Early special-teams mistakes, Ka'imi Fairbairn's accuracy lead to Jaguars' downfall

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  • Jaydon Mickens
    Jaydon Mickens
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Dawuane Smoot
    Dawuane Smoot
    American football defensive end
  • Matthew Wright
    American football placekicker

Perhaps in the spirit of the holidays, the Houston Texans gave the Jaguars a gift during the third quarter of Sunday's game at TIAA Bank Field when their punt coverage team lost contain and allowed a 48-yard return by Jaydon Mickens after, perhaps foolishly, he fielded the ball at his own goal line.

But like a kid who breaks one of his new toys five minutes after opening the box on Christmas morning, the Jaguars found a way to ruin the longest punt return of the season.

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Jags outside linebacker Dawuane Smoot bumped into the side judge while running onto the field to celebrate Mickens' return and drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. That set the ball back to the Jaguars 34 and the offense went three-and-out.

Tremon Smith of the Houston Texans cruises into the end zone on a 98-yard kickoff return against the Jaguars on Sunday at TIAA Bank Field.
Tremon Smith of the Houston Texans cruises into the end zone on a 98-yard kickoff return against the Jaguars on Sunday at TIAA Bank Field.

It was that kind of day in the 30-16 loss at TIAA Bank Field in the AFC South's battle to stay out of the basement.

The Jaguars (2-12) made a series of special-teams gaffes that certainly could have swung the momentum at any point, involving kickoff and punt coverage, and punt return.

Then there was the familiar sight of Texans' kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn banging three-pointers through the uprights. He made all three of his attempts, from 51, 51 and 25 yards, and is 16 of 17 for his career against the Jags. Eight of those kicks have come from 40 yards or longer and four 50 yards or longer.

Houston Texans kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn (7) kicks one of his three field goals against the Jaguars on Sunday.
Houston Texans kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn (7) kicks one of his three field goals against the Jaguars on Sunday.

The most egregious special-teams play came after Matthew Wright's 22-yard field goal to cut the Texans' early lead to 7-3.

Wright failed once again to reach the end zone with his kickoff (a common occurrence this season) and Tremon Smith gathered the ball in at the 2, then barged through the Jags' coverage team on his way to a 98-yard touchdown, the first by Houston since 2009 and the second the Jags have given up this season.

Smith looked to be bottled up in the middle of the field just after crossing his own 30-yard line, but somehow emerged from a scrum of Jags that included Chapelle Russell, Rudy Ford, Shaq Quarterman and Wright.

To make matters worse, Rayshawn Jenkins injured his ankle on the play and had to be carted off. That will rob the Jags of one of their starting free safety and their leading tackler on special teams.

Wright was pulled from kickoff duty in favor of punter Logan Cooke, who has kicked off sporadically during his NFL career. Cooke hit his first kickoff into the end zone for a touchback but drew a penalty in the third quarter for slicing one out-of-bounds, and kicked another to the Texans' 10.

The kicking game issues started on Houston's first possession which oddly enough came after Wright stuck a rare kickoff into the end zone.

The Jaguars defense forced a punt from Houston's 32 but Adam Gotsis was hit with a penalty for illegal use of hands to the face on Houston upback Eric Murray, which resulted in Murray losing his helmet. The Texans went on to score on David Mills' 22-yard pass to Brandin Cooks.

There was more. Cooke got off a 54-yard punt in the second quarter but the coverage team was slow to get downfield and Desmond King broke off a 16-yard return to the Jags' 49. That led to Fairbairn's 52-yard field goal and a 17-10 lead.

But the penalty on Smoot was baffling. Jags interim coach Darrell Bevell said the official told him Smoot ran on the field before the play was over and bumped into him.

However, replays showed that Smoot didn't leave the sideline and bump into the official until after Mickens was brought down.

Bevell said Smoot shouldn't have left anything to chance.

"He [the official] said he ran right into him, ran into him hard," Bevell said. "He felt like he had to call that. That's one of the things we talk to the guys about. We can't play bad football. Guys on the sidelines running on the field ... that's not good football."

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Jaguars special teams mistakes result in loss to Texans

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