“Adversity Is Temporary” - Wilson & Hackett Alleviate Pressure With London Win

By Simon Carroll

Unlike the previous two NFL games to come to London this year, the contest at Wembley promised nothing, and delivered only slightly more. The Broncos and Jaguars arrived in the UK both sporting 2-5 records, and both underwhelming their fanbases. Yet despite the International Series reverting back to type in pitting two sub .500 teams against each other, the fans were out in full force and full voice. A record 86,215 attended Wembley on Sunday – and whilst all 32 teams were predictably represented, there was sufficient support for both participating franchises to give this game a special atmosphere.

Good football teams don’t always equal a good football game, and the same can be said in reverse. At the very least, this contest went down to the wire, even if it really shouldn’t have been that difficult for Denver. But ultimately, the occasion was another stellar advert for the continuation of football across the pond.

Broncos In A Bind Early

It was not the start Denver hoped for. After all the pre-game talk from Russell Wilson about how close this team was to turning things around, the first fifteen minutes of this contest suggested the complete opposite. The Broncos were given the ball to start the game and promptly went three and out. To start the second drive, Wilson threw the ball straight into the hands of Tyson Campbell, who gleefully hauled in the fourth interception of his Jaguars career. Ouch.

The Jaguars turned the turnover into six points in less than three minutes, Trevor Lawrence delivering a sumptuous 22 yard touchdown strike to Evan Engram to get this game going. Denver had dug themselves a mini-hole, and showed little interest in getting out of it. If it wasn’t for a gift of an interception in their own endzone as Jacksonville looked to double their lead, The Broncos would have likely seen the deficit doubled. Not even that shot in the arm spurred Denver on, as they punted before the fabulous Travis Etienne reeled off a 49 yard run to set up a Riley Patterson field goal.

10-0 down, the Broncos were the makers of their own downfall. An incredible ten penalties for 71 lost yards hampered their defensive efforts, allowing the Jaguars to stay on the field. But Wilson was able to string together one drive towards the end of the second quarter, hitting Jerry Jeudy on a dig route before the former ‘Bama receiver finished the job, finding paydirt on a jet sweep. Despite shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly, Denver went into the locker room just three points behind.

Half Time Adjustments Turn The Tide

Nathaniel Hackett has come under some heavy criticism for his coaching and play calling since being named Broncos head coach this offseason. But credit where it’s due; this team came out a different animal in the second half. The defense cleaned up their act, and stopped giving the Jags free yards – with just one penalty against the unit after the break. And on offense, they started to find mismatches. Center Lloyd Cushenberry went out injured ‘with a hip’ a Hackett put it after the game, but Graham Glasgow filled in admirably. Wilson had the time to deliver the football, and was deadly.

Welcome to the NFL Greg Dulcich! The rookie tight end came alive on the first Broncos drive of the second half, catching three passes for 72 yards, only narrowly being denied a touchdown. No matter; Melvin Gordon finished the job, and in the blink of an eye Denver had their noses in front. Wilson was a changed man – even as the Jaguars defense stepped up and forced punts, the Broncos QB was much more careful with the ball and took his shots when necessary.

The Jaguars, once again thanks to the exploits of Etienne, re-took the lead with less than four minutes of the game remaining. But even then there was an air of inevitability about the outcome. Wilson finally found KJ Hamler on a big downfield strike, setting up Latavius Murray to finally find the endzone on a short yard run. The defense immediately turned the ball back over, and this one was in the books.

Post Game Presser

Much like it has been all week, Hackett & Wilson stuck with the mantra of teamwork and staying the course. Wilson used the phrase “Adversity is temporary”. To them, this victory was proof that things are coming together. But as one Broncos media member said as I was typing this article, “if I’m George Paton, this win means jack shit.” Any other opponent would have punished Denver for their slow, bubbling start – put their foot on the throat and refused to let up. The Jags are a much more forgiving foe, however, and allowed Hackett and his team a way back in. Kudos for taking the opportunity, but there are going to be harder times ahead for this franchise.

That being said, Hackett coached his ass off in this one. He reset the passing game, building Wilson up into it – something he shouldn’t need to do with a nine-time pro bowler, but he did. Finally his quarterback found his rhythm, the rest of the team made the most of the halftime adjustments, and they head into a bye week on the back of a win.

Hackett showed a much more personable side, a man obviously unburdened after a desperately needed win. When asked about the attributes of Dulcich, he alluded to the QB-TE connection on the second half touchdown drive. But he also found a moment of humour, extolling the virtues of Dulcich’s flowing locks:

“Oh, and he has great hair too”

Hackett has avoided the ignominy of being fired after a trip to London, something that was entirely plausible and has happened to coaches before (see Dennis Allen, Joe Philbin). A win is a win, and the Broncos will undoubtedly take it. But with the trade deadline looming, it is still fair to wonder if this is a lost season in Denver. We’ll know more about how general manager George Paton sees things once the Tuesday deadline comes and goes.

It's Time For The Conversation

After a glittering collegiate career at Clemson, Trevor Lawrence has been touted as the best quarterback to enter the league since Andrew Luck. Unlike Luck, Lawrence landed at a franchise that was in total disarray. Many have been happy to write off a tough rookie year as a byproduct of the toxicity and dysfunction from the ill-fated tenure of Urban Meyer. That level of reasonable behaviour is seldom seen amongst NFL fanbases.

Things are different now. The Jaguars feel a lot healthier. Lawrence has a QB-friendly head coach in Doug Pederson. And the talent around him has improved. Jaguars fans have expected a step up from the anointed one, and eight games into the season, it is yet to materialise. Lawrence began the game confidently, and looked dangerous – the touchdown strike to Engram a case in point. But it was a fragile confidence, and the awful Simmons interception on the goalline sparked a downward spiral that ultimately lost the Jaguars this game. Unnecessary sacks, intentional grounding calls, dangerous throws, and finally turning the ball over to seal the defeat. People shy away from saying it, but it was there for all to see: Trevor Lawrence had a bad game.

After the two turnovers on Sunday, Lawrence now has a negative TD:INT ratio. In 25 career games, The Jags QB has 22 touchdowns to 23 interceptions. Considering his landing spot and the talent he had at Clemson, he will undoubtedly be given time to turn things around. But the dirty B word being whispered on social media is starting to get louder. And it’s a stigma that all too many quarterbacks have found difficult to shake off.

No Robinson? No Problem

Many Jaguars fans were bemused when Trent Baalke traded James Robinson to the Jets last week. Picked up as an undrafted rookie by the Jags, Robinson delivered a 1,000 yard rushing season, making him a fan favourite. 2021 was a season riddled with injury, but people were excited about his return this year – and creating a formidable ‘thunder and lightning’ double headed backfield with Travis Etienne. Receiving just a 6th round pick in return (that may become a 5th), Robinson’s departure looked to be a mistake.

Travis Etienne has returned from serious injury himself. The once dubbed ‘third down back’ by Urban Meyer suffered a lisfranc injury that caused him to miss his entire rookie campaign. Upon his return, it was assumed his size and speed made him the perfect foil to Robinson’s prowess between the tackles. With J-Rob out the door, there have been fair questions about Etienne’s durability and suitability to be the bellcow ball carrier in this offense. Well, ‘ETN’ answered those questions in style on Sunday. Reeling off an incredible 156 yards on the ground on 24 carries (6.5ypc), Etienne came remarkably close to setting a new all-purpose yardage record for a running back in London (Matt Forte 2011, 181 yards).

There will be an urgency from this offense to get Etienne more involved in the passing game, but this was a statement performance.

Etienne is no ‘third down back’.

Gradual Gains

This was a frustrating afternoon for the Jaguars. They had this game in their hands, and failed to take it. As they have done too may times this season, they grasped defeat from the jaws of victory – Sunday was the FIFTH loss in a row that was within one score. Considering the opponent and the first quarter, it will ultimately feel like an opportunity missed.

Worse Jaguars teams than this have come to London and won. You only have to look back to last year to see that. Doug Pederson will be disappointed not to have more than two wins so far this year, but the signs are promising. All the changes in the offseason provide a foundation for this team to build on – the final, hardest part is turning those improvements into wins.

Try telling that to Jags fans, who are so numb to disappointment that defeat is as inevitable as a Jaxson De Ville bungee jump. With plenty of questions still to be answered, it’s difficult for those with skin in the game to see that there is progress being made. In that, both these franchises are similar, and whilst the Broncos may have left Wembley victorious, are they set up for more long-term success than the Jaguars?

“Adversity is temporary”. Or so Russell Wilson believes. Try telling that to Duval County.

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