London calling: 49ers square off with winless Jags
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Jacksonville Jaguars have been outscored by 78 points at home this season and have yet to score a touchdown in any of those three games.
Looking to avoid a club-record eighth setback in a row, the Jaguars hope for better luck in what will be there home away from home for the next few seasons as they battle the streaking San Francisco 49ers in London's historic Wembley Stadium.
Sunday's meeting marks the second of two scheduled NFL games in London this season for the league's International Series. The Minnesota Vikings bested the Pittsburgh Steelers back on Sept. 29.
The Jaguars, in fact, are scheduled to play a "home" game in London for each of the next four seasons beginning this year and make their first appearance in this series.
"I think it's going to be pretty cool," said Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne. "I've heard a lot of things from different players. I haven't obviously been here personally, but a lot of cheering going on offensively and defensively.
"Offensively we have to be ready for crowd noise as well. I think the excitement of the fans and just the different atmosphere is going to boost us and boost a little bit more energy and enthusiasm for us and hopefully we can come out and play well, play better."
The 49ers are making their second trip to Wembley Stadium having bested the Denver Broncos 24-16 on Oct. 31, 2010.
Sunday's game is just the fourth all-time meeting between the Niners and Jaguars. Jacksonville won the first two at home before the 49ers logged a 20-3 victory in San Francisco on Nov. 29, 2009.
Both teams enjoy their bye week following this game and the Jaguars hope to go into their break with their first win under head coach Gus Bradley. Jacksonville has lost seven straight under its first-year coach, getting outscored 89-11 in three home games.
The Jags were held to just a pair of field goals in Sunday's 24-6 setback to the San Diego Chargers. Henne threw for 318 yards in his second straight start in place of the injured Blaine Gabbert, but was sacked six times and threw an interception while the defense allowed 434 net yards of offense to the Chargers.
"I challenged our guys and I told them we talked about getting better and we completely missed an opportunity. That's what not getting better looks like because we did not get better. Penalties, missed tackles, missed assignments, spirit, effort," said Bradley. "We talk about playing with toughness, playing with effort, playing with enthusiasm and playing smart. That's our style. I don't think we did any one of those four today."
It marks the third time in team history the Jaguars have lost seven in a row. They also had a seven-game slide last season as well as in 1995.
"I wouldn't say we are embarrassed," said Henne. "Are we disappointed? Absolutely. It's tough to go through 0-7. We want to win. We are hungry. These guys are really hungry. We didn't get better. We keep saying we are getting better but we lost again."
The 49ers, meanwhile, won again this past Sunday with a 31-17 decision over the Tennessee Titans. San Francisco has eclipsed 30 points in each game of a current four-game winning streak and improved to 5-2 on the season to keep pace with first-place Seattle (6-1) in the NFC West.
Colin Kaepernick threw for 199 yards and also rushed for 64 yards and a score. Frank Gore added a pair of rushing touchdowns and Anquan Boldin made five catches for 74 yards.
The Niners have posted 132 points and allowed just 51 over their winning streak after getting outscored 56-10 over back-to-back losses in Week 2-3 as the offense has looked to have hit its stride.
"I don't know what you want to define mid-season form as, but we have strung together a few wins and we feel pretty good about what we are doing right now," said Kaepernick, who rushed for his first score of the season.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Of course, both teams will have to deal with the extensive travel and media coverage that comes with this game, something a number of 49ers players are already used to.
Gore, tight end Vernon Davis, linebacker Patrick Willis and defensive lineman Justin Smith are among those who faced off against Denver in 2010, with Gore notching 118 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries.
However, for the likes of Kaepernick, Boldin and rookie safety Eric Reid, this trip to London to play in front of 80,000-plus fans is a new experience.
"I think you have to make it as normal as possible," Boldin said of the trip following last Sunday's win. "Although you are out of your elements, you have to try to stick to your schedule. You have to continue to do the things that you have done up to this point. It's a task because we are going across seas. For myself and a lot of the guys, I think we will try to stick to our routines as much as possible."
The 49ers should have a slight advantage in that regards to the Jaguars, who will become well experienced in this scenario in a few years.
"I definitely think it will help. Everybody will be accustomed to the travel and what day we'll leave, where we're staying and what we actually have out here for the future," said Henne. "It will definitely be beneficial for our team being out here this year and continuing the next four years."
Bradley got a late start to this trip as he first returned to Minnesota on Monday to be with his family following the passing of his 85-year-old father, Roy Bradley, on Sunday. The Jaguars flew to London on Monday, while their coach joined them on Wednesday.
One of the first things Bradley did was name Henne the starter for this game over Gabbert, who has been out since hurting his hamstring on Oct. 6 versus St. Louis but is expected to be active as the backup in London.
"We feel good about what Chad has done the last few weeks and we want to continue to build on that and see where it takes us," said Bradley.
The Jags should also have some other players available as defensive end Jeremy Mincey and wideouts Stephen Burton and Ace Sanders were all cleared to play from their respective concussions.
Henne is looking to post his third straight 300-yard passing game and has gotten help from wide receiver Cecil Shorts III, who leads the club with 39 receptions and 491 receiving yards while getting involved in one of just six touchdowns scored by the Jags this season.
Shorts played the entire game versus the Chargers despite a sprained SC joint.
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew also played throughout, though it was tough to notice. The back ran for just 37 yards on nine carries, his fewest attempts in a game since having just eight on Nov. 1, 2009 versus Tennessee. Jones-Drew did turn those limited carries into 177 yards, helped by scores of 80 and 79 yards.
Overall, Jacksonville ranks last in the NFL in points per game (10.9), total offense (282.0 YPG), rushing offense (63.0 YPG) and rushing defense (153.3 YPG) while ranking 31st in scoring defense at 31.7 points per game allowed.
One positive has been the pass defense, which is yielding 238.1 yards per game. However, the Jags have come away with just three interceptions, two from linebacker Paul Posluszny, who also tops the club with 68 tackles.
Gore could be in line for another big game across the sea and his two rushing touchdowns last weekend moved him into third place on the club's all-time TD list with 67.
Henne will need to play smart with the ball as the 49ers have scored points off each of their last 11 forced turnovers. Cornerback Tramaine Brock had an interception for a fourth straight game last Sunday, leading to a Gore touchdown.
San Francisco ranks 1st in the NFL with 75 points off 15 turnovers, logging nine touchdowns and four field goals.
Smith had a pair of sacks in the 49ers last game in Wembley and picked up a pair of sacks versus the Titans.
While it will be nice for the Jaguars to get away from the pressure of winning in front of the Jacksonville faithful, a matchup against the red-hot 49ers is no consolation. San Francisco has a huge edge in talent and experience in playing across the pond, giving the potential for a blowout in London.
With the Jags set to play at Wembley for the next few years, the best they can hope for is to play competitive for as long as they can and maybe pick up a touchdown or two.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: 49ers 34, Jaguars 16
10/25 09:29:52 ET