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NFL London: Jaguars end 20-game losing streak as dramatic Matthew Wright field goal beats Dolphins in thriller

·9 min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

After almost 400 days, the downtrodden Jacksonville Jaguars’ long wait for victory is finally at an end after a dramatic, last-second triumph over the reeling Miami Dolphins in London.

Recently-signed kicker Matthew Wright produced a successful 53-yard field goal as time expired in front of 60,784 fans at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday as the NFL’s biggest strugglers claimed their first win for 13 months in one of the most exciting finishes seen in a regular-season encounter on these shores.

On their record eighth trip to the UK, closing out the two-game 2021 London series, the battling Jaguars sent their adopted fanbase into raptures, ending a run of 20 successive losses - the second-longest such streak in the Super Bowl-era, behind only the 1976-77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers - to hand embattled head coach Urban Meyer a desperately-needed boost after a dismal and controversial start to his first NFL foray after major college success.

Such a win also saw no1 pick Trevor Lawrence claim more bragging rights over fellow quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, two years after leading his Clemson team to National Championship glory over Alabama.

Jaguars fans will hope that a first taste of NFL victory can act as a launchpad for the highly-talented Lawrence, who threw for 319 yards, one stellar touchdown and no interceptions on the day.

For Miami, now 1-5, a fifth consecutive defeat will leave more questions to answer for head coach Brian Flores after initial pre-season optimism that the franchise would be able to take another key step forward this year after posting double-digit wins or the first time since 2016 last term quickly evaporated.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Tagovailoa started quickly on his return from fractured ribs sustained in the week 2 blowout by the formidable Buffalo Bills, withstanding a couple of early false start penalties to get Miami moving straightaway with three big third-down conversions, two to oft-targeted rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and another to trusty tight end Mike Gesicki.

Tagovailoa showcased his nous and foot speed with a seven-yard scramble to the Jaguars’ six-yard line, then delivered a perfect short pass for Waddle - who already came into the game as the second most-targeted rookie receiver in the NFL - to ensure the Dolphins reached the end zone on their maiden possession.

Miami went 75 yards in 13 plays with six first downs in a methodical and incisive opening attack.

Eager to respond in kind, Lawrence’s first pass went 24 yards to Jamal Agnew and the Jaguars produced a big third-down conversion of their own on their first series, with Lawrence delivering a 19-yard strike to tight end Dan Arnold, who was acquired late last month in a trade with the Carolina Panthers.

Lawrence and Arnold had looked to connect on another fourth down deep in Miami territory, but the ball slipped agonisingly out of the latter’s hands, leading Wright - preferred to Josh Lambo as the starting kicker - to split the uprights from 40 yards with Jacksonville’s very first field goal of the 2021 season. They were the only team in the entire NFL not to have made a single one heading into week six.

Tagovailoa looked to be brimming with confidence as he immediately then found Waddle for 18 yards and Gesicki for 22 with eye-catching deliveries before the Dolphins subbed in back-up quarterback Jacoby Brissett on third-and-one, with some well-executed play action resulting in a gain of 25 yards for tight end Durham Smythe.

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(Getty Images)

The Dolphins dominated the ball in a first quarter that involved just three possessions, with a nine-yard charge from running back Salvon Ahmed down to the one-yard line negated by offensive holding.

Miami couldn’t quite regain their momentum during another promising drive after a third-down drop by Myles Gaskin, who returned after being sidelined following an early fumble, with Jason Sanders extending their lead to 10-3 courtesy of a 33-yard field goal.

Lawrence was lucky his next pass to Laviska Shenault was not intercepted by cornerback Justin Coleman and there was not sufficient room for highly-rated running back James Robinson to make inroads on the ground, with a penalty for clipping forcing first-and-22 and quickly dooming the Jaguars’ second drive.

Both teams traded punts, with Robinson still bottled up for the Jaguars, who were being backed up by more penalties and defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah burst through to bat down and almost intercept a Lawrence pass just outside his own end zone. Had he managed to hold onto it, he would have eased in for another Miami touchdown.

The Dolphins let another opportunity pass them by when an aggressive Tagovailoa - having just failed with a deep shot - avoided the pressure perfectly with an effective scramble on third-and-two at the Jacksonville 30, yet declined to just run for the first down and instead overthrew his intended receiver by a significant margin.

He bounced back with a superb 20-yard pass to Mack Hollins on fourth down as Miami went for it, but the Jaguars’ red-zone defence held firm on third-and-six, with another pass for Gaskin incomplete, leading to a second Sanders field goal, this time from 24 yards.

Suddenly the Jaguars were on the move as Lawrence threaded quick-fire passes to Marvin Jones, Arnold and Shenault, with Robinson then finding a big gap for his first big run of the afternoon, only for a surging 26-yard gain to be negated by a costly face-mask grab from tight end Luke Farrell.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Lawrence fought through that latest setback by connecting with Jones for 32, but quickly faced another difficult third-and-long, with a low pass spilled by Shenault as Jacksonville’s predictable struggles showed no signs of abating.

They secured good field position after forcing a quick punt from Miami’s 12-yard line inside the two-minute warning, with Lawrence and Shenault failing to connect on third-and-six before rectifying that with aplomb on fourth down.

Any fans beginning to wonder what all the fuss was about with Lawrence then saw him uncork a fantastic 28-yard strike into the corner of the end zone, where the underrated Jones rose brilliantly above his marker to take in a highlight-reel catch. The successful PAT brought the Jaguars back within three points.

With 40 seconds still left before the half-time break, Tagovailoa was almost picked off on a deep pass before hitting tight ends Smythe and Gesicki near the sideline, setting up a massive 58-yard field goal attempt for Sanders, whose effort was deflected off the hand of a defender and fell way short.

Lawrence picked up where he left off at the start of the third quarter, combining with Agnew for a gain of 29 before an unnecessary roughness penalty on Miami safety Jevon Holland saw them advance 15 more yards, with the elusive, hard-running Robinson rumbling down from the 25-yard line to the one and then fighting his way over from close range to hand the Jaguars their first lead.

The pressure was on Tagovailoa to respond and he scrambled well twice before a key third-down pass to Waddle, though another 21-yard gain to the Jacksonville 25 was wiped out by offensive pass interference, with Waddle then faced with smothering double coverage as he unsuccessfully tried to bring in a deep pass on third down.

Now the Jaguars’ offensive unit were clicking as they carved their way back into opposition territory, with Robinson making hard yards on the ground and Lawrence combining again with Jones as well as demonstrating his own significant dual-threat capabilities with his legs as the first downs quickly came.

But a promising drive ended abruptly with a turnover - the first of the day - as Lawrence fumbled after a hard hit from Christian Wilkins and the loose ball was speedily recovered by Zach Sieler.

One turnover for the game then immediately became two as Tagovailoa inexplicably directed a dreadful pass straight to cornerback Nevin Lawson - who gladly claimed his first career pick - on the very next play.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Eager to take advantage of his instant reprieve, Lawrence quickly had the Jaguars back down to the Miami 18 with a 21-yard pass to Farrell to close the third period.

On the move out to the right, Lawrence couldn’t find Laquon Treadwell in the back of the end zone with an arrowed pass on third-and-one, with Robinson then stopped short as Miami’s defence forced a turnover on downs at their own nine-yard line, the Jaguars neglecting the chance to go up by seven points with a field goal.

Tagovailoa found Gesicki for back-to-back sizeable gains of 32 and 20 yards as Miami now moved the chains effectively, with receiver Albert Wilson also making an important third-down catch before more play action perfectly set up an 18-yard strike to Smythe, with the Dolphins at the three-yard line after a penalty for taunting.

The Tagovailoa to Waddle connection succeeded again to the left-hand side of the endzone as Miami retook the lead 20-17 with a two-yard touchdown that capped a seven-play, 88-yard drive with 10-and-a-half minutes still to play.

Miami unsuccessfully disputed the call of an incomplete pass to Gaskin on third down before Flores then threw the red challenge flag after Hollins raced after a deep punt from Michael Palardy and the ball bounced near Agnew before travelling into the endzone as Hollins scooped it up and claimed a touchdown.

After several replays, the ruling on the field of a touchback stood after there was deemed to have been no contact on the ball by Agnew, much to Jacksonville’s relief.

Lawrence set about driving the Jaguars back upfield to tie the game or wrestle back the lead and an unfortunate drop from Robinson was followed by another excellent 20-yard catch by Jones near the sideline on third down.

The attack quickly fizzled out despite Lawrence using all of his evasive powers to avoid what looked like a certain sack, yet Jacksonville still managed to level proceedings with just over three-and-a-half minutes remaining thanks to a booming 54-yard field goal from Wright.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Miami were faced with a crucial fourth-and-one just inside their own half after the two-minute warning, with tension engulfing the stadium as it was eventually ruled that running back Malcolm Brown was narrowly short of a first, though what then unfolded was initially something of a disaster for the Jaguars as a false start and big Ogbah sack on Lawrence saw them moved well out of field-goal range.

But Lawrence came roaring back with successive money throws to Shenault to allow the Jaguars to call timeout with one second left on the clock and set up the game-winning Wright field goal. He made it from 53 yards to seal a dream finale as the streak was ended and the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium erupted in a cacophony of celebration.

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