AP Photo/John Raoux

With or Without Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars Are Not Good Enough in Top-Heavy AFC

Brent Sobleski

In the brilliant 1989 film Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams' character John Keating spoke exuberantly about the concept of "carpe diem." Seize the day.

Each and every player on the Jacksonville Jaguars roster was born after the Academy Award winner for best screenplay debuted, but the lessons learned from the movie can still apply.

Unfortunately, the Jaguars didn't seize the moment, with a 34-31 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. They didn't take advantage of appearing on Monday Night Football for the first time in 12 years. They didn't move atop the AFC's playoff standings. They failed to establish themselves on the same level as the Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs.

As part of Williams' iconic role, Keating used a Walt Whitman poem to provide a different perspective. It begins...

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won,

For Jacksonville, the trip isn't done. They haven't weathered multiple blows to the bow. And the prize they seek seems to be slipping away. Next week is too late. The opportunity to achieve everything previously mentioned was on the table against the Bengals.

Ultimately, the team lost and starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence's status for the rest of the season is now uncertain after suffering an ankle injury in the fourth quarter.

Everyone knew exactly what was on the line entering the contest.

AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

After a big win over the rival Houston Texans to take control of the AFC South, wide receiver Zay Jones stated, "It's just a step in the right direction, sort of solidifying ourselves. But we know the end goal goes beyond just our division, and I say that respectfully."

To be fair, the Jags still set atop the division. But things will now be much more difficult, particularly if Lawrence misses significant time.

As it currently stands, Jacksonville is one game ahead of the 7-5 Texans and Indianapolis Colts. The 7-5 Cleveland Browns and their league-leading defense are next on the docket, with the AFC North-leading Ravens following directly afterward.

The one significant advantage the Jaguars built through their first 12 games is a 4-1 divisional record. It may be the edge they need to hold off the competition and still secure a division crown. However, problem areas aren't going away anytime soon.

Lawrence's injury is the obvious starting point. While the Bengals showed a season isn't over once a star signal-caller is out, Jacksonville may not be as fortunate with C.J. Beathard possibly leading the way.

Courtney Culbreath/Getty Images

According to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, an ankle sprain is the initial diagnosis for Lawrence. The severity of the injury can very, though. A simple sprain may not present major long-term ramifications. A high-ankle sprain will be far more nebulous, because the injury needs significant time and rest to properly heal. He'll undergo an MRI Tuesday to reveal the full extent of the problem.

"Sixteen is our leader," tight end Evan Engram told reporters, "but it's next man up mentality."

The injury occurred because of an area already deemed a concern.

A bull-rush from Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson drove left tackle Walker Little into Lawrence's legs. As Little attempted to anchor, the 325-pound offensive lineman stepped directly onto his quarterback's ankle. To make matters worse, the injured area was trapped and pinned under the quarterback's body when he went to the ground. The 2021 No. 1 overall draft pick gingerly walked off the field and all the way to the locker room.

Furthermore, the injury occurred to Lawrence's plant leg, which should require added time to heal so he can drop properly, generate torque and drive through his passes.

This particular situation highlights the fact Jacksonville's offensive line received an overhaul to its left side this past week after the team placed its starting left tackle, Cam Robinson, on injured reserve because of a knee injury he suffered against the Texans.

With Robinson out of the lineup, Little bumped from left guard to Lawrence's blind side protector. By the way, the offensive lineman suffered a hamstring injury on the same play that Lawrence went down. With Little, then Blake Hance, at left tackle, Ezra Cleveland took over at left tackle. Continuity changes this late in the season are never helpful.

Injuries became a problem throughout night, as wide receiver Christian Kirk, defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi, and cornerback Tre Herndon also left the contest.

But even before the Lawrence injury rocked the entire atmosphere at EverBank Stadium, Jacksonville found itself tied with the Bengals late in the fourth quarter with backup-turned-starter Jake Browning playing the game of his life.

Mike Carlson/Getty Images

Without Joe Burrow in the lineup, the same squad that managed 222 yards and 10 points against the Pittsburgh Steelers eight days earlier lit up Jacksonville's defense to the tune of 491 yards, including 354 through the air courtesy of Browning's right arm. He became the 10th quarterback in NFL history to complete at least 85 percent of his passes with 350 or more passing yards, per CBS Sports' Doug Clawson.

"He lit the world on fire," Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said of Browning's stunning performance.

Jacksonville didn't take full advantage of the Bengals' 32nd-ranked defense, either. Running backs Travis Etienne and D'Ernest Johnson combined for 49 rushing yards. Lawrence missed on a couple throws. As units, the Bengals offense out-averaged Jacksonville by 1.3 more yards per play. Doug Pederson's squad finished six-of-15 on third downs.

"Pederson points to rushing issues on offense and defense," John Shipley of the Jaguar Report relayed. "Says most of the Bengals' explosive plays stemmed from their ability to run the ball."

To the coach's point, Cincinnati averaged 5.0 yards per carry as a team, while the Jaguars managed a mere 2.8 yards per carry.

The Bengals even gifted the Jaguars their final touchdown of the contest, when Taylor inexplicably called a throwback pass and wide receiver Tyler Boyd didn't see Josh Allen standing in the middle of the field. Defensive end Josh Allen snagged the pass, which led to a 28-21 third-quarter lead just four plays later.

Keep in mind, the Browns and Ravens won't be as generous, particularly with their first- and second-ranked units in total defense. The Carolina Panthers, who Jacksonville plays in Week 17, currently rank eighth. A potential offense without Lawrence or much of a running game will almost certainly stagnate.

The Jaguars are now forced to navigate troubled waters. Based on where they are now, they're not a serious threat. Jacksonville went from the potential one seed in the AFC going into Monday's contest to emerge as another pretender.

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.


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