory. The win means they keep pace in NFC Wild Card picture, where they’re a game behind Tampa Bay for the sixth seed, and in the NFC North divisional race, two games back of the 9-4 Detroit Lions.
Coming into the game, much had been made about Jacksonville’s turnover issues and an emphasis was placed on fixing them. Quarterback Blake Bortles came in with a league-worst 15 interceptions, and the Jags were dead last in turnover differential at -18, while the Vikings came in with the second-best turnover difference in the NFL at +13.
The Jags did well in that area, winning the turnover battle and Bortles avoiding interceptions. Bortles had an efficient day, going 23/37 for 257 yards and a touchdown. However, past team issues reared their heads again to ensure Jacksonville will finish the season winless at EverBank Field. Namely, those issues were penalties and fourth quarter defense.
The game seemed set up for a defensive battle between two top-five pass defenses, but the first half instead shaped up as special-teams showdown, with the kickers as the stars of the show.
Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford, who went 24 of 34 for 292 yards and a touchdown, started each of Minnesota’s first two drives with big pass plays to get them going, the first going to Kyle Rudolph and the second to Adam Thielen. Both drives stalled out in Jacksonville territory though, and the Vikings had to settle for field goals.
Vikings kicker Kai Forbath went 3 for 3 on field goal attempts in the first half, helping Minnesota get out to 6-0 and 9-3 leads.
On the opposing sideline, the Jags also had their kicker, Jason Myers, come to the rescue after having drives stall in opposing territory. Myers also connected on all three of his field goal attempts, including a 55 yard boot mid-way through the second and a 24-yard field goal just before half-time to make it a 9-9 game at the intermission.
The only offensive highlight of the first half came on what was initially a great defense play, with the Jacksonville’s defense forcing a Sam Bradford fumble, only for Bradford to pick the ball up and still find his running back, Jerrick McKinnon, for the first down.
Picks it up.
Still finds McKinnon…
— NFL (@NFL) December 11, 2016
The touchdowns finally came in the second half.
After Myers missed a 41 yard field goal to open the second half after an impressive Jags drive, and Forbath knocked through his fourth field goal on the following possession to give the Vikings the lead, the Jaguars came right back down the field for the game’s first touchdown.
Jacksonville drove 90 yards down the field in 11 plays, aided by several penalties. The most helpful one came on 2nd and 10, when Vikings defensive back Mackensie Alexander interfered with a deep throw to Marqise Lee, leading to a 22 yard gain and putting Jags in the red zone. That wasn’t Lee’s only contribution, as he led all receivers with 113 yards and five receptions, providing an offensive spark at times when the Jags really needed one.
Three plays later, Jacksonville punched it in.
Bortles found Bryan Walters over the middle for a 14 yard touchdown on 3rd and 7, a crucial third down conversion that gave Jacksonville the momentum and the 16-12 lead.
That lead would evaporate in the fourth quarter.
Two plays into the fourth quarter, Johnathan Cyprien was flagged for a defensive hold, one of the Jaguars’ 14 penalties, and the Vikings were set up with first and goal at the 1. Those 14 flags went for 114 yards, a fact that Bradley acknowledged after the game, saying “penalties got the best of us.”
The next play, Matt Asiata punched it in from a yard out to give the Minnesota an 18-16 lead, which remained so after Forbath shanked the extra-point wide right by a good margin.
The Jaguars went three-and-out on the following possession, and Minnesota seemed like they were going increase their lead mid-way through the quarter, but the Jags defense came up with a huge stop. Cyprien made up for his prior mistake by stuffing Asiata at the 1 on 3rd and goal, forced a fumble, and recovered it in the end zone for a touch back.
Jacksonville was unable to capitalize on the possible momentum-change though, again going three-and-out on their next possession.
The Vikings offense wasn’t so forgiving their next time on the field, putting the nail in the coffin just before the two minute warning.
Bradford capped off a nine play, 54-yard drive when he hit Rudolph for a three-yard touchdown, his only touchdown pass of the game. The score essentially iced the game, with Jacksonville not being able to drive down the field for two scores in two minutes.
After holding a 16-12 lead to start the fourth quarter, Jacksonville’s defense was unable to preserve the fragile lead, and the Jacksonville offense sputtered, unable to extend the small advantage they had. Instead, they now clinched last place in the AFC South, and own the second-worst division in the AFC, only ahead of the winless Cleveland Browns.
Jacksonville will try to end their losing streak when they travel to Houston to take on the division leading Texans next Sunday, while the Vikings will continue to fight for their playoff lives when they host the Indianapolis Colts.