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Shaky O-line play catches up with Jaguars as QB Trevor Lawrence sprains his right ankle in loss

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — There have been season-long whispers that Jacksonville’s shaky pass protection would eventually get quarterback Trevor Lawrence hurt.

No one, though, expected an offensive lineman to do the actual damage.

But backup left tackle Walker Little, filling in for injured veteran Cam Robinson, stepped on Lawrence’s right ankle while getting overpowered late in Monday night’s 34-31 overtime loss to Cincinnati and forced him out of the game.

Lawrence was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain that won’t require surgery, but it could force him to miss a game for the first time in his three-year NFL career.

“Looked worse than it really was,” coach Doug Pederson said Tuesday. “Very fortunate there.”

The Jaguars (8-4) should consider themselves fortunate Lawrence hasn’t been injured more often this season. His offensive line has been pedestrian at best, with four different starters at left guard, a center (Luke Fortner) who tends to get pushed around and a right guard (Brandon Scherff) who’s clearly on the downside of his career.

The line has been so inconsistent that rookie right tackle Anton Harrison has emerged as the team’s best blocker, and it’s not even close.

“There’s always room for improvement, right?” Pederson said.

The Jaguars gave Minnesota a sixth-round draft pick at the trade deadline to land left guard Ezra Cleveland. Now, with Robinson (knee) on injured reserve, Cleveland is in the starting lineup for the foreseeable future.

But the line could be facing another change since Little is dealing with a left hamstring strain and is considered questionable to play at the Browns (7-5) on Sunday.

Lawrence has been sacked 27 times, matching his total from last season and five short of the career-high 32 takedowns he endured as a rookie. It’s not close to the league leaders, but it’s far from ideal for a mobile quarterback who’s known for having one of the quickest releases in the league.

Improving Lawrence’s line should be a priority for Pederson and general manager Trent Baalke in the offseason, especially considering Cleveland is a pending free agent and Robinson and Scherff are likely to be released to save roughly $34 million against the salary cap.

WHAT’S WORKING

Jacksonville has been somewhat lucky of late, including Lawrence avoiding ankle surgery. Consecutive opponents banged long field goals off the crossbar, the Jaguars recovered all three of their fumbles against Cincinnati, and Bengals safety Dax Hill bobbled a would-be interception that resulted in one of Lawrence’s TD passes.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Third down defense has been an issue in Jacksonville’s past two games, with Houston and Cincinnati converting 14 of 27 tries. None of those was bigger than an 11-yard pass from Jake Browning to Tee Higgins on a third-and-10 play in overtime. It sparked the winning drive.

STOCK UP

Despite fumbling a punt and failing to run the correct route on the play in which Lawrence got hurt, rookie Parker Washington stepped in for veteran Christian Kirk in the first quarter and was solid.

The sixth-round draft pick from Penn State caught all six passes thrown his way for 61 yards and a touchdown, a bobbling catch in the back of the end zone that was the first score of his pro career.

STOCK DOWN

Brandon McManus has missed two of his past three field-goal attempts, a surprising slump for a veteran who had made 20 in a row between late September and late November.

McManus was wide right on both tries, missing from 48 yards with five minutes to play against Cincinnati on Monday and missing from 55 yards in the fourth quarter of last week’s 24-21 victory at Houston.

INJURIES

Kirk will “miss some time” with a core muscle injury that is expected to require surgery. Nickel cornerback Tre Herndon is in concussion protocol. Defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi (ankle) and safety Andre Cisco (shoulder) should be fine.

KEY NUMBER

6 — number of wins the Jaguars have away from home this season. They are 4-0 in true road games and 6-0 away from EverBank Stadium, a spotless mark they will try to improve at the Browns on Sunday.

NEXT STEPS

With injuries mounting, Jacksonville has a chance to prove it has depth. It could mean more opportunities for youngsters such as Washington.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

Mark Long, The Associated Press