DENVER — The Broncos’ 26-24 loss to the Jaguars felt like bad déjà vu.
Two weeks ago against the Bears, the Broncos scored a late go-ahead touchdown, picked up a roughing-the-passer penalty and allowed a game-winning field goal. They did the same thing Sunday against the Jaguars, as a late touchdown to Courtland Sutton proved fruitless when Jacksonville knocked in a 33-yarder as time expired.
Unlike in their first three games of the season, the Broncos built a sizeable lead against their opponent. They weren’t able to hold on, though, as they dropped to 0-4 on the season.
Despite an encouraging start in which Joe Flacco and Co. scored touchdowns on two of their first four drives, Denver would not score another until late in the fourth quarter. And while the Broncos bottled up Gardner Minshew in the first half, the rookie quarterback helped spur the Jaguars to 20 second-half points in a come-from-behind win.
After holding the Jaguars without a third-down conversion (0-for-7) in the first half, Jacksonville converted 4-of-7 third downs in the second half — including a pair of conversions on their penultimate drive that chewed seven minutes off the clock. Minshew then led the game-winning drive as Jaguars kicked a field goal with no time remaining.
The Broncos now head to Los Angeles for a matchup with the 2-2 Chargers.
The Jaguars made a slew of big plays in the second half that included a miraculous Minshew escape and touchdown pass, an 81-yard Leonard Fournette run and a game-winning field goal with no time remaining. No play, though, seemed bigger than a Flacco interception with 1:05 to play in the first half. The Broncos, up by 14 points, had a first down at the Jacksonville 33-yard line with a chance to extend the lead to three scores before halftime. Flacco appeared to overthrow Emmanuel Sanders, though, and Ronnie Harrison intercepted the pass. He returned the ball 31 yards and set up a 40-yard field goal in the waning seconds of the first half. The Jaguars got the ball to start the second half and marched 75 yards for a touchdown in 16 plays. In all, the late interception started a 20-0 run for the Jaguars.
After Minshew and cornerback Jalen Ramsey dominated the discussion all week at UCHealth Training Center, running back Leonard Fournette ended up being the Broncos’ real problem. Sure, Minshew made his share of plays, including a pass in the third quarter where he eluded a handful of Denver defenders before firing a 7-yard pass to the end zone. But Fournette rushed for 190 yards in the second half — including the 81-yard run that helped the Jaguars take the lead — and finished with 225 on the game. The Broncos had not allowed a player to gain that many rushing yards in any game over the last 10 seasons.
The Broncos’ run defense ranked near league average ahead of Sunday’s game, but Denver simply couldn’t slow Fournette down. The running back’s success helped Jacksonville dominate time of possession in the second half (24:30 to 5:30) as they completed their comeback.
On the Broncos’ second drive of the game, 2019 first-round pick Noah Fant scored his first career touchdown in style. The Iowa product caught a screen pass to the left and dodged Jaguars defenders en route to a 25-yard score. Fant completed his touchdown by jumping into the south stands to celebrate with Broncos fans.
Outside linebackers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb have taken plenty of flak for the Broncos’ lack of sacks during the season’s first month, so they get credit here. Miller and Chubb combined for three quarterback takedowns on Sunday — two for Miller, one for Chubb — and pressured Minshew on several other occasions. The Broncos recorded five sacks in total. The Broncos, though, remain without a takeaway — and a late roughing-the-passer call on Miller helped give the Jaguars the yardage they needed for a game-winning score.
Quarterback Joe Flacco also earns recognition for a first-half performance in which he went 15-of-26 for 197 yards, two touchdowns and a 91.3 quarterback rating. He also was 5-for-5 for 80 yards on the team’s late touchdown drive. His only mistake in the first half was the late interception where he appeared to overthrow an open Sanders.
The offensive line also deserves credit for allowing zero sacks against a Jacksonville front that recorded nine sacks in Week 3 against the Titans.