JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- When the Jacksonville Jaguars opened their season four weeks ago at Philadelphia, the thinking was they were going to need to rely on their defense to keep games close and let Chad Henne do just enough on offense to pull out victories.
Clearly Henne is no longer part of the equation. But after a horrendous second half against the Eagles and performances that were just as dreadful against the Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers, the defense is no longer missing in action.
It should have added up to the Jaguars being able to finally come away with a win Sunday and send the sizeable Terrible Towel-waving portion of the crowd rooting on the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers home chastened.
It did not.
Holding Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense scoreless over the final two quarters wound up being insufficient as the Jaguars slipped to 0-5 with a 17-9 loss. Not surprisingly, there was no talk in the locker room of moral victories. But there also seemed to be no shortage of encouraging comments among members of a defense that gave up one touchdown and no plays of longer than 30 yards.
"It's still not a perfect game. You never play a perfect game," said defensive end Andre Branch, who had the Jaguars' first fumble recovery in what seemed like forever following a sack of Roethlisberger by Abry Jones. "But we're starting to make improvements. That's big, and that's good to see. We're getting there, but we're not there yet."
Yes, it has now been more than 18 quarters since the Jaguars have intercepted a pass. And, yes, Roethlisberger completed 13 of 16 passes following halftime in the sort of solid but unspectacular showing that the Jaguars and their fans would love to see in the future from Blake Bortles.
That was offset by the virtual absence of blown coverages and blown assignments by a unit that was expected to benefit from the addition of several free agents, including former Steelers tackle Ziggy Hood.
"At one point, it seemed like we were doing a lot of talking and that nothing was going to happen," tackle Sen'Derrick Marks said. "We understand that we've got a lot of young guys and just trying to grow them and make sure everybody's accountable. Everybody knows what they've got going on to be accountable for, and I think we did a good job of that today. We didn't get the victory, but I think we made a big stride."
Added safety Johnathan Cyprien, one of three second-year players starting in the secondary: "The defense works. As players, we just have to execute it. And we did a great job of contesting most of the routes and passes that were thrown today. So we've just got to continue to do that."
After a total of only four sacks against the Colts and Chargers, the Jaguars recorded four at the expense of a quarterback who remains tough and mobile at age 32. Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny made a touchdown-saving tackle of Roethlisberger on a third-and-goal play early in the second quarter.
There were even positives on the drive where the Steelers got into the end zone and went ahead to stay. Demetrius McCray, starting at one cornerback spot for the injured Dwayne Gratz, broke up a pass at the pylon intended for Antonio Brown, whose 29 receptions going into the contest were the most in the AFC.
"I think the defense played pretty good," McCray said. "We've still got some things to correct, but we'll get them corrected and we'll keep going."
The Jaguars had been one of just three teams -- the others being the Cleveland Browns and the Atlanta Falcons -- giving up an average of more than 400 yards a game. After the Steelers amassed 111 yards on the ground and 273 more through the air, that ranking is unlikely to improve.
"There are still some things we can work on," coach Gus Bradley said. "There were times when he (Roethlisberger) had too much time back there. But I felt like the coverage was tighter, and I felt like some of the things we challenged our guys on, they did. We'll grow from it."
The pass rush is there. The defense against the run, aside from a 29-yard run by Le'Veon Bell, looked better for the second week in a row.
But the wait for interceptions continues. More importantly, so does the wait for the first win.
"There's a feeling of disappointment that we missed one here," Bradley said.
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