JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jaguars pass rusher Josh Allen essentially earned a pay raise Sunday. He might have to wait until March to cash in, though.
The seventh overall pick in the 2019 draft had three sacks in Jacksonville’s season opener at Indianapolis — two of them because he chased Colts rookie Anthony Richardson out of bounds — and gave himself early leverage in future contract negotiations.
Allen is in the final year of his rookie deal, playing on a fifth-year option that guarantees him $10.9 million in 2023. He took a huge step toward persuading the Jaguars to keep him, and if not, surely increased his value in free agency.
“It was definitely a great start of what I want to achieve, but there’s also room to grow for next week,” Allen said following the 31-21 victory.
Aside from the addition of receiver Calvin Ridley, pass rush was the hottest topic in Jacksonville throughout the offseason and during training camp.
The Jaguars finished tied for 25th in the NFL with 35 sacks in 2022 and managed just three in two playoff games. A lingering memory from Jacksonville’s 27-20 playoff loss at Kansas City was repeatedly failing to get to Patrick Mahomes despite the star quarterback limping around on a badly sprained right ankle.
But instead of bolstering the team’s pass rush in free agency or the draft, the Jaguars banked on Allen and 2022 No. 1 pick Travon Walker making strides in their second year in coordinator Mike Caldwell’s defense.
General manager Trent Baalke met with available defensive lineman Calais Campell, Yannick Ngakoue and Jadeveon Clowney at different points between March and August. Baalke ended up trusting his gut and sticking with the guys already in the building.
He looked like a genius in Week 1.
Allen finished with 10 tackles, including the three sacks and several violent tackles against the run. And Walker added six tackles, including a sack. Allen had seven sacks last season; Walker had 3 1/2 as a rookie.
“I thought Josh really came into this game focused, energized, ready to get the season off on the right foot for himself,” coach Doug Pederson said. “Played well, played physical and it was good to see."
Added Walker: “Man, Josh, he was very explosive. He was relentless. That was the main thing. We came into the game telling each other to be relentless. And with us being relentless, there’s no stopping us.”
The Jaguars host Mahomes and the defending Super Bowl champions on Sunday.
Trevor Lawrence and Calvin Ridley had an undeniable connection. Of Lawrence’s 24 completions, a third went to Ridley.
Ridley finished with eight catches for 101 yards and a touchdown in his first real action in 686 days. Ridley, with Atlanta at the time, stepped away from football in October 2021 to address his mental health and then was suspended for the entire 2022 season for gambling on games. The Falcons traded him to Jacksonville in November, and he was reinstated in March.
“I just want to get the W’s,” he said. “I want to play meaningful games. I want to win. I think we’re going in the right direction, and I think that is the most important part.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Jaguars need better ball security. They fumbled three times, with Lawrence, Ridley and rookie running back Tank Bigsby putting balls on the ground. Bigsby also tipped a pass that resulted in an interception.
All three did enough to overcome their mistakes.
Cornerback Tyson Campbell forced a fumble in the third quarter and intercepted a pass in the fourth. His pick near the sideline with a three-point lead stopped the Colts' drive and set up Travis Etienne’s 26-yard TD run that sealed the victory.
Campbell’s performance also set the tone for what many expect to be a stellar season for the third-year pro from Georgia.
Harrison, the 27th overall pick in April’s draft out of Oklahoma, surely will get better the more he plays. But his debut was less than ideal as Jacksonville's line struggled to get much going on the ground early and faltered several times in short-yardage situations.
4 — number of consecutive victories for Lawrence against the AFC South. It’s the longest divisional win streak of any quarterback in franchise history.
The Jaguars have a chance against the Chiefs to proclaim themselves as someone to be reckoned with in the stacked AFC.
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