The Jaguars had the Buffalo Bills on the ropes. They had momentum and they had the ball inside the 1-yard line, first-and-goal. All they had to do was finish the drive from a yard out, likely to come from Leonard Fournette who had already rushed for 95 yards in less than three quarters of action.
But instead of Fournette punching it in, he decided to punch a Bills player.
As a result, Fournette never got a chance to run for his third touchdown of the game, what would have been a career-best in the regular season. When Fournette came off the bench and threw several punches at Buffalo players in the melee in the corner of the end zone, referee Walt Coleman had no choice but to eject Fournette from the game, along with Bills’ defensive end Shaq Lawson.
It wasn’t a fair exchange. Fournette is easily the Jaguars most effective offensive weapon as evidenced by his 95 rushing yards and 13 receiving yards in less than three quarters of play. Losing Fournette changed the Jaguars momentum and played a major role in Jacksonville losing a seventh straight game, this one a 24-21 defeat to Buffalo on the Bills’ home field.
Fournette was voted a team captain at the start of the season, his teammates turning to him to be a team leader. His ejection was anything but what head coach Doug Marrone expects from one of his captains.
“[Leonard] was ejected for throwing a punch,” the Jaguars coach said. “He came over to the sideline. He’s a captain. I told him obviously you can’t do that, that hurts our team to lose our best offensive player playing at a very high level.”
The loss of Fournette was felt by the Jaguars on their next series of plays. With a first-and-goal from the 1, it was all but a guarantee that the Jaguars running back would have gotten the call on however many times it would have taken to get the ball into the end zone. Instead Carlos Hyde loses a yard, then the Jaguars have a false start, then a holding penalty on Keelan Cole on what otherwise would have been a touchdown pass to Dede Westbrook and finally a missed 42-yard field goal by Josh Lambo who had been letter-perfect under 50 yards in his Jaguars career before that kick.
After the game, Fournette put forth an apology and admitted what many Jaguars fans were thinking, that this loss was on him.
“This loss is totally on me,” he said. “But when you see your brothers getting attacked, you’ve got to go out there and protect your own. At the same time, I’m a professional and you can’t have that. I apologize to all the kids who look up to me. Like I said, this loss is totally on me. I take full responsibility for that. This loss is 100 percent on me. But now, I’ve just got to move on.”
Fournette wasn’t even in the game on the pass play that Jaguars wide receiver Donte Moncrief caught at the 1-yard line. But it didn’t take him long to sprint from Jacksonville’s bench to the corner of the end zone and start throwing wild punches. He was asked if he regretted leaving the bench area and coming on to the field.
“Oh yes, most definitely,” he responded. “We lost this game, we should have won the game, hands down. Like I said, I take full responsibility for this loss.”
While Fournette is ready to fall on the sword, there’s plenty of blame to go around for why the Jaguars added to their seven-game losing streak, now the second longest in franchise history behind only the nine consecutive losses in 2016 which led to the firing of coach Gus Bradley and the hiring of current head Doug Marrone.
The Jaguars passing game continues to be ineffective and poses little threat to opposing defenses. Quarterback Blake Bortles connected on 12-of-23 passes for just 127 yards. It marked the fourth time in the last six games that Bortles has passed for less than 150 yards. While he had not had an interception in his last four games, that streak (125 consecutive passes) came to a halt when the Bills picked off two passes, both of which went off the hands of a Jaguars receiver.
When Bortles did pass, it was mostly short throws to a running back or tight end. The Jaguars did not have a wide receiver catch a pass until Moncrief hauled in his 29-yard reception to the goal line with less than two minutes left in the third quarter. That’s 43 minutes of game action with no catches from a position that usually leads a team in receptions.
Bortles said losing Fournette for the final 17 minutes of the game made a difference in the Jaguars offense and what they were able to do – or not do – after that.
“That’s obviously big for us. To not have him in there, that was a big [loss] for us,” Bortles said. “Obviously, with what we were able to do in the run game in first half and then there in the second, we weren’ t able to do that [same]. stuff. We have other capable [guys] that are able to pick up the slack.
The Jaguars patched-up offensive line also continued to take a physical beating. Left guard Andrew Norwell, one of only two starting linemen (RT Jermey Parnell) who have started every game this year, went out with an ankle injury and was carted to the Jaguars locker room. It’s an indication that he’ll be sidelined for at least the next week, if not the rest of the season.
Dede Westbrook finished with three receptions for 44 yards and Moncrief had the one catch for 29 yards. That’s four receptions for 73 yards from all of the Jaguars wideouts which is an average game for any team’s No. 2 or 3 receiver, let alone all players at that position.
The Jaguars return home next Sunday where they’ll get another shot at the surging Indianapolis Colts and league MVP candidate, quarterback Andrew Luck. The Colts beat the Jaguars 29-26 two weeks ago with the Jaguars fumbling the ball away at the Colts’ 25-yard line with 90 seconds left in the game. Jacksonville will try to put the clamps on Luck who has passed for three touchdowns or more in eight consecutive games, matching the second-longest mark in NFL history. The all-time record is 10 straight games set by New England’s Tom Brady.