Jaguars show growth in nearly pulling off upset at Green Bay

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Jaguars lost their eighth consecutive game on Sunday in Green Bay, but there were signs that things might be starting to turn around for the league’s second-youngest team.

And it starts with rookie quarterback Jake Luton.

He was making only his second career start, but again had the Jaguars in position to possibly take the lead at the end of the game before a two-minute drive failed and the Packers won 24-20. And while he’s 0-2 as a starter, his performance is certainly warranting a longer look as the team’s starter even if Gardner Minshew (thumb) is cleared this week.

The Jaguars were 13.5-point underdogs but did the things that big underdogs have to do to win games:

They got a big play on special teams: Keelan Cole returned a punt 91 yards for a touchdown.

They forced turnovers and won the turnover battle: Sidney Jones picked off Aaron Rodgers and C.J. Henderson forced Davante Adams to fumble and Myles Jack recovered the ball to set up a touchdown. The Jaguars turned the ball over just once, when Tyler Eifert slipped on a route and Luton’s pass was intercepted.

But there’s still work to do, especially when it comes to protecting the QB at the end of the game. The offensive line gave up pressure to four rushers and Luton was sacked on consecutive plays. The Jaguars also need to add a playmaking tight end and find another pass rusher or two.

Coach Doug Marrone has said all season his team was fighting and they’re close to seeing some results.

Buy on Keelan Cole: With rookie Laviska Shenault out because of a hamstring injury, the Jaguars needed another receiver to make an impact to complement DJ Chark, and Cole delivered.

Cole had caught just two passes for 18 yards on four targets in the Jaguars’ past two games but he led the Jaguars in targets and catches on Sunday. His 91-yard punt return was the longest franchise history (surpassing Reggie Barlow’s 85-yarder against Kansas City in 1998) and he’s the first player in franchise history to catch a TD pass and return a punt for a TD in the same game.

Per Elias, Cole also is the first player in NFL history to catch a TD pass and return a punt for a TD in the same game against the Packers.

Cole has made a nice comeback from an awful October 2018, when he got benched after dropping give passes and losing two fumbles. He didn’t get much work for the first half of the 2019 season, but caught 30 of his 35 passes in the final eight games and the Jaguars applied a second-round restricted free agent tender to him in the offseason.

Other than the past two games, Cole has been pretty consistent and should have a bigger role going forward, especially as Shenault continues to recover from the hamstring injury.

Bold prediction: Luton remains the Jaguars’ starter the rest of the season. Luton has shown very good pocket poise as well as the willingness to take shots down the field. Minshew hadn’t shown improvement in the areas in which he needed to the most: pocket presence, throwing players open and working the middle of the field. Luton might not be the franchise’s long-term QB, but he at least should spend the rest of the season auditioning.