Jaguars hold off Browns in defensive struggle
CLEVELAND — The Jacksonville Jaguars used a strong running game and a suffocating, opportunistic defense Sunday to pound the Cleveland Browns 19-7 and assume sole possession of first place in the AFC South.
Rookie Leonard Fournette slugged his way to 111 rushing yards and the Jaguars defense forced five turnovers on the way to their fourth straight victory.
The weather and two strong defenses made the 60-minute tug-of-war before a sparse crowd predictable. The Browns harassed Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles throughout and the game, and the Jaguars (7-3) did the same to Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer.
“If I’m not dominating the war, I’m not dominating,” said Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who faced Browns offensive tackle Spencer Drango. “I’m a student of the game. If I’m dominating someone, of course I’m going to take advantage. I feel defensively we all played well. We gave up one touchdown, then we all came together and we finished.”
The Browns fell to 0-10. They are 1-25 under head coach Hue Jackson.
“We had some chances and couldn’t get it done,” Jackson said. “The only people that can fix this is us in the room. We have to continue to play better. We can’t turn the ball over. When we have opportunities we have to make catches. We have to make blocks. I give credit to Jacksonville. They came in here and played a little better than we did and they won the game.”
Jacksonville’s lead was only 10-7 midway through the fourth quarter, but Kizer turned the ball over three times in the final 8:23.
“Their pass rush was very good, but it’s my job to make sure the ball’s out of harm’s way,” Kizer said. “When you fumble as much as I did and the sacks I took, those are on me. The ability I have with my legs, I should be able to find a gap and make a play positive.”
Kizer’s second interception of the game, picked by Jacksonville cornerback A.J. Bouye, led to Josh Lambo kicking a 39-yard field goal with 3:31 left in the fourth quarter to give Jacksonville a 13-7 lead.
Kizer lost a fumble on a strip-sack with 1:44 to play as the Browns were trying to mount a comeback. Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith recovered another strip-sack by Ngakoue in the end zone for a touchdown with 1:14 left, giving the Jags a 19-7 edge. It was Kizer’s fourth turnover of the game.
Kizer had protected the ball well in consecutive starts against Minnesota and Detroit, but on the first play of the Browns’ second possession Sunday, his pass over the middle intended for Corey Coleman was intercepted by Smith and returned 26 yards to the Browns 33.
From there, the Jaguars needed just four plays to take a 7-0 lead on a 10-yard touchdown pass from Blake Bortles to tight end Marcedes Lewis. The score was set up by a 16-yard pass from Bortles to Marqise Lee, who finished the game with a team-high five catches for 45 yards,
“We did great,” Lee said. “The offense played well. The defense played extremely well like they do every week and we played pretty well on special teams which helped us get the win. Now we control our own destiny. There’s nothing better than that.”
Jacksonville took a 10-0 lead at 14:14 of the second quarter on a 38-yard field goal by Lambo. Lambo had a chance to push the Jaguars lead to 13-7, but his 41-yard field-goal attempt on the final play of the first half was wide right.
In between the field-goal tries by Lambo, the Browns cut the Jacksonville lead to 10-7 on a 27-yard touchdown pass from Kizer to running back Duke Johnson to finish off a 66-yard drive in five plays.
The Browns had only three first downs in the first half, but they were able to keep the score close because the defense kept Fournette from breaking a long run. Fournette rushed for 54 yards in the first half.
The Browns’ defense continued to thwart the Jaguars in the third quarter. The Browns forced two Jacksonville punts, then, after Browns returner Jabrill Peppers muffed a punt, Jacksonville regained possession. But linebacker Christian Kirksey got a strip-sack of Bortles, and rookie defensive end Myles Garrett recovered for the Browns to keep the deficit 10-7 at the end of the third quarter.
Along with losing the game, the Browns also took losses on the injury front. Starting defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah suffered a broken foot and is likely to miss the rest of the season. Defensive tackle Jamie Meder was knocked out with an ankle injury and wide receiver Sammie Coates left the game with a knee injury.
NOTES: The Jaguars surprised the Browns with an onside kick after their first touchdown. Jaguars K Josh Lambo recovered, but it didn’t count because rookie LB Donald Payne was offside. ... Josh Wells started at right tackle for the Jaguars in place of Jermey Parnell. Parnell was inactive with a knee injury after being listed as questionable Friday. ... Corey Coleman started at wide receiver for the Browns after missing seven games with a broken hand. He caught six passes for 80 yards. ... Shon Coleman started at right tackle for the Browns after getting knocked out with a concussion last week.