“I did not anticipate that today,” Meyer said afterward.
Jacksonville proved to be the dregs of the league last season by going 1-15, but that earned it a victory of sorts by securing the No. 1 pick in a draft boasting an extremely highly regarded quarterback prospect, Trevor Lawrence. In his own NFL debut Sunday, the former Clemson star looked like a rookie forced to throw many more passes than his coach would have preferred. Lawrence completed 28 of 51 attempts for 332 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions and an underwhelming 70.1 rating.
After the Jaguars went three-and-out on their first possession, they were quickly forced off the field on their second, with another penalty, this time for offensive holding, serving as a self-inflicted wound. All told, Jacksonville ended up with 10 accepted penalties for 82 yards, compared with half as many infractions for Houston.
“It’s inexcusable,” Meyer said after the game. “Three preseason games, you’d think we’d have that fixed. So that’s something that I would guesstimate you would not see again.”
“We were moving the ball, then all of a sudden you look up and see that damned penalty flag,” he added. “Some just can’t happen. So that was the biggest disappointment.”
Despite playing on the road after winning just one game in 2020, the Jaguars were favored by oddsmakers, such was the low assessment of the Texans. Having benched star quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is facing a number of lawsuits for alleged sexual harassment, Houston started journeyman Tyrod Taylor under center and made graybeard running back Mark Ingram its primary ballcarrier. The 32-year-old Taylor, however, played well, using his legs to run for 40 yards and his arm to find veteran wide receiver Brandin Cooks for 132 yards on five catches.
“At least three times we had him in the grasp, and he extended the play,” Meyer said of Taylor. “A couple of times he just launched [the ball] down the field and those guys made plays. I’ve always thought he was a heck of a player. He had a good day.”
Opening Day was always a good day for Meyer during his 17 years as a college coach, when he went 17-0 in his teams’ first games, with an average margin of victory of 32 points. He won the vast majority of his other games as well and notched three national championships.
Even before Sunday’s unsightly loss, though, Meyer appeared to be in for a rougher ride in the NFL. His offense looked disjointed in preseason action and lost running back Travis Etienne, the Jaguars’ second selection in April’s first round, to a season-ending injury. Meyer was also questioned for giving Tim Tebow, who starred for him as a quarterback at the University of Florida, a long look as a would-be tight end. The Jaguars took the field in Houston shortly after CBS Sports published a story that suggested Meyer’s fiery temperament was already rubbing those around him the wrong way, with an anonymous source telling the website: “He has everyone looking over their shoulders already. He becomes unhinged way too easily.”
Meyer’s intensity, combined with health issues, factored into his decisions to step away from successful stints at Florida and Ohio State. After Sunday’s loss, he said he would “rather people not worry about me, a gray-haired dude that’s been around for a long time.”
“I’ve been warned for a long time that this is a marathon, not a sprint,” the 57-year-old coach told reporters. “So calm down, relax — not relax, but onward, soldier, let’s move on.”
Meyer might face some second-guessing for his use of running back James Robinson, who rushed for 1,070 yards and had 1,414 yards from scrimmage as a rookie last season but who got just five carries Sunday and eight touches overall. Fellow Jaguars back Carlos Hyde, a 30-year-old on his fifth team in the past five seasons — after having played for Meyer at Ohio State — was given nine carries and 11 touches. In addition to the penalties, Lawrence’s cause was not helped by the fact that Jacksonville receivers dropped several of his passes.
Asked if he and his team were “shellshocked” by the loss to the Texans, who at one point held a 34-7 leads, Meyer replied: “I don’t really know that word, other than we’ve all got our ass kicked before. Let’s tighten up and go.
“I believe in that team,” he continued. “I believe in our staff. Come back to work. You’ve got to earn your captain’s stripes and leadership stripes as a coach and leaders on the team. But I believe in those guys.”