Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Lose To Colts (Playoffs?)

The question all week was “Can we beat the Colts.” The answer was easy. “If they play like they have been, they can win.” The problem is, they didn’t play anything like they’re capable of playing.

Indianapolis had been struggling on both offense and defense. Peyton Manning didn’t have all of his regulars and even his new star, Austin Collie was just returning from a concussion. Manning likes to play the Jaguars, particularly when their defense is ranked 29th against the pass. So it wasn’t much of a surprise when he marched the Colts downfield on their first possession, hitting Collie in the end zone for a 7-0 lead.

The Jaguars responded with a field goal, but that’s never enough against Indy. You have to score TD’s when you have a chance. So when Manning hit Collie again for a TD, wide open down the middle seam, the Colts lead 14-3.

Indianapolis clearly was concentrating on stopping the run, the Jaguars bread and butter and did just that, holding Maurice Jones Drew for under 100 yards (actually 46. his lowest ever against the Colts) and ran the ball themselves. They’d be averaging just 80 yards a game on the ground, this week they ground out 155 against the Jaguars.

Mike Thomas returned a punt 78-yards for a TD to cut the lead to four, 14-10 and it seemed the momentum was changing. (Some Colts claimed Thomas signaled for a fair catch but the officials said no).

That’s when Jack Del Rio made a move that could be debated for a long time as the game-changing, season-changing call. On 4th and 1 from their own 39-yard line, Del Rio said go for it. I don’t mind the bravado that comes along with that call or the confidence it shows in his team. That’s Jack. He’s been making that call ever since he became a head coach. But I hated the call, a toss-sweep that gives the defense a chance to adjust. That leaves a chance for too many guys to make a play and that’s just what happened. MJD was hit behind the line, mis-handled the toss and fumbled the ball. The Jaguars turn it over on downs and the Colts do just what the Colts always do, they took advantage of the situation. Donald Brown ripped off a 40 yard TD run to give the Colts a 21-10.

But showing their resiliency, the Jaguars started marching right down the field looking to make a game of it. That’s when Garrard sailed one over Jason Hill’s head and into the arms of Antone Bethea for an interception and a field goal for the Colts going the other way, 24-10. That’s the throw that makes the difference in the game. A completion and it’s for 20 yards, a first down and keeps the Colts on their heels. Instead it changes the momentum of the game and keeps Indy in control. Garrard just flat out has to make that throw. He picked the right guy, he made the right read, but he just didn’t get the job done at THE most critical time.

Maybe that’s harsh but Garrard is one of the highest paid quarterbacks in the league. He’s paid at that level to make that play.

But he didn’t.

Yes they hung in there and kept it close but the outcome seemed inevitable from that point on. The on-side kick returned for a TD sealed it, 34-14.

It’s disappointing for Jaguars fans because they were hoping to get excited about this team. It’s an easy team to like from a personality standpoint but the up and down nature of their performances are enough to drive people crazy. They have two games left, at home against Washington and then on the road to finish the year against the Texans. Wins there and a 10-6 record isn’t bad, but might not make the playoffs.

So all is not lost, but that opportunity to establish themselves as a contender instead of pretenders is gone. As Jack said, “if we’re going to beat these guys, we’ve got to be able to get that one tough yard. We had two chances at that today and didn’t get it done.”


Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Beat Raiders

It was a pretty upbeat and loose locker room after the Jaguars beat Oakland 38-31 Sunday. I was trying to interview Don Carey and Derrick Cox kept interrupting. In a fun way. Rashad Jennings has his locker cordoned off and Montel Owens was giving him grief for being messy.

That kind of stuff doesn’t happen in a losing locker room.

It doesn’t happen in most locker rooms in professional sports unless the team has a certain bond and a team goal. All along, head coach Jack Del Rio has said his team has “put the work in and knows what we can do,” but when you’re hovering around .500 nobody gets excited about how much work you’re doing and what you “might” be.

But at 8-5, people are starting to take notice.

And it’s not just an 8-5 record but how they got there. They beat the Colts on a record setting kick with no time on the clock. The Texans went down on a literal “Hail Mary.” The Titans succumbed to a strong running game and Oakland followed suit. Save for the second half against the Giants, the Jaguars have done nothing but get better in the second half of the season.

Right now they’re the “team that came out of nowhere.” Indy’s injuries have helped. Tennessee’s implosion has helped. Houston’s ineptness in crucial situations has helped. But the bottom line is when they’ve had their chances; they’ve taken advantage of them.

There were a few games earlier in the year where David Garrard was nearly perfect and helped the Jaguars to victory. But as the season wore on, it became apparent that this was a running football team, and the coaches bought into that. That’s why for three consecutive games, the Jaguars have run for more than 200 yards.

Against Oakland both Jennings and Maurice Jones Drew had more than 100. It’s what winning football teams do in December: run the ball and get first downs. Score touchdowns and don’t settle for field goals. And don’t give up big plays.

Ah yes, that was a problem against Oakland. “There were some real ugly plays there,” Del Rio admitted in his post-game press conference. “But we’ll get it fixed and move on. It’s a lot easier to fix things with a smile on your face.”

That’s probably the best explanation Jack has ever given for the difference between a practice after a win or after a loss.

And that’s why winning breeds winning. These guys now believe they’re going to win, even when they’re down by 10 at halftime. MJD stood up and told his teammates, “We’ve given them everything they’ve gotten. They haven’t earned it. Let’s go out and play our kind of game and we’ll win.” Jones Drew is not a big rah-rah guy and in fact, he’s not much of a talker. So when he said something at halftime, his teammates paid attention and he didn’t have to raise his voice.

No panic. Do your job and we’ll be OK.

MJD certainly has enough gravitas among his teammates to pull that off and it’s good to hear that he’s willing to exert some of that authority when it’s necessary. He and Jennings will be key ingredients this week against Indianapolis.

The only formula for beating the Colts is run the ball; stop the run and pressure Peyton Manning up the middle. Get around his legs and make him make that “happy feet” move. If he has time, he always picks apart the Jaguars pass “D” and it’ll be worse this week based on their recent performances and their league ranking.

Having said that, the Jaguars know how to beat the Colts and don’t go up there with any trepidation.

Just respect.

And trying to earn some.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Urban’s Decision

There have been successful coaches and athletes who have figured out the balance necessary to also have a positive family life. Jack Nicklaus used to fly home on Friday nights in the middle of a golf tournament to see his sons play H.S. Football. Don Shula won World Championships and is the winningest coach of all-time, yet kept his family in tact.

Urban Meyer says he’s incapable of doing that and stepped down as the Head Coach at the University of Florida.

This is no criticism of Urban. Everybody has to do what they think is best for them and after his retirement, un-retirement and leave of absence last year; this move didn’t come as a shock. What was different was the focus only on his home life, his family, and his lack of connection with his daughters in college and in high school and not a word about his health.

No word about the cyst on his brain or the chest pains (caused by esophageal spasms). Nothing about last year except to say it was a “knee jerk” reaction and this was completely different.

I couldn’t agree more with his statement about how you’ll eventually be judged “as what kind of husband and father you were, not how many bowl games you win.” It’s very noble, but I left Gainesville thinking there was more to the story. Perhaps we’ll never know. I certainly don’t have any negative thoughts about Meyer’s announcement.

When you’ve had enough and you know it, get away. It makes it a bit easier when you’ve earned an estimated $18 million over the last six years in Gainesville. So if he wants to concentrate on other things, he has the wherewithal to do just that.

He’s considered one of the rocks of the community in Gainesville, along with Billy Donovan, getting involved in numerous charitable and fund-raising efforts. Hopefully he’ll stay involved. I don’t think he’ll coach for a while, and he even said that today. So don’t read anything but coincidence into him quitting and Denver needing a head coach.

Who replaces him will be a hot topic of discussion for a couple of weeks. Athletic Director Jeremy Foley said he knows this process and knows how to go about it so he’ll keep us posted, when he can. There are probably 10 names on the list, 5 on the short list. That’ll happen either right before or right after the first of the year.

Meyer says he’ll coach through the Outback Bowl and be a part of the recruiting process until the new coach is named. I will say that Meyer never embraced the “Gators” idea, but he won, so he was a part of the family. We should wish him luck, help him though any hardships and be pleased he could make such a dramatic decision.

Here’s one question the new coach should consider: If Steve Spurrier, Ron Zook and Urban Meyer have left the Florida football program in the last 10 years; What’s going on there?