The Jaguars lost a heart braking contest to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship on Sunday. They played valiantly, but fell short in the end. Here's five takeaways from the Jaguars first conference championship game in nearly twenty years.
1. YOUR Jaguars went to toe to toe with the greatest dynasty in pro sports.
The Jaguars weren't given a shot by many to win this game. Even after two playoff victories Jaguars QB continued to be mocked nationally. But he and the rest of the Jaguars played very, very well against the Patriots. Bortles went shot for shot with Brady and came up just short. The Jaguars won the time of possession in this one and did a good job keeping Brady off the field for much of the game. The Jags, who are still one of the youngest teams in the NFL, just couldn't keep it together long enough to outlast Bill Belichik and Tom Brady. You should be proud of such an effort.
2. The officials, as they have for much of the season, left Jaguars fans confused and upset.
The Jaguars were the victims, once again, of some terrible calls on Sunday. Late in the second quarter the officiating crew gifted the Patriots an entire drive. Barry Church was called for an illegal hit on Rob Gronkowski on a play in which he led with his shoulder. Then AJ Bouye was called for a questionable pass interference deep down field that led to easy points for the Patriots. Later on Myles Jack recovered a fumble and was on his way to the house for a defensive touchdown, but an inadvertent whistle robbed the Jaguars of points at a key moment in the game. Even later a referee was spotted on camera clearly smiling surrounded by Patriots players after a late touchdown for New England. The icing on the cake? The Pats were called for just one penalty the entire game and there were clear non calls throughout.
3. Blake Bortles will likely be the Jaguars QB in 2018.
Blake Bortles played excellent for much of the playoffs. His first half against the Bills was far from ideal, but he was able to keep pounding against the Bills. In the second half of the Jaguars wild card win Bortles played very well, completing six of eight passes and rushing the ball for 88 yards in total. In the second round Bortles played fantastic. He was sharp with his decision making and his accuracy. He threw for over 200 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTs. He also ran the ball for 35 yards, helping the Jaguars offense to a consistent performance in which they scored 45 points in a hostile environment on the road. To cap it off he played a clean and effective game against the Patriots on the biggest stage of his career, racking up 293 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTS. He finished the game with a quarterback rating of 98.5. He's done more than enough to keep a job, with the only caveat being that the Jaguars could bring in veteran competition via free agency/trade, or younger competition via the draft. But at this point it would be a surprise not to see him in a Jaguars uniform next year.
4. The coaching staff deserves as much credit as the players.
The Jaguars offense was highly creative in the AFC Championship, showing off a new bag of tricks. Nathaniel Hackett, who has been criticized for having a bland offense, called a great game. On the defensive side of the ball the Jaguars were regularly in a great position to make plays, thanks in large part to Todd Wash's defensive scheme, but Brady just out-dueled them (with the help of the zebras). There will certainly be a sour taste in the mouth of the Jaguars coaches after this one, but they've laid the groundwork this season for what should be a successful run moving forward.
5. The expectation should now be to host the AFC Championship next season.
The Jaguars finished the 2017 season with 12 wins (including the playoffs). They were able to knock off the Steelers twice, the Ravens, the Seahawks, the Bills, and the Chargers. Outside of Tennessee, the Jaguars handled business within their division outscoring the the Colts and Texans by a combined score of 131-24. The Jaguars defense is built for the long haul and the offense improved greatly in 2017. Even without star WR Allen Robinson, the Jaguars offense finished the season sixth in total offense. With a strong running game and what should be an improved group of playmakers on offense in 2018, this is a team that should compete at the highest level. Of course, each season is a unique process and journey of it's own. The Jaguars can't rest on their laurels if they hope to get back to and maybe even host the AFC title game next year. But Tom Coughlin, Doug Marrone and the Jaguars veterans know that.
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