Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Off-Season Underway

Cleaning out lockers, going through exit interviews and physicals, and saying good-bye to teammates is all part of the process of ending the season in the NFL. Only one of the thirty-two teams finishes happy, the rest lament “what could have been.” Most teams finish when the regular season is over. Now known as “Black Monday” it’s the day after the final game when coaches are fired, general managers are shown the door and owners are looking to the future. Players have their own version of “Black Monday” knowing that the team they just finished playing for will never be the same. Guys are cut or traded, retire or sign somewhere else. It’s a fact of life in the league that about 40% of the roster turns over every year. Twenty of the fifty-three players on the Jaguars squad in 2014 won’t be there in 2015.

Jaguars GM Dave Caldwell knows he has to upgrade the roster and is hoping he can keep the turnover to less than half. At his year end press conference Caldwell admitted he didn’t think it would be a quick fix to make the Jaguars competitive.

“I didn’t think we’d win a bunch of games this year or last,” he said. “In fact, I’m kind of surprised we won as many as we did.” When asked if they’d spend a bunch of money in this offseason (they have the most to spend under the salary cap in the league) Caldwell demurred, saying the Jaguars don’t have to spend that money until before 2017 under the league rules.

But he believes the current young players on the roster are part of the solution. “I expect they’ll make their most improvement between year one and year two,” he said, following the mantra when talking about most rookies. “I don’t expect them to all be Pro Bowlers next year but I do think they’ll be significantly better.

Head Coach Gus Bradley also held his year-end press conference on Tuesday, first announcing that he had dismissed offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. While he said all of the normal “coach-speak” things about Fisch during his opening statement, when pressed, Bradley admitted that it was a difference in philosophy that prompted the change.

“We just saw it differently,” Bradley explained. “We wanted to bring Blake (QB Bortles) along slowly and sometimes we put too much on his plate to let him play anxiety free.” Clearly Fisch was willing to challenge Bortles to accelerate his learning curve while Bradley wanted things simplified to bring him along slowly. Whatever the reasons, Fisch and Bradley didn’t mesh enough to get anything done on offense that would allow the Jaguars a chance to win. They finished at the bottom or near the bottom in just about every offensive category and scored six offensive TDs in their last six games of 2014.

“When you make a move like this you expect to take a step backward,” Bradley admitted. “But you hope it goes along with one or two steps forward as well.” Bortles and the offense will have to learn a new scheme and adjust to what a new coordinator might bring as far as a philosophy of how to get things done.

Bradley said he hadn’t thought about a replacement but two names come to mind quickly. Marc Trestman newly fired as head coach of the Chicago Bears is considered a quarterback guru and is a friend of Gus’. Greg Roman, the offensive coordinator for the 49’ers under Jim Harbaugh, is also available and was Dave Caldwell’s roommate in college at John Carroll.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Bucs passed on coaching in the Senior Bowl this year and the Jaguars volunteered to go to Mobile later this month. Gus Bradley and his staff will coach the South squad for the second consecutive year. Not good based on where you have to finish in order to be one of the game’s coaching staffs, but good from the standpoint of getting to know the players very well during that week. Last year the Jaguars mined several draft picks out of that experience including Aaron Colvin who suffered a torn ACL that week but still played this year. The hope is twofold: That they find some more talent in the game and that they don’t go back there for a while.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

FSU “The Most Hated Team”: Why?

Having never played there before, in a quirk of luck, the FSU Seminoles will play in the Rose Bowl for the second straight year. While last year was for the National Championship against a familiar Auburn team, this year the ‘Noles are in the semi-final against an unknown in Oregon. Sure they’ll have seen plenty of tape, studied the Ducks tendencies and will be prepared for whatever the Pac 12 champs bring, it’s still an unknown for FSU.

We saw that when Oregon played Auburn for the National Championship a few years ago. Oregon had an up-tempo offense, great skill players and lots of speed. But Auburn had speed and size, something the Ducks couldn’t match. Same thing with Alabama and Notre Dame. The Irish had made their way to the top of the polls with solid athletes, strong effort and good speed. But the Tide overwhelmed them from the first snap, showing speed, size and quickness that Notre Dame couldn’t match.

Odds makers have made the Seminoles more than a touchdown underdog in this game, strange for a team that hasn’t lost since 2012. Also strange for a team that averages 6’5″ and 325 lbs. on the offensive line, has a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback and a record setting wide receiver, tight end and running back. So what do they know that we don’t?

Bettors have flocked to the ‘Noles in Las Vegas sports books, figuring that a team that has found a way to win games they’ve been behind in all year would at least be able to stay within a touchdown of just about anybody. That’s why this is such a hard game to predict. Even Head Coach Jimbo Fisher says having played in the Rose Bowl last year has helped FSU in their preparation this season. They know what to expect.

At today’s press conference, Head Coach Jimbo Fisher was asked a couple of times about being the “most hated team in America” and if he was tired of defending both the ‘Noles character and their record.

“I hate it for the kids,” Fisher responded. “I know how hard they work, what they’re like. The biggest mis-perception of Jameis Winston is that he’s a bad guy. He’s not. He’s one of the most kind hearted people ever.”

You could tell Fisher was ready for that kind of question and knew what he was going to say, but you could also tell that he was genuinely dismayed that his team has their current reputation and that all of that “noise” has followed FSU despite not having lost since 2012.

Normally a fast talker, Fisher had it going at twice his normal rate today, clearly excited to have his team in the national championship picture for the second year in a row. Having three weeks to prepare is something that he knows how to use to his advantage. He’s experienced in big games and loves to say, “It’s not about winning, it’s about working.”

While they’ve won plenty of games with a fortuitous bounce in their streak, Mark Helfrich, the head coach at Oregon was quick to point out, “You don’t win all of those games with luck. They’re just a good team, no denying that.”

Oregon has speed and quickness. FSU has size and experience and perhaps is a bit underrated when it comes to their speed. Winston is the X-Factor. If he plays well and they don’t fall behind early, the Noles will win in a walk. If not, if could be a long and frustrating night for Florida State.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Fall To Texans, Finish 3-13

On a cold, dreary and rainy day in Houston, the Jaguars were finishing out the season against a division opponent with not much motivation but pride to fuel them. Former Jaguar (and Texan) Tony Boselli said prior to the game that he wasn’t worried about the fight in the Jaguars but that they would have to withstand an initial “onslaught” from Houston since the Texans still had something to play for. With an outside chance at the post-season, Houston needed a win to keep their hopes alive.

That proved to be true as the Jaguars punted on their first possession only to see the Texans go 83 yards in just 5 plays to take a 7-0 lead. Missed assignments and missed tackles were fully on display during that drive with defensive backs looking befuddled each time Case Keenum dropped back to pass.

In their next possession, the Jaguars moved the ball with a couple of nice runs by Jordan Todman and some scrambling by Blake Bortles but JJ Watt recorded back-to-back sacks to force a 53 yard FBG by Josh Scobee to make it 7-3. Watt beat Luke Joeckel on one play to force a sack and a fumble (that Joeckel recovered) and ran right by Toby Gerhart on the next play making it 19.5 this year.

The Texans had no problem moving the ball against the Jaguars either on the ground or in the air, and they were aided by a couple of early Jaguars penalties as well. But the Jaguars caught a break when Keenum threw behind a wide open crossing receiver, dropping it into Dwayne Gratz’s hands who returned it for a 55 yard TD and a 10-7 Jaguars lead. It’s only the 6th interception of the year for the Jaguars defense.

Head Coach Gus Bradley has talked about consistency or the lack of it for the Jaguars all year and it was on full display against the Texans early. Demetrius McCray made a couple of very nice plays on the edge against the run and the pass but then was called for penalties leading to first downs for Houston. Blake Bortles was sharp on some throws to Cecil shorts and Alan Hurns but then missed Marcedes Lewis on third and two. That has to be an automatic bread-and-butter play for a quarterback and a tight end. Because of that inconsistency, it was apparently on each Texans drive that the Jaguars need help at linebacker and at defensive back. Houston moved the ball at will, scoring on another long drive in the second quarter to take a 14-10 lead. Between the seven guys in the “back” of the Jaguars defense, there was plenty of blame to go around.

Too often in the first half the Jaguars failed to convert on 3rd and short while Houston was able to covert on 3rd and long. While the Jaguars moved into FG territory on some nice improvisation by Bortles and Ace Sanders, a holding penalty moved them back to mid-field and the half ended with the Jaguars down by 4.

After a nice stop on the opening possession by the Texans, the Jaguars offense was driving but again failed to covert on short yardage. Josh Scobee’s 51 yard attempt hit off the left upright and it remained 14-10.

You hate to think your punter is a difference maker, but Bryan Anger kept flipping the field in favor of the Jaguars, banging out 61-yard punts with good coverage to keep the Texans at bay. A good defensive stand forced a Case Keenum fumble and the Jaguars recovered at the 23. That’s when they went deep into the playbook again with the throwback from Shorts to Todman for a TD and a 17-14 lead. It was kind of surprising to see Todman that wide open since the Jaguars had just run that play last week, and they beat the Texans with that play last year. All of this going on while San Diego and Baltimore were both losing, giving Houston a chance at the playoffs for the time being.

In all, through three quarters the Jaguars had lost Toby Gerhart, Sen’Derrick Marks, Brandon Linder, Alan Hurns and a few others during the course of the game. Marks and Gerhart did not return and without Roy Miller in the lineup, the Jaguars defensive line was a bit thin. Houston took advantage even without Arian Foster in the game. Alfred Blue running and Andre Johnson catching drove the ball right downfield for 80 yards in 12 plays to have Houston re-take the lead at 21-17.

On 4th and short in the 4th quarter from near mid-field, Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien chose to punt, not fearing the Jaguars offense at all and their ability to drive the ball the length of the field. He turned out to be right as the Jaguars had the ball on their own seven but JJ Watt sacked Bortles in the end zone for a safety and a 23-17 lead. It’s unrealistic to think that Luke Joeckel or anybody else could hold off Watt one on one but Bortles has to be aware of that as well and be ready to get rid of that ball. Call it what you want but somewhere the Jaguars are going to have to learn from that to block better, get rid of the ball quicker or perhaps don’t call that play in that situation.

Still, the defense stiffened and forced the Texans to give the ball back to the Jaguars. Helped by the third face mask penalty of the day, the Jaguars moved the ball to midfield and then Bortles scrambled down to the 10 giving the Jaguars a real chance to win the game. Incomplete on first down with Lee and Shorts running to the same spot (Shorts could have caught the ball but short-armed it a bit) and Lee went out of the game with a leg injury. A 5 yard gain to Hurns gave the Jaguars two plays to win it. They got the matchup they wanted on third down with Marcedes Lewis matched up one on one with a 5-11 cornerback but Bortles pass was a bullet, way high to bring up 4th down. That pass was thrown too wide and Shorts caught it out of bounds to essentially end the game.

The Texans missed the playoffs despite the win since the Ravens victory put them in as the 6th seed. The Jaguars will most likely get the third pick in the upcoming draft finishing 3-13.

Bradley and Caldwell have a lot of work to do.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Top 20 Stories to Cover

For our final Top 20 of the year recognizing the 20th anniversary of the Jaguars, we’re being a bit self-indulgent. Our topic is “Top 20 Stories to Cover” fun or not, newsworthy or just small anecdotes. While a majority of the list was compiled by Sports Director Sam Kouvaris, Senior Photographer/Producer Matt Kingston and Senior Producer/Photographer Kevin Talley, we solicited opinions from Channel 4 reporters and anchors, past and present to see what their favorite stories have been in the last 20 years. Some were a consensus; others were things that perhaps only the reporter would know that made the story that much more special.

We thought it was interesting that the list seems to come from both ends of the Jaguars history. Much of the “fun” stuff from the beginning and the success under Tom Coughlin, and stories created by the current leadership both on and off the field. Not much during the Del Rio era made it onto our list.

You’d have to be a “veteran” at Channel 4 to have been a part of our top story in Jaguars history and that’s actually getting a team. Channel 4 Anchorman Tom Wills and Sam Kouvaris were in Chicago for the announcement. Sam’s time in the Jaguars private suite when they were told they were getting a team along with the look on his face (according to Tom) when he peaked behind the curtain to see a “Jacksonville Jaguars” banner being prepared for the announcement were pretty incredible. The spontaneous celebration in town was like nothing we’ve seen before or since and covering that, nonstop for 8 hours from Jacksonville and Chicago and the happiness it brought so many people remains at number one.

Getting plenty of support at the top from contributors like Executive Producer Sharon Siegel-Cohen and Channel 4 Anchor Joy Purdy, the coverage of the flight home from Denver after beating the Broncos in the 1996 playoffs is at number two. Most of our contributors named this in the top two or three. The fly over of the stadium and the spontaneous arrival of 40,000 people at the downtown, as well as our spontaneous coverage, is sometimes hard to believe in retrospect. Our colleague Cole Pepper noted how it solidified just what a sports team and its success can do for a city.

Sam put the press box scene in Denver in 1996 in the 3rd spot, although he was the only one there. Noted Denver writers were hacking on the Jaguars and Jacksonville all throughout the game, asking if this was a real game or just an “exhibition with the USFL.” They were only slowed down when Sam noted at halftime in a loud voice, “USFL 13, NFL 12.” The Jaguars went on to back that up with a 30-27 victory over the heavily favored Broncos.

Beating Buffalo the week before in the playoffs in Buffalo by an identical score was also a fun story to be a part of. Tom and Sam were also on that trip, with Tom finding Head Coach Tom Coughlin’s sisters in the corner of the parking lot tailgating with a Jaguars flag flying. He asked them if they’d ever seen their brother smile and they answered in unison, “Only when he wins!” Tom caught Coughlin after the game and related the story to the Jaguars head coach, who broke out into a memorable smile. At the end of the game, Sam and Photographer Kevin Talley were going down the elevator to the field with about 2:00 to play. They arrived in the tunnel just as Bills QB Jim Kelly was arriving on a cart, clearly suffering from a concussion after a hit by Chris Hudson. Kelly stepped off the cart and started walking down the hall, the wrong way. Sam grabbed him and turned him around saying “this way Jim” as Buffalo medical personnel were scrambling for their quarterback.

When Kevin and Sam got to the end line of the field with about a minute to play, the fans were pretty hostile. The end line isn’t that far from the low wall of the stands and the constant barrage of four-letter words eventually lead Kevin to turn around and say, “We might (stink), but you have to live here.” To which Sam asked Kevin if he was crazy and hastened their move to midfield for some interviews.

A similar thing happened in Pittsburgh at Three Rivers the first time the Jaguars beat the Steelers there. Fans were so hostile the players instructed Sam and other reporters to “stay close” walking off the field. “We’ll keep out helmets on. They won’t throw anything if you have out helmets on.”

Jaguars Defensive End Jeff Lageman thought the bus ride home from the airport to the stadium after the Buffalo win was the best story of that year that might have been only known to the players. “The road was packed with cars and pickups, the busses could only go about 5 miles an hour because of all the fans lined up and cheering.” Pretty cool inside stuff.

The win over Atlanta in 1996 that put the Jaguars in the playoffs for the first time rounds out the top five. It was an unlikely scenario and just when it appeared the Jaguars would win the game, the Falcons ripped off a long screen pass that Tony Brackens came out of nowhere to stop inside the 20. Atlanta sent one of the all time great kickers in league history, Morten Andersen on to kick the game winning FG, only to see him miss wide left. Bedlam ensued. Sam says it’s the only time in his career that he couldn’t watch. “Too painful,” he said about the prospect of getting beat like that.

Hosting the Super Bowl here starts the second five. Despite all of the criticism, the league was very happy with the city’s ability to handle the game. More cabs and another luxury hotel would have to be in place to ever host the game again but the owners made a ton of money, stayed at Amelia Island and we had great weather from Thursday through the game. A Super bowl in Jacksonville? Really?

Shad Khan occupies spots 7 and eight. Although he was supposed to buy the St. Louis Rams the year before, he came out of nowhere to be the Jaguars owner. He and Wayne Weaver had gotten to know each other in the process of selling the Rams and when that didn’t happen, they eventually made a deal for the Jaguars. Weaver rejected suitors who wanted to buy the team and potentially move it to California (i.e. Fidelity’s Bill Foley) and put a deal in place for Khan to keep the team here. He also fired Del Rio that day (who didn’t know about the sale until Channel 4 told him in front of his house during an interview) and extended Gene Smith’s contract as General Manager. Pretty big day for the franchise and multiple great stories.

It’s only been a few times, but anytime we get a chance to sit down with Shad Khan it always provides insight to his thought process for the Jaguars. He’s a businessman first, but he has big ideas for the team and for the city and is honest in his assessment of both.

Growing into a ‘big city” can bring big city problems and the shooting of Richard Collier is at nine because of that. While none of the reporting there has been fun, it did show the “celebrity” status that players have in town and covering Richard’s fight to stay alive, his spirit and continuing commitment to the community is an important thread in Jaguars history.

If you saw the end of the Cleveland game where they showered the field with debris because they didn’t like a call, you knew that would be on this list somewhere. It makes it as #10, not only for what happened on the field, but for the goofy way the game ended. The Jaguars and Browns left the field for their safety and Referee Jeff Triplett called the game with three seconds on the clock. During the post game press conference, the commissioner’s office called to say they had to “finish the game.” Players from both teams scrambled for uniforms and rushed out onto the field together. QB Mark Brunell knelt on it one time and they ran off. We’re pretty sure Brunell was wearing somebody else’s pants for that play.

By the way, some of the debris being thrown on the field at the end of the game included full beer bottles, obviously not full of beer. Because of that game, the league changed their policy on alcohol sales in the 4th quarter and now when you buy a beer at the stadium, they hand you the bottle with the top off.

Covering that 1999 season was a great story for everybody. The Jaguars went 14-2, they galvanized the city and were the best team in football. Once things got rolling, sports became news with most of the top stories each night on the newscasts involving the Jaguars on and off the field. While everybody has their favorite stories from 1999, the season itself was a great story to cover. Until the end.

You might know that Sam is the Pro Football Hall of Fame representative for Jacksonville. Weaver asked him to sit on that committee of (at the time) just 32 members so he slipped it in at number 12. Going to his first meeting in Phoenix, the committee makeup was a who’s who of 1st generation reporters covering the NFL from its infancy. John Steadman, Edwin Pope, Furman Bishop, Tom McEwen, Will McDonough, Jack Buck and others were the leaders on the committee. Pretty memorable when Jacksonville got a vote among those titans of what was then, “Sports journalism.”

We put the introduction press conferences of both Mike Mularkey and Gus Bradley in at thirteen. Both are nice people who, on that day, were full of hope and optimism. We’ll never know if given the same chance Mularkey would have been able to rebuild and the jury is still out on Bradley. But on those days, it was nothing but sunshine and roses.

When Khan took over the team, you knew it was going to be different and it has been. Among the changes is how the Jaguars fit into the league structure. No longer mentioned as the first city to lose their team elsewhere, Khan instead has expanded the Jaguars brand internationally. His announcement with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that the Jaguars would be the league’s “home” team in London for 4 years (and possibly beyond) hammered home the difference between Khan’s ideas and what had come before him. The league might eventually have a team in London, and Shad Khan might own it, but moving the Jaguars there right now is not an option.

The rest of our list is filled out with personal reflections on stories we’ve covered. Coughlin’s relationship with ALS patient Rick Murray was a reminder of the reality of life but what small gestures and just simple kindness can do for the human spirit. Kyle Brady’s interest in flight was fueled by Sam’s pilot training and to see a football player branch out into something completely different was good insight into the different kinds of people it takes to make up a team. (Brady went on to also get his financial adviser certification and is now a lawyer in town as well.) Despite the long days and schedule during the season, Jaguars players and coaches are out on a regular basis, helping with charities and foundations in the community. The amount of money the Weaver’s have donated is staggering in itself. Always great stories to be a part of. And while you have to have some history behind you to become part of the Pride of the Jaguars, those inductions are reminders of the good play and good times had in the past.

On a strictly “insider” basis, traveling with the team on charter flights is a story that might never be told. If so, it’ll have to be by a player who’s retired and had some fun. The amount of food and fun had on those flights, particularly by winning teams, is legendary. And get somebody to tell you the “Kyle Brady as Mango” story if you can. Hilarious.

And finally, watching such promise devolve into addiction and hopefully redemption makes the list. Former Channel 4 Sports Reporter Sean Woodland noted Jimmy Smith and Justin Blackmon but Matt Jones, Reggie Williams, R.J. Soward and others have been brought to Jacksonville and the NFL by the Jaguars with such high hopes, to see those hopes end, is a story that reminds you of how fleeting success, and especially fame, can be.

  • 1. Getting the team
  • 2. Flight home from Denver
  • 3. Press Box in Denver
  • 4. Win in Buffalo and coming home
  • 5. Beating Atlanta at home in 1996
  • 6. Super Bowl here
  • 7. Khan, Weaver, firing Del Rio, extending Gene Smith
  • 8. Khan 1 on 1 interviews
  • 9. Richard Collier shooting
  • 10. Cleveland game re-start
  • 11. 1999 season
  • 12. First Hall of Fame Meeting
  • 13. Mularkey, Bradley introduction press conferences
  • 14. Jaguars commit to London announcement
  • 15. Tom Coughlin and Rick Murray
  • 16. Flying with Kyle Brady
  • 17. Jaguars in the community
  • 18. Pride of the Jaguars Inductions
  • 19. Team Charter flights
  • 20. Jimmy Smith, Justin Blackmon problems

Others noted: Chris Hanson “chopping wood, Jaguars playing other sports (basketball, softball, taking BP at the baseball grounds). Fulham’s visit and Hugo Rodallega kicking a 35-yard FG in practice. Coach Robert Saleh’s story about his brother being in the World Trade Center during September 11th and how it changed his life. Anytime we talked with Mark Duffner, Dick Jauron, Dom Capers or Mel Tucker, all assistants who “got it.” The evolution of Fred Taylor from high school kid to full-time dad. Talking with John Jurkovic. Unveiling the new video boards and pools. The Jaguars relationship with JT Townsend. Leftwich released. Tony Boselli available to “expansion draft.”

Did we miss something? Let us know with #JagsTop20 on Twitter or email us at sports@wjxt.com. We’ll talk about this list with Jeff Lageman this week on Jaguars Friday Night at 11:20.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars/Titans Preview: Worth it?

While the question today is “Will Blake Bortles play?” Perhaps the real question is “Should he?” Suffering a mid-foot sprain against Baltimore last week, Bortles finished the game but afterwards was in the locker room and in his press conference wearing a protective boot. He didn’t practice early in the week but was “limited” in practice leading up to tonight’s game. Officially the Jaguars have him listed as “questionable” which is defined by the league as about a 50% chance he’ll play. Bortles said in the locker room that, if he could, he’d upgrade himself to “probable” giving him a 75% chance to play. Head Coach Gus Bradley admitted he’s leaning toward letting Bortles play against the Titans.

“He’s really progressed,” Bradley said on Wednesday noting Bortles performance in practice. “He’s gotten a lot better and with another day, we’ll know. We’ll have him run around before the game and see how he does. But we’re leaning toward having him play.”

Having a short week has made this a tough decision for the Jaguars. If the game was Sunday, Bortles would have recuperated enough to play. But with a quick turnaround, he’s still treating that foot a bit gingerly. If he’s not somewhere north of 90%, he shouldn’t play.

At 2-12, the Jaguars aren’t going anywhere and while they’re not officially looking toward next season, the final two games are good evaluation exercises for the coaching staff to see which players they’re going to take forward to try and be competitive in 2015.

And then there’s the issue of the Draft.

With two quarterbacks expected to be in demand at the top of the draft, Heisman winner Marcus Mariotta and Jameis Winston, there will be teams willing to get to the top two picks in order to try and solve their quarterback situation. Of all the Jaguars needs, quarterback doesn’t seem to be one of them. So having one of those picks could be valuable on the trade market, allowing the Jaguars to acquire more picks, move down in the first round and still take a player who can step in and help right away.

So while Indianapolis fans were willing to have the Colts “Suck for Luck” should Jaguars fans be “Shameless for Jameis?”

“That’s not going to happen,” Jaguars DT Sen’Derrick Marks said this week when asked about tanking for a higher draft pick. “That’ll be unacceptable. Not just for here but for how people view you in the league.” By the way, Marks is reportedly in line for a $600,000 bonus if he can record 1/2 of a sack over the next two games. He’ll be playing like a beast. (And should go to the Pro Bowl).

And then there’s the issue of what motivation the Titans have tonight as well. Also with two wins, Tennessee is in contention for the top pick (research indicates the Jaguars have the best chance for #1 at just over 32%) and could use a quarterback to settle their situation at that position. Despite picking Zach Mettenberger in the 6th round last year, Tennessee isn’t committed to him as their long-term solution.

So look for effort tonight on the field, especially in the second half. If one team or another jumps out to an early lead, does it matter enough on the field to still hang in there? That’s a more likely scenario if the Jaguars take a lead, playing at home and still learning. If the Jaguars are behind, they’ll still play hard, looking for solutions, particularly on offense.

We’ll update you on the Bortles situation beginning on News4Jax at 5pm and on our pregame show live from the stadium starting at 7.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars beat Titans, Show 2nd Half Spark

Sometimes I’m perplexed by the Jaguars play calling and lack of offense. When you see them prepare, they seem to get it. But in games, it becomes a different story. Opening the game down 7-0 after giving up an game starting drive of 84 yards (to Charlie Whitehurst) the Jaguars ran the ball a couple of times with Toby Gerhart for a first down. Then, perhaps going on a script, a throw to Cecil Shorts wasn’t perfect, and he dropped it. So Gerhart gets three on the stretch play (that I hate) and it brings up third and 7. As we know, the 3-yard pass is always open on 3rd and 7, so Blake Bortles throws it to Jordan Todman in the flat, covered, for a loss of 4 and the Jaguars punt. Not only did they stop executing, it seemed that the play selection was doomed to fail as well. Not a lot of movement, not a lot of play action or anything else. Just basic plays that either work or they don’t. And when they don’t, which is more often than not these days, there aren’t a lot of options.

More of the same followed for the Jaguars offense, mustering 16 yards on 4 possessions. If you’re a fan of punting, Bryan Anger put on a display, especially a 61-yarder that was up there forever.

On defense, it was a different unit than the one that played against Baltimore on Sunday. Big chunks of yardage were given up, especially over the middle to wide-open receivers, especially the tight end. Head Coach Gus Bradley has said if guys are running wide open, then it’s a blown assignment. Somebody back there clearly has a problem with that assignment because it’s always open and teams know it. The Titans took advantage of holes in the secondary to get inside the Jaguars 40 and kick a field goal to make it 10-0.

Right before the 2-minute warning, the Jaguars offense finally got untracked, sort of. Gerhart was getting the ball going at the line of scrimmage and finding creases, running people over and doubled the Jaguars offensive production in two carries. A nice roll out throw by Bortles to Marqise Lee put the ball in Titans territory. But for some reason, Gerhart came out of the game and the Jaguars went backwards. Lee made another nice catch, Marcedes Lewis fell down on the 23 and Bortles bailed himself out by scrambling for a 1st down. There was a Cecil Shorts sighting and he fought to the 4-yard line.

This is where the Jaguars have struggled for most of the season. Again, some of it execution and some of it play selection. But finding Lewis singled up against a cornerback, Bortles fired a bullet that Lewis snatched out of the air and fought to hold on to for a TD. It might be the single best play of his entire career and should have been a staple of the offense every time he’s healthy. Nonetheless, TD Jaguars and they went to the half down 10-7. After mustering only 16 yards of offense through most of the first half, they gobbled up 80 on that drive alone. Part execution, part play selection.

Since Tennessee won the toss and took the ball to start the game, the Jaguars had the ball to start the second half and took advantage of it right away. One of the reasons the team has so much hope for the future is how things sometimes click so perfectly. Bortles hit Lee over the middle for 34 yards and then twice to Hurns for 8 and 15 yards to threaten for some points. A little trick throwback from Shorts to Jordan Todman made it first and goal and after a defensive holding call, the Jaguars actually gave the ball to Gerhart from the 1 for a TD and a 14-10 lead.

Then it went back to a punt-fest.

The defense stiffened with 6 minutes to go in the game and stopped the Titans on 4th and 2. Jordan Todman followed that with a 62-yard TD run to give the Jaguars a 21-10 lead. Three offensive TD’s in this game vs. none in the past two combined.

They gave up a FG and then it was only a matter of whether the offense could control the ball for the rest of the game and secure the victory. They couldn’t and Bradley eschewed a FG attempt in favor of a punt with a minute to play that went into the end zone for a touchback and the Titans took over on the 20.

They moved it to midfield pretty easily but were running out of time. Whitehurst was looking around for a chance to throw a Hail Mary into the end zone when Sen’Derrick Marks sacked him to end the game. Not only did that secure the win but it also gave marks 8.5 sacks this year, earning him a $600,000 bonus.

With three wins the Jaguars have a chance to equal last years record in the final game at Houston. Once they opened up the offense, they moved the ball but not with the consistency they’d like to have.

You’d rather be a Jaguar fan than a Titan fan at this point. While the Jaguars are hoping their young players emerge, the Titans will be searching for a quarterback and other young players for a few years.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Top 20 Road Trips

Recognizing the Jaguars 20th anniversary, this week’s top twenty is Top 20 road trips. This top twenty is about what road trips to take to see the Jaguars play taking into account ease of travel, stadiums, hotels, proximity and things to do. While it’s easy to name some great things about all of the cities on the Jaguars travel list over the years, our list comes from our personal experiences as well as perhaps some of the Jaguars results while we were there. It also got us thinking, where would Jacksonville rank on other teams fan’s travel list? Probably not near the top, which means they’ve never been here!

Even though the Jaguars are the home team, we put London at the top of the list for every Jaguars fan. Not only is it one of the great international cities of the world, it’s not that hard, or expensive to get to from Jacksonville. Once you’re there, the history and the nightlife are incomparable with anything else on the list. Wembley is one of the great stadiums as well. Now if the Jaguars could only win a game there!

Domestically, just about any city in the top ten could qualify as number one. As we mentioned, ease of travel, stadium and proximity to the stadium from everything else went into account on this list. That’s why Nashville is at the top. Non-stop flights (Southwest), a chance to go every year, great nightlife and restaurants, sightseeing and nice hotels put Music City in this spot. Also, the stadium is close by so it’s no big deal to get over there on game day. Not a great stadium, but not terrible either.

You might be surprised to see Baltimore this high but even a survey of Jaguars staffers puts “Charm City” near the top. Easy to get to on a nonstop flight (Southwest), downtown isn’t far from the airport and the stadium (and the whole sports complex) is close by. In fact, you can walk just about anywhere you want to go, the Inner Harbor, Camden Yards, all if it is right there.

Chicago is one of the great cities in America and the ability to get there on one flight and everything in walking distance makes it a fun trip. If you can get to a Jaguars game at historic Soldier Field on a day the Cubs are playing at home at Wrigley, it’ll be a memorable experience.

New York would be higher because well, it’s New York. Easy to get to but actually going to the game is a giant pain. Other than that, the New York trip can be fun. Just don’t wear your Jaguars gear to the stadium of we’re playing the Jets. Honest.

While hard to get to, San Diego is a great trip because of what they’ve done with downtown. In a lesson that Jacksonville could learn, they installed light rail and completely re-did what’s now called the “Gas Lamp District.” Great weather, good sights, easy to get around. The light rail goes directly to the stadium. If the Chargers stay in San Diego, it’s worth the trip. The stadium’s not much, but it is easy to get to on the rail line from downtown.

Seattle is also hard to get to but their sports complex and the city itself make it worth the trip. Nice hotels downtown a really cool stadium and passionate fans would make it memorable. Just plan an extra day or two for travel. And sightseeing.

If it was easier to get to, New Orleans might top this list. There used to be non-stops to the Crescent City but now it’s not easy to get over there. Obviously the food and the atmosphere is classic Americana. The Superdome renovation has upgraded it to a nice spot and you can just about walk to everything. At least once, this is a trip worth taking.

Surprisingly, Indy and Philly make it into our top ten. Both have non-stops, both have nice stadiums, fairly new. Philadelphia is full of American history if you’ve never taken the time to explore it, absolutely worth the time. Great restaurants all downtown near hotels. Indy has a bustling downtown with nice restaurants within walking distance.

Nearly impossible to get to, Lambeau Field should be a “must visit” for all football fans. Plan an extra couple of hours once you get there to go through the Packers Hall of Fame Museum. They have the best Bloody Mary Bar you’ve ever seen in their new atrium and great fans.

While San Francisco and Oakland are long trips, the Bay Area is a great place to visit. The ‘Niners new Levi’s Stadium is state of the art but not easy to get to. Oakland Coliseum is old and decrepit but if you want to see crazies in person, it’s the place to be for a Raiders game. Again, don’t wear your Jaguars gear if you go to Oakland. They seriously will hurt you.

Nice weather will follow you to Tampa and Miami. While Tampa is fairly non-descript, it’s easy to get around and easy to get to the stadium. Miami has a lot to offer and a trip to South Beach should be on any visiting fans itinerary. The stadium is nowhere near the city, so have a plan to get there, and get out.

Good weather might not follow you to Buffalo, but with very serious fans, you might see the largest collection of brown liquor ever during the tailgate before the game. Any trip to Buffalo should include a stop at Niagara Falls.

Cincinnati, Minneapolis and Cleveland might not seem like great travel spots for fans to visit but all three have nice downtown areas and easy proximity from the hotels to restaurants and the stadium. A trip to Cincinnati should include a stop at the Montgomery Inn, a famous barbeque spot on the river. If the Reds are at home, that’s a plus as well. If it’s chilly, you never have to go outside in Minneapolis, everything’s connected through walk bridges and tunnels. It might be difficult for the next couple of years because they’re building their new stadium. And Cleveland has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as well.

The new stadium in Dallas should be on any sports fans list to see. While it’s close to nothing, it’s a destination itself. Downtown Dallas has plenty of options. Take an extra hour to look at the Museum at Dealy Plaza and you’ll be surprised by so much that’s apparent and accessible there regarding the Kennedy assassination.

Carolina makes the list but Atlanta or a variety of the other cities could be in this 20th spot because they’re easy to get to. They still call their downtown “Uptown” but lots of nice restaurants and easy access to the stadium. Arizona would be here or higher but the stadium in Glendale is in the middle of nowhere. Kansas City has great barbeque and great fans and St. Louis is worth the trip if the Cardinals are also in town. Plus a trip under the Arch to the Museum of Western Expansion is a surprise for any visitor. Denver can be fun if you include a couple of days skiing. We’d like to put Detroit somewhere on the list but the best thing they have going for them is Ford Field. And if the Tigers are at home, it’s right next door. Washington is worth a trip to see our Nation’s Capital but FedEx Field is not much and is in the middle of nowhere and hard to get to. No parking either. Houston has a great stadium and if the Astros are at home, probably worth the trip as well. If you’ve never been to Pittsburgh, a trip there will show real NFL passion, that’s for sure.

We’re sure you have an opinion! Let us know with #JagsTop20 on Twitter or email us at Sports@wjxt.com. We’ll talk about the list this week on “Jaguars Friday Night.”

1. London
2. Nashville
3. Baltimore
4. Chicago
5. New York
6. San Diego
7. Seattle
8. New Orleans
9. Indianapolis
10. Philadelphia
11. Green Bay
12. San Francisco/Oakland
13. Tampa
14. Miami
15. Buffalo
16. Cincinnati
17. Minneapolis
18. Cleveland
19. Dallas
20. Carolina

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Ravens Preview: Still Learning?

At 2-11 most NFL teams are already making plans for the future. Players are lining up vacation time, golf trips and how quickly they can get away after the final game. For the Jaguars, that doesn’t appear to be the case. With three games to play, it was business as usual for the team this week preparing to play in Baltimore.

And some observers think that’s the problem.

During the taping of the Gus Bradley Show this week, I asked the Head Coach if his “no stress” philosophy allowed him to put some heat on the players to perform.

“There’s pressure,” he quickly responded. “They know there’s pressure and hopefully it’s self-imposed. Pressure to perform, pressure to get results.”

That’s where the Jaguars have faltered, producing results in 2014 that were different than last year. Finishing with a 4-12 record in 2013, most people inside and outside of the organization thought this was a 7 or 8 win team this year. But the rebuilding continued and as my colleague Cole Pepper has noted, for the second straight year it was just an extended preseason. A chance to evaluate, for players to start to understand and get used to playing in the NFL and for the coaches to find a team identity.

Perhaps the evaluation continues and players are getting more comfortable, but a team identity hasn’t emerged. Former Jaguars linebacker Tom McManus said this week on “Jaguars Friday Night” that he thinks that’s a problem.

“You know what the D-Line’s identity is, they get after you. The O-Line? Ehh? Who are they?”

Mostly, inconsistency has cost the Jaguars all season long, and some of that can be attributed to how young the team is this year. But that is starting to sound line an excuse and not a reason.

“They’re not rookies anymore,” former Jaguar great Tony Boselli said this week. “They’ve played 13 games, they’ve been through camp and meetings and all that stuff. They just have to get the job done now.” They have started as many as nine rookie or first year players this year on offense, more than any team in the history of the league, but Boselli says the learning curve should be starting to flatten out.

“These guys are starting to see the same things for a second and third time. They should be figuring it out.”

And that goes for Blake Bortles as well. He’s thrown league high 16 interceptions to go along with his 10 touchdowns. He’s gone through the “newness” phase and through the “don’t turn it over phase” and now into the “I’m only in a light fog” phase. He’s admitted “I’m killin’ us” and last week felt the sting of unhappy fans when he and the offense couldn’t get anything done in the second half.

While the Jaguars are still trying to compete and get better, the Ravens are starting a playoff push. In fact, this could be considered their first playoff game. Win out, and they’re in the post-season.

Another good test for a young Jaguars team that will see how a very “professional” team operates deep into the season.

Hopefully they’ll be learning enough to, as GM Dave Caldwell says, not have this same discussion next year.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Second Half Woes (again), Jaguars lose to Ravens

Sometimes things crystalize right in front of your eyes when you’re watching the Jaguars play. In their opening drive against the Ravens, they drove the ball to midfield with a good blend of Toby Gerhart running and Blake Bortles passing. Gerhart’s healthy and running hard while Bortles looks confident.

Then things fall apart.

A wide-open Marcedes Lewis drops a perfect pass for a first down to keep a drive going and former Jaguar Daryl Smith tips a pass on 3rd down to force a punt. Will Ta’ufo’ou misses a block on the punt team and it’s blocked and returned for a TD. 7-0 Baltimore.

If Lewis catches the ball, the drive’s still happening. If Will makes the block, the Ravens field position is not good. In the span of a couple plays, the whole Jaguars season just happened right before your eyes. That’s why coming in to Baltimore, they’re 2-11. Flashes of what they can do but mind-blowing inconsistency and not just by young players.

Although the special teams have allowed 5 blocked kicks this year (2 punts and 3 FG’s) the one constant has been Josh Scobee. His two field goals in the first quarter from 53 and 45 yards kept the Jaguars in the game in the first quarter, 7-6.

More of the same in the second quarter. Mostly good defense, stuffing Justin Forsett and forcing him out of the game. They forced a fumble (18th of the year, tying a franchise record) and Scobee kicked another FG to make it 9-7.

It’s OK for a 2-1 team to try a little trickery so an on-side kick followed with Jonathan Cyprien’s recovery and the Jaguars were in business again. But this time, they squandered the opportunity with Scobee missing from 42 yards, still 9-7.

Joe Flacco is one of the premier QB’s in the game (They introduce him here as the “MVP of Super Bowl XLIV”) and he can find open guys. The middle of the field remains a problem for the Jaguars and Flacco exploited it, moving the ball inside the 10 with three minutes to play. But the D stiffened again and forced a FG, 10-9 Ravens.

But playing with a sense of confidence and moving the ball in big chunks, Bortles hit Alan Hurns across the middle for a 23 yard gain to give them a chance at the end zone. A better pass to Marqise Lee would have been a TD but instead, Scobee hit another FG to give the Jaguars a 12-10 lead.

Can they remember last week and not fall apart the same way they did against the Texans? Gus Bradley said he was partly responsible for that and promised he’ll have the team more ready to play. But it felt like a half of missed opportunity. No points off the onside kick, no TD’s and some good field position without a much to show for it. The Jaguars gave up four sacks for the 5th week in a row and held the ravens to 13 yards rushing but still only lead by two.

The third quarter looked like the third quarter from last week. Exchange of punts, not much offense for the Jaguars and a sustained, six play, 80-yard drive by the opposition to take a lead. Again the Jaguars didn’t cover the middle of the field and missed tackles. The Ravens had Owen Daniels wide open a couple of times, including off play action in the end zone and lead 17-12.

There were a few opportunities for the Jaguars offense as they moved into the 4th quarter. A fake punt worked for a first down but no points. A couple of good stands by the defense gave them good field position, but no points. A Ravens missed field goal gave them the ball near midfield, but two sacks (61 given up this year) forced a punt. No points. A good defensive sequence forced the Ravens to punt from their end zone. Ace Sanders returned it 13 yards and a holding penalty put the ball at the 50. Turned it over on downs, still, no points.

Meanwhile the Ravens very professionally ground the clock, ran the ball and gained first downs. Flacco even ran for a 1st down on 3rd and 5 late in the 4th quarter on a designed running play for the QB.

That led to a FG and a 20-12 victory for the Ravens, somewhat reminiscent of last week’s loss to Houston. Halftime lead, nothing in the second half.

Being in Baltimore reminded me of the years the Jaguars had the Ravens in their division and the great games the two teams played. The Jaguars ruled the series and looked like a regular playoff contender for years to come. But as they lost their way on the field, the operation of the franchise suffered as well. As I’ve noted before, Wayne Weaver was loyal to a fault to his friends when their time had been up in the front office for a while. The Ravens “do a lot of things right” as one Jaguars staffer told me, on the field and off.

While 30 years ago then-Mayor Jake Godbold pointed to Baltimore as a good model for Jacksonville to follow, (the city lost their way on that mission) perhaps a thorough inspection of the Raven is in order for the Jaguars as well. They’ve made great strides as an organization under Shad Khan but could still learn a few things from other teams around the league, the Ravens being one of them.

Let’s hope those lessons are applied quickly, on and off the field and perhaps the days of 71,000 in the stands, as there were on this day in Baltimore, can return to Jacksonville.


Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Top 20 Individual Performances

This week’s Top 20 in recognition of the Jaguars 20th anniversary is the Top 20 individual performances in Jaguars history. What brought this list to life was Josh Scobee’s two field goals last week putting him over 1000 points in his career, the first Jaguars player to accomplish that. Scobee makes this list for his efforts.

At number one we put Mark Brunell’s performance against Denver in the playoffs after the 1996 season leading to a 30-27 upset over the Broncos on the road. He might have had better games statistically, but there was no better performance when it comes to leadership, game management and making a play when it counted. His run in the 4th quarter was a near Herculean effort to seal the victory for the Jaguars.

Tony Boselli is in at 2 and 3. He dominated Bruce Smith in the playoffs so dramatically that the Jaguars were able to upset the Bills in Buffalo. His waving to JasonTaylor in front of a national television audience is one of the iconic images in Jaguars history.

Underappreciated, James Stewart was a very solid contributor for the Jaguars in their early years. Sometimes it’s the luck of the play calling but obviously Tom Coughlin had a lot of confidence in him at the goal line. Stewart’s 5TD’s and 30 points scored against the Eagles remain team records in the Jaguars’ 20th season.

Because it happened in the playoffs, Fred Taylor’s run against the Dolphins to open the scoring in the Jaguars rout is in at number five. Great individual effort, breaking tackles at the line of scrimmage and then just running away from everybody.

No job is lonelier than kicker so Josh Scobee’s 59-yarder to beat the Colts is in at number six. Kicking might be the most individual of pursuits in football once the snapper and the holder do their job, so a 59-yard game winner is pretty special for the individual. And Scobee’s helmet raised run around the field is another iconic image in Jaguars history.

For Brad Meester just being in the game deserves a spot on this list. It seemed like they tried to replace him every year in the second half of his 14-year career but he just kept winning the job. Meester was a “known entity” for the Jaguars and they could pencil his name in the lineup virtually every week. He played heavy or light at the team’s request and knew what he was doing up front. His consecutive game streaks are team records and Brad should be the next name put in the Pride of the Jaguars.

When it comes to consecutive game streaks, Mike Hollis’ 67-game scoring record makes the list. He was the beneficiary of playing on some pretty good Jaguars teams but scoring in every game in over 4 seasons remains a Jaguars record.

Even though it was in a loss, Jimmy Smith’s day against the Ravens in Baltimore is in at number nine. Fifteen catches, 291 yards and 3 TD’s wasn’t enough to secure a victory for the Jaguars.

Fred’s individual games of 234 yards against Pittsburgh and 194 against New Orleans are in at 10 and 11. It’d be something special to see numbers from a running back like that again. Maurice Jones Drew ran for 186 yards in a shootout against Tennessee. He had TD runs of 80 and 79 yards in that game and he’s number 12 on this list for that day. He’s also at #13 for leading the league in rushing in 2011. His 1,606 yards were a source of pride for the offense on a bad team.

Catching the football takes somebody else throwing it, but Smith’s 116 catches in 1999 and Keenan McCardell’s 16 caches and 232 yards against St. Louis in 1996 both make the list at 14 and 15. Although he didn’t play much (so far) Justin Blackmon’s 14 reception day against Denver last year in one of the 4 games he played is in at number sixteen. He kept the Jaguars from being blown out.

Some performances seem surreal in this era of 4 win Jaguars teams. Do you remember when Taylor ran for 100 yards or more in 9 straight games in 2000? How would that be received today?

That’s why Sen’Derrick Marks’ 8.5 sacks (so far) this year is on the list. He’s playing defensive tackle, and in most games teams aren’t throwing it much in the second half because they’re just trying to grind the clock and leave with a win. Eight and a half is already a huge number for Sen’Derrick.

You might have forgotten how versatile MJD was in his early years. He’s on the list at 19 for his 303 all-purpose yards against Indy in 2006. He got to that number rushing, receiving AND returning kicks.

And at #20 Rashean Mathis’ 30 career interceptions finishes our list. He had eight in 2006, a number that seems unattainable for anybody on recent or current Jaguars teams. Hopefully that changes.

We know this list can have plenty of disagreement. Did we miss something? Pete Mitchell’s 10-catch game as a rookie tight end? Let us know on twitter with #JagsTop20 or email us at sports@wjxt.com. We’ll talk about the list this week on Jaguars Friday Night at 11:20.

1. Brunell vs. Denver 1996
2. Boselli vs. Bruce Smith
3. Boselli vs. Jason Taylor
4. James Stewart 5 TD’s
5. Fred Taylor TD Run vs. Miami
6. Josh Scobee 59 yard FG
7. Brad Meester Service
8. Mike Hollis 67 consecutive games scoring
9. Jimmy Smith vs. Baltimore 15 catches 291yds 3 td’s
10. Fred vs. Pitt 234 yds
11. Fred vs NO 194 yards
12. MJD vs Tenn 186 80 yd 79 yd
13. MJD 2011 lead league 1,606
14. Jimmy Smith 116 catches 1999
15. Keenan 16 catches 232 yds. 1996 vs stl
16. Blackmon 14 catches vs Denver 2013
17. Fred 9 straight 100 yd games in 2000
18. Sen’Derrick Marks 8.5 Sacks in 2014
19. MJD all purpose yds. 303 vs Indy 2006
20. Rashean Mathis 30 career INT’s 8 n 2006

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars/Texans preview: Keep the Momentum?

Everybody talks about the “eye test” in sports. Looking at the Jaguars early in the year, the “eye test” showed them as a young, flawed team with a long way to go before they scared anybody in the NFL. As the year has progressed, the “eye test” didn’t change any opinions as the losses mounted. A few glimpses, beating the Browns, end of the Titans game but generally it felt like another extended preseason as the Jaguars coaches were looking for which players on this year’s team would help them win in the future, as in next year.

But at the end of the Giants game, things changed. After not doing much on offense for most of the game, the Jaguars and Blake Bortles came to life. Starting deep in their own territory but only needing a field goal to win, Bortles took command. A little extra zip on his passes. Positive decision-making, good footwork and some solid throws gave the Jaguars the ball near midfield. The receivers routes were crisp. The offensive line had their best blocking sequence of the day. That’s when Bortles ran the read-option, twice, overcoming penalties, getting to the NY 25 and setting Josh Scobee up for the game winning FG.

And according to the “eye test” the Jaguars looked like a different team.

“He’s a baller,” veteran Tight End Marcedes Lewis said of Bortles in the post-game locker room. “He took command. You could see it. You could hear it in the huddle. I’ll play with that guy anytime.” Without many veterans on the team, Lewis is one of the players who can give some perspective on where this team is.

“This changes things,” he added. “He believes. We believe in him.” “That’s what we see in practice every day,” Head Coach Gus Bradley said during the week. “The command, the sense of urgency, its part of the process.”

Oh yes, “the process.”

As the Jaguars go on “this journey” as Bradley likes to call what’s going on, “the process” has shown improvement but it’s been slow. Painfully slow.

Against the Texans today we’ll see if that process has sped up at all after last week’s win. Sometimes the lessons are hard in the NFL, but sometimes they come fast and furious. Can the Jaguars offense transfer that confidence they displayed in the final drive against the Giants directly into the first quarter against Houston? Those crisp routes, that quick decision-making and that sense of urgency are what this team needs in every drive to compete. Their margin of error is small, so the precision that Bradley has talked about all year is necessary to be in games with a chance to win in the 4th quarter.

Houston is the perfect opponent for today’s test. They’re good but not great. With JJ Watt having an MVP-type year and Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing six TD’s last week, they can do a lot of things well when they get some confidence and momentum. Can the Jaguars match that?

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Falter in 2nd Half, Lose to Texans

Having swept the Texans last year for two of their four wins, the Jaguars were fairly confident this week at home against Houston. Coming off a last-second win against the Giants they could see improvement and how “the process” was taking hold. Not that Houston was any kind of pushover. With JJ Watt playing at an MVP level, Arian Foster looking like the Pro Bowl back he is, and Ryan Fitzpatrick coming off a 6-TD performance, it’s a pretty good test for the home team.

Again this week Sen’Derrick Marks played at a Pro Bowl level, recording 1.5 sacks in the first quarter to get the Jaguars in good field position. Marks is scheduled for a big payday if he gets to 8 sacks from the DT position. That’s a huge number coming from that spot on the field on a team that has won 2 games and isn’t usually harassing the QB because the opposition is throwing it all the time trying to catch up.

Taking advantage of the short field, the Jaguars drove the ball in from the 50 with a nice blend of runs by Denard Robinson and Toby Gerhart and a back-shoulder 26 yard pass from Blake Bortles to Marqis Lee to take a 7-0 lead. The TD pass was impressive because the Jaguars used their bootleg roll to the right goal line play but the Texans sniffed it out and covered everybody coming out of the backfield and the tight end off the line of scrimmage. Bortles kept the play alive rolling to the right and final Allen Hurns danced away from his man enough for Bortles to fit it in there for a touchdown.

Anytime Foster is in the game the Texans have a chance. When he’s healthy and playing, he gets a hundred yards a game pretty much all the time. The Jaguars were keeping him in check until one of their “fits” from the defensive secondary didn’t work on a running play and he ripped off 51-yards into Jaguars territory. Along the way he stiff-armed Josh Evans so hard that he de-cleated Evans at midfield. The Texans got a FG to make it 7-3. On the ensuing possession, Houston got the short field and scored on a Fitzpatrick run (following a 19 yard Foster carry) 10-7 Houston.

A lot of fans have been down on some of the free agent acquisitions for the Jaguars in the offseason. They cut Dekota Watson, Zane Beadles hasn’t had much to work with and Toby Gerhart isn’t the guy everybody thought he’d be. Hard to say if Beadles is just suffering from all the young guys around him or not. But it’s clear that Gerhart hasn’t been healthy until now. He’s running hard and is a good combination with Denard Robinson in the backfield. The Jaguars gave it to him on 3rd and 9 and he powered through the line and ran over a couple of guys on the next level for a first down. Scobee kicked another field goal to make it 10-10. And with Bortles running around looking for somebody, he checked down to Gerhart who blasted through a few guys again for a first down. Another Scobee FG made it 13-10 at halftime.

Bortles is playing more like the guy who came in during the second half of the third game of the year. He’s avoiding the rush, finding open receivers and not making the same mistakes he made in that five game stretch. Hard to say if he’s peeking out of the fog or not but he looks like that guy the Jaguars thought they drafted.

After halftime, the weather turned a little worse with a light mist and a cold wind blowing through the stadium. Apparently the Jaguars didn’t like the weather shift because the 3rd quarter was all Houston. They went on an 84 yard, 16 play TD drive to take a17-13 lead and intercepted Bortles at the 25 near the end of quarter and scored to start the 4th to take a 24-14 lead. The second touchdown was particularly galling because the Texans went for it on 4th down only to have Foster stoned at the goal line but slip away backwards and skirt untouched around the left end for the TD. There was a big swing of emotion on the play, elation when Foster was stopped but despair when it was apparent nobody tackled him and he slipped in for the score.

Houston controlled the clock on offense and stifled the Jaguars with their defense for most of the second half. With eight minutes to go in the game Bortles and the offense had officially -1 yards on the books. Cecil Shorts had a critical drop on a slant that he’d still be running on and the Jaguars gave it back to the Texans. Houston kicked another FG to make it 27-13.

Right when the Jaguars looked like they’d make a game of it by gaining 51 yards on two plays and getting to the Texans 29 yard line, they started going backwards with sacks and penalties. Houston did their best to grind the clock, Foster professionally and smartly staying in bounds to get it under 3 minutes before giving it back to the Jaguars.

I’m not sure if they’ll be able to pinpoint exactly why there was no production in the second half on either side of the ball. Critical drops (Shorts et al) and penalties, along with an inability to keep Bortles upright all contributed to their problems. Certainly his interception deep in their own territory didn’t help but it felt like a small step forward for Bortles in game management, performance and playing with more freedom than in the past.

While they had the lead at halftime, the Jaguars never felt in control of this game and while you’d like to say it was entertaining and fun to be there, in the second half it was anything but that. In fact, the stands were mostly empty as people retreated inside because of the rain and the cold.

Houston knelt on it for the final 2 minutes to add insult to injury, a wound that the Jaguars can only salve by being able to do the same to the Texans in the final game of the season.

One more home game on the 18th against Tennessee on a Thursday night that could be fun, and winnable.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

McElwain Introduced at Florida: Wins the Press Conference

Starting his public Gator career at his introductory press conference, Head Coach Jim McElwain approached the podium without any prepared remarks and said, “How you doin?” It’s that kind of folksy, human connection that the Gator Nation has longed for since the departure of Steve Spurrier.

McElwain was glib, funny, a good storyteller, and seemingly open about his courtship with the University of Florida and his desire to become the head coach in Gainesville.

“When you look at the quality, it’s something special here at Florida. It’s a privilege to be here,” McElwain noted.

He’s a blend of Gus Bradley’s message and Steve Spurrier’s ability to control a room, whether it’s reporters, boosters, football players or the assembled media.

“Let’s be a part of being a positive influence on the people around us,” he said about his general philosophy, not talking about offense or defense. “It’s about investing in the young men who are (already) here.”

When pressed about what he’ll do on offense since that’s his specialty, the new Gators coach said, “I’m the dog they dropped off at the humane society. I have a lot of breeds in me. You have to pick the right breed for the situation and bring that out.” It’s that kind of self-deprecating humor that will endear him to Gators fans, especially if he can back it up with a wide-open offense that produces wins.

“It’s depends on who you have,” McElwain said when asked how wide-open he’d be. “Who you have determines whether you throw it 40 or 80 times a game.”

When Athletic Director Jeremy Foley started focusing in on McElwain as a candidate he said all he heard was, “Mac is a great guy a great guy. But when you talk to him, at his home with his family around it was obvious that he was that and more.”

While McElwain demurred when asked about how the deal got done, he said he had a “hunch” that it would happen and feels no pressure from the money reportedly spent by the University to acquire him from Colorado State.

“Pressure. If there’s one thing that I love it’s pressure. I like to think I don’t feel the pressure, I apply the pressure. If there’s no pressure, why wake up in the morning. ”

McElwain said that it wasn’t just recently that he became interested in the job in Gainesville. “That happened the first time I recruited this state for the University of Louisville. I’m excited about rekindling the relationships that I started then.

Born in Kalispell, Montana and raised in Missoula, McElwain left the state to play football at Eastern Washington. He started his coaching career there as well. So he’s grateful to Nick Saban for brining him East to the University of Alabama where he was Offensive Coordinator form 2008-2011. “I owe him everything for taking a chance on a guy from out West.”

He joked that some people might not say he coached in the NFL, “I coached the Raiders.” McElwain said he’ll have his first team meeting Monday morning and will give a look at the roster and the quarterbacks currently on it to see what they can do. “I’m the kind of guy who thinks I can win with my dog Clara Bell at quarterback,” he quipped.

On his message to the team: “You’re Gators, I’m a Gator. Give me an opportunity to make a positive impact on your life. Develop trust.”

On his message to recruits: “You have a chance to win a National Championship here. But It’s not just about the ball. It’s about making a brand for yourself and making a brand for the rest of your life.”

McElwain won’t coach the Gators in their bowl game instead saying he’ll be “eating popcorn. I want to see what the normal guy does.

When asked about McElwain’s performance, one Florida administrator told me, “That’s important. It might not be important everywhere but its important here.”

That kind of understanding of what it means to be the University of Florida head football coach these days makes McElwain 1-0. He won the press conference.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Top 20 Comebacks

Here’s our top 20 for this week in recognition of the Jaguars 20th anniversary. To mark their comeback win over the Giants last Sunday, it’s the top 20 comebacks in Jaguars history. They’re all not actual comebacks in games, but all represent a comeback of sorts surrounding the Jaguars.

At number 1, the city of Jacksonville made a huge comeback to even still be in the game to get a franchise. The announcement on November 30, 1993 represents the biggest comeback ever in franchise history.

A close second is 1990. Certain leaders in the Jacksonville community had convinced local politicians that getting NFL franchise wasn’t a very important thing for city growth. A whole other group thought it was very important, including Don Davis, a prominent local politician and convinced the Mayor that this was an important thing. Behind the scenes, Touchdown Jacksonville was reconnected with the City and the rest, is history.

Third is the comeback in 2013 to beat Cleveland on the road. Dramatic, last second win. Fourth is also dramatic, in overtime as Rashean Mathis scored the game winner for the Jaguars. Fifth is the Mike Thomas Hail Mary catch against the Texans. It was so sudden and dramatic and it’s made a lot of these lists this year.

In the 6th spot we have Mark Brunell’s return to the lineup in 1998. He was injured with three games to play and the Jaguars lost two of three to still get into the playoffs. His return allowed them to advance to the second round where they were eventually beat by the Jets. Without Mark, they go nowhere. Same with Fred’s return in 2002. After missing almost all of 2001 with an injury, Taylor came back better than ever and played in more games as a starting running back than any other back in his era after that. So much for “Fragile Fred.” We also put Tony Boselli’s comeback in 1995 on the list. 1995? The first year? Right. Boselli was injured before the season started so it was a big deal for him to “comeback” to the lineup. He recently said he ankle hurt so much that if it was OK to cry in football, he would have. We also put Mark Brunell’s comeback to Jacksonville after his career was over in the 9th spot. After 19 years in the league and a few financial problems, Brunell is the head coach at Episcopal, works for ESPN and has picked Jacksonville as his home. Same for Boselli. He bounced around a few years after his career ended but now is back in town for good it appears.

The next nine are games where the Jaguars came from behind to win, including Sunday’s victory over the Giants. Some of the others you’ll remember, some you might not, but all are come from behind wins.

And in the 20th spot the Jaguars return to Channel 4. We were the official station in the early 2000’s and now that we have it back, we’re trying new things, working with the team to make the broadcasts fun and interesting, no matter what the score on the field. It’s been a great experience so far and we’re looking forward to more!

Did we miss something? Let us know at sports@wjxt.com or tweet us with #jagstop20 and we’ll talk about it on Jaguars Friday Night!

  • 1) 1993
  • 2) 1990
  • 3) 2013 week 13 at Cleveland – Henne to Shorts TD with 40 seconds left for 32-28 win
  • 4) 2005 at Pittsburgh – Rashean Mathis 41 yard INT return for TD in overtime for the 23-17 win
  • 5) Mike Thomas Hail Mary catch
  • 6) Brunell comeback in ’98
  • 7) Taylor comeback in 2002
  • 8) Boselli in 1995
  • 9) Brunell comeback after football
  • 10) 21 points 11/30/14 vs NYG
    trailed 21-0 in the 2nd quarter
  • 11) 15 points, 11/24/96 at BAL,
    trailed 25-10 4th quarter, won 28-25 OT
  • 12) 14 points, 11/10/96 vs. BAL,
    trailed 17-3 3rd quarter, won 30-27
  • 13) 14 points, 12/13/99 vs. DEN,
    trailed 14-0 1st quarter, won 27-24
  • 14) 14 points, 12/11/11 vs. TB,
    trailed 14-0 2nd quarter, won 41-14
  • 15) 13 points, 11/09/03 vs. IND,
    trailed 20-7 at half, won 28-23
  • 16) 12 points, 09/27/98 at TEN,
    trailed 19-7 2nd quarter, won 27-22
  • 17) 11 points, 10/13/96 vs. NYJ,
    trailed 14-3 2nd quarter, won 21-1
  • 18) 11 points, 11/30/97 vs. BAL,
    trailed 14-3 2nd quarter, won 29-27
  • 19) 11 points, 09/23/12 at IND,
    trailed 14-3 at half, won 22-17
  • 20) Jaguars return to Channel 4
Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Defense Shines, Jaguars beat Giants

You know anytime you’re going to face a Tom Coughlin coached football team they’re going to run the football. A lot. Former Jaguar Rashad Jennings is Coughlin’s workhorse in the backfield (another one of those guys like Montel Owens, Justin Forsett and Daryl Smith that I can’t figure out why they’re not on this team) and as expected, the Giants started out running the football. A lot. The Jaguars had three plays in the first quarter for nine yards while the Giants dominated the field and time of possession including a 19-play, 91 yard, 9 minute and 51 second drive for a TD (scored by Jennings) to take an early 7-0 lead. I’ll admit, it’s not what I expected from the Jaguars defense, especially in the middle.

A complete lack of production isn’t what I expected on offense early in the game either. The Giants took a 14-0 lead driving on a short field before the Jaguars even got to ten offensive snaps. Their first two offensive series where both three and out, the one on the goal line including a bad throw, a dropped pass and a batted ball. If Gus Bradley challenged his players and coaches to do more, to step up, it didn’t show in the first 25 minutes of the game. While Blake Bortles tries to find that aggressive side and measure it against turning the ball over, the rest of the offense has to step forward. The receivers have to get open and the offensive line has to move defenders off the ball. Neither of those things is happening.

Taking advantage of another short field, the Giants scored on a 17 yard run by Jennings (again) and took a 21-0 lead.

With the Giants rushing three on third down deep in Jaguars territory, Bortles was able to elude the rush and fire a strike to Alan Hurns downfield. But a defender met Hurns with his should right about the time he was going to catch the ball and delivered a big hit to force an incompletion. Hurns was on the ground for a while.

He did return as the Jaguars got their first drive of the day going. Offensive Coordinator Jedd Fish finally started rolling Bortles out of the pocket and hitting some guys on crossing patterns. Throw in a nice run by Denard Robinson and the Jaguars were inside the Giants ten. But Robinson occasionally still hesitates at the point of attack when there’s not an obvious hole there so the Jaguars went nowhere on first and second down, including a fade throw to Marqis Lee. (Which I don’t understand because no matter what he’s listed at, he’s actually around 5’8″.) A scramble by Bortles with a throw into the end zone to Cecil Shorts was negated by a holding call on Luke Joeckel and the Jaguars settled for a Josh Scobee field goal to make it 21-3.

Looking for a single word to describe the first half performance, “woeful” was the one that kept coming to mind. Without much production on offense, whether because of play calling or execution (or both) the Jaguars were hoping their defense would keep them in the game but that didn’t happen either. It is alumni weekend for the Jaguars and seeing all of those former players on the field had to give the Jaguars fans in attendance a good feeling about what they had at one point. And what they’re hoping for. There were big ovations for several players, including Jimmy Smith who hadn’t been in Jacksonville for a while.

Top open the second half the Jaguars moved the ball near to midfield before having to punt. But a big 61-yard punt by Brian Anger put the ball on the Giants 13. That’s when the defense started to come to life again, Geno Hayes sacking Eli Manning and forcing a fumble that JT Thomas jumped on in the end zone for a TD to make it 21-10 Giants.

Manning was sacked on third down on the Giants next possession as well and appeared to fumble but the officials ruled him down on forward progress and didn’t allow a challenge allowing the Giants to punt to the Jaguars 22.

After an exchange of punts, the Jaguars offense came to life, finally with some exotic play calling. The wildcat formation, the read-option by Bortles and a beautiful throw to Lee on a fade route to the back corner of the end zone from 30 yards out cut the score to 21-16. I know a 2-point conversion cuts it to a 3 point game but with 2 minutes left in the third quarter, all that did was kill the momentum with the pass was batted down at the line.

It’s almost unbelievable what happened next. The Giants were finding some momentum near midfield when Manning hit TE Larry Donnell on a little out route. He was hit high and low by the Jaguars and fumbled the ball on his way to the ground. Rookie Aaron Colvin was in on the tackle and also scooped the ball up for a score giving the Jaguars a 22-21 lead after they went for 2, again, and didn’t make it. Hindsight is 20/20 but going for two in both of those situations seemed a little early.

Meanwhile, I’m sure the Giants were confused. Weren’t they in control of this game 21-0? While the gashed the defensive line early on the ground, they couldn’t find anything that really worked in the second half. Until Eli Manning went to the short rhythm passing game and moved them right down the field. The defense stiffened and the Giants kicked a FG to take a 24-22 lead.

So with just over 3 minutes to play, Blake Bortles and the offense had a chance to redeem themselves. Just a FG wins it. And this is where confidence and careers are formed. Bortles looked decisive hitting Lee and Shorts for midrange gains. He ran the ball on the read-option a couple of times to get first downs. He looked like they were going to WIN THIS GAME. No hesitation, no second-guessing. And sure enough, they moved it to the Giants 25 yard line where Josh Scobee calmly kicked a 43 yarder to win the game, 25-24.

How they did it? If you follow Gus’ commands its about about giving a little more and finding a way. Whatever they were doing before wasn’t enough. And if it takes two defensive touchdowns, then go get two defensive TD’s. Hopefully Bortles and the offense gains some confidence after that game winning drive.

The good news is they get to play at home again next week. And the opponent is Houston.