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Worst game of season leaves Jaguars with questions as playoffs loom

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It should have been a great day for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

They clinched the AFC South earlier in the day when the Los Angeles Rams beat the Tennessee Titans to give the Jaguars their first division title since 1999. But it's hard to enjoy that after the way they played in a 44-33 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

Instead, the Jaguars return from the West Coast with a boatload of questions. The most important is this: Was what happened at Levi's Stadium on Christmas Eve an anomaly, or is it a sign that the Jaguars (10-5) have some major problems that will make a playoff run significantly harder?

"Very weird feeling," quarterback Blake Bortles said. "Any time you lose, especially the way we're playing, it's tough,, ut it's also kind of in the back of your head we won the division, first time in Jacksonville Jaguars franchise history [they've been able to win the AFC South]. So that's pretty cool, but I don't think anybody's happy or pleased with what went on today. We wanted to win the division by winning today."

The biggest question about the Jaguars now surrounds the pass defense. Jimmy Garoppolo was making just the sixth start of his career, but he shredded what had been the NFL's top-ranked pass defense coming into the game. He threw for 242 yards and two touchdowns. He evaded pressure (on the few times the Jaguars got some), confused the Jaguars on bootlegs and found his second and third reads.

The Jaguars' four-man rush was ineffective, and the 49ers' offensive line gave Garoppolo plenty of time to throw. He was sacked just once (by Yannick Ngakoue), though the only interception he threw was caused by Ngakoue hitting him as he released the ball.

Also troubling was the day Bortles had: 382 yards and two touchdowns, but three interceptions. One of the interceptions was returned for a TD, though the blame for that should be on receiver Keelan Cole, who stopped his crossing route and stuck out a hand and deflected the pass.

Bortles entered the game as the NFL's top-rated passer in December with 903 yards, seven TD passes and no interceptions. Some members of the national media yho had been pretty harsh on him actually apologized, but they might be taking that back after Sunday's performance.

The offensive line didn't light things up, either. Leonard Fournette had little room to run, though some of that was mitigated by the fact that left tackle Cam Robinson left the game in the first half with an abdominal strain.

That the 49ers stacked the box isn't an excuse, either, because the Jaguars have run the ball against stacked boxes all season. The Jaguars entered the game with the most rushes (142) and yards (631) against eight-plus men in the box. That's an NFL-high 30 percent of their runs.

Throw in a heavy dose of undisciplined play -- including a taunting penalty on Myles Jack and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Ngakoue for bumping an official -- and it was a complete mess on the field. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson also earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty as the Jaguars were trying to get the ball back once more.

The 12 penalties were a season high.

"When we're on the field we can't allow things like that [players losing composure] to happen," cornerback Aaron Colvin said. "That's probably our biggest opponent, is ourselves, when we beat ourselves. We've got to fix that issue. We can't go into the playoffs like that. I think today was just an odd situation. We're not really that kind of team, so I know we'll be better."

And for good measure, kicker Josh Lambo, who had made 18 of 19 field goal attempts since the Jaguars signed him, banged a PAT off the upright with 1:50 to play that kept the Jaguars from having the ability to tie the game with a field goal, had they managed to recover another onside kick. The Jaguars cut Jason Myers in part because he had trouble in his career on PATs. That was only the second PAT Lambo has missed, but it came at the worst time.

Things weren't great off the field, either.

Jackson and Colvin got into a heated exchange on the sideline in the first quarter and had to be separated by teammates. Cole, receivers coach Keenan McCardell and inactive receiver Allen Hurns also had a confrontation on the sideline after Dontae Johnson's 50-yard interception return for a touchdown. When Cole got to the sideline, McCardell grabbed him by the shoulder pads and wouldn't let him go.

"I've always been OK with sideline stuff," coach Doug Marrone said. "It's a very emotional game. The sideline situation, those things have happened throughout my career all the time. It stays right where it is. Where I do have an issue is our composure on the field."

You can call it jet lag, being emotionally flat or just taking a team for granted, but the Jaguars played their worst game of the season on Sunday. Playoff teams are supposed to be playing their best at this time of year.

"We've earned it, but we really can't celebrate it," Marrone said. "We know that there's something for us this postseason. We know there's a sense of accomplishment, but that's something we'll look back on. Right now our focus is correcting that, doing a better job and getting ourselves ready to play the final game of the season."