The Jacksonville Jaguars nearly captured their first victory of the 2021 season against the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday, but ultimately squandered a second-half lead in a thrilling 24-21 defeat that was decided at the final whistle. The Jaguars will take away several positives from this performance but will be disappointed in their failure to close out a ball game in which they controlled large portions of.
Rookie No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence played his cleanest professional game thus far, having completed 17-of-24 passing attempts for 204 yards. Lawrence added 36 rushing yards and a touchdown via eight scrambles. Most importantly, Lawrence held onto the football, having played his first career turnover-free game after coughing it up an astounding nine times through his first three games.
It was an up-and-down night for Jacksonville’s young football team, which is typically par for the course for a unit that features a first-year quarterback alongside a first-year professional head coach. The game wasn’t without adversity. Starting wide receiver D.J. Chark was carted off the field with what appeared to be an ugly injury. It was later confirmed that Chark suffered a fractured ankle, and will be out for the foreseeable future.
The injury occurred early in the first quarter, giving the Jaguars' offense a glimpse of life without Chark. Somebody had to step up, and it wound up being their electric sophomore receiver, Laviska Shenault Jr. The 6-foot-1 playmaker is built like a wrecking ball and recorded a career-high 99 receiving yards on six receptions, including this explosive 52-yard beauty.
It was an inspiring performance by the former Colorado standout. Shenault began his 2021 campaign in disappointing fashion, failing to top 50 receiving yards in each of his first three games. But there is no questioning Shenault’s ability to both win downfield and create something out of nothing with the ball in his hands. Shenault possesses an appealing skill set that electrified the collegiate game on a week-to-week basis. Thursday’s achievements could be the jump-start Shenault needs to get his second campaign going, and the Jaguars should do everything within their power to get him more involved in the offense. Shenault should thrive in an offense that needs to do a better job of getting their rookie quarterback in a rhythm by scheming and designing “easy” completions for him. Shenault is the perfect candidate to receive such touches.
None of this is meant to downplay the type of player Jacksonville lost when Chark went down clutching his leg on Thursday night. Chark’s injury is an incredibly unfortunate occurrence. It frees up a ton of touches in Jacksonville's passing offense, seeing as Chark entered Week 4 averaging more than seven targets per game. Look for Shenault to now be on the receiving end of several of those newly available touches, and we expect the second-year receiver to make the most of his newfound opportunity.