Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Khan: Win Next Year

I don’t think you can call Jaguars Owner Shad Khan’s statement today a vote of confidence for Head Coach Gus Bradley but I don’t think it’s an ultimatum either.

The message though is very clear:

Win next year.

With 12 wins in three years, the expectations are that in year four, Bradley and General Manager Dave Caldwell will have had enough time to tear down and rebuild the roster to a competitive state.

When Mike Mularkey was the head coach in 2012, he said often, “We’ll take our lumps” and told his confidants, “We need players.” That was evident that year as they only won two games and the following year when Caldwell and Bradley took over and they won three.

Not really expecting much more, and perhaps less, Caldwell continued to tinker with the roster, making more moves in 2013 than any GM in history. Bradley continued to try and instill his culture of player empowerment on the franchise and in 2014 they won three games.

But the building blocks were in place according to their philosophy, drafting a left tackle; a quarterback and a dominant pass rusher this year. Injuries have slowed the process, but they smartly never put a timeline on it. They had the one backer they needed, Khan, and they stayed true to their plan.

To look at their personnel decisions, Caldwell and Bradley have had some hits and some misses. Blake Bortles looks to be the quarterback they can build around. Allen Robinson is a star and Marqise Lee is starting to look like he could potentially fulfill the promise he showed in college. Telvin Smith is the total package. They got lucky with Allen Hurns who has blossomed into a starter. But Luke Joeckel hasn’t fulfilled the expectations of the second player taken in the draft. Jonathan Cyprien hasn’t developed into that stalwart at the back of the defense. Josh Evans has been inconsistent. Zane Beadles has been suitable but not a star. They cut Ace Sanders and Jeremy Harris. Dwayne Gratz and Demetrius McCray can’t get into the lineup and Denard Robinson has some flash but it’s taken them three years to figure out what to do with him.

Slowed by some of their early decisions, Dave and Gus know Shad’s patience isn’t infinite. And that was clear in his statement today.

While Khan confirmed that Bradley would continue as the head coach for 2016 he added, “It’s also evident the considerable work that remains to be done to be where we expect to be at this time next season, which is well above where we stand today. And Gus understands that.”

Whoa. “And Gus understands that?” In other words, ‘Win some games.”

Shad wasn’t finished, saying that he and Caldwell are confident that 2016 will be the best of Gus’ career and they expect the coaching staff and the team to “respond favorably to this news in preparation for Houston on Sunday.”

Another one of those, “OK, I’ve said you’re sticking around so go out there and get the job done.”

Khan is pretty well known for giving the people who work for him the tools to succeed and then expecting results. It’s no different with his football team and in evident in his closing sentence today:

“We have high ambitions.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley Not Going Anywhere

It’s the only time I’ve ever seen Gus Bradley short with an answer in a press conference situation. When he’s asked about his job security, it’s a question he doesn’t want to hear or address. So when he was asked on Monday if he’d rather know his future in Jacksonville before coaching in the final regular season game at Houston, his answer was pretty clipped.

“No,” He said, tight lipped. “My mindset has always been to do what’s best for this organization and what’s best for this team. Just continue with that.”

Bradley’s not going anywhere. I know there’s a constant drumbeat on social media to move on from Gus and start anew but that’s not going to happen. Owner Shad Khan isn’t about to change the leadership of the team when he’s seen improvement and believes the team is on the verge of being competitive for the division title.

“Are we better than we were in year one? Year two?” Shad said when asked how he’d evaluate Bradley and General Manager Dave Caldwell at the end of the year. It’s clear Khan believes the team is better and that Caldwell and Bradley deserve a fourth year to finish the beginning of the process.

Anytime you ‘rebuild’ in the NFL, it’s a longer than expected process. And when that rebuilding includes a franchise, rookie quarterback, that process can be slow and painful. That’s what the Jaguars are experiencing right now. Those growing pains that come with tearing a team apart and putting it back together along with trying to shepherd a young quarterback into the league. Usually teams do one or the other, but not both at the same time.

If Bradley’s postgame comments that he echoed on Monday sounded familiar, it’s because they are. His team hasn’t been able to grab the consistency or the precision that necessary to win in the league all year long. It’s come in fits and starts with the hope it’ll be the standard they eventually achieve.

“This is a precision league,” Gus said at his Monday recap. “We knew what we were getting into. When I talked to the defense about it too, it’s one thing to talk about precision, its one thing to talk about execution and how you have to be on it, but it’s another to experience that, and we experienced it.”

Although the Jaguars knew they were eliminated from the postseason before kickoff in New Orleans, Bradley doesn’t believe it effected how they played. He thought the team lacked that certain ‘edge’ that’s necessary to play at the highest level.

“What I would say is that I think there’s a certain edge that you need to play the game with, and I think when you go in there and you totally trust your preparation, you’re very confident, you get to the point where you play with that edge. And we’ve got guys that have that edge but when you have that confidence to go out there to where an opportunity comes your way you can’t wait for that opportunity, that sort of an edge.”

Even though it’s the final game of the season, most players know they’re still being evaluated, not just by their team but by the entire league. The Jaguars have made some moves in the defensive backfield with Dwayne Gratz, DeMetirus McRay, Davon House and others but it hasn’t increased their ability to stop other teams in critical passing situations. Bradley isn’t afraid to send somebody to the bench and he’ll be looking at those guys this week in practice.

“I would like to see more productivity,” he said when asked about the defensive backfield personnel changes. “I think what we talked about earlier, that edge. You watch them and it’s pretty consistent but that edge to make a play, that edge that when your number is called you make a play. I think that’s the challenge that we’ve got to get our guys to, to the point when an opportunity comes to make it.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Brees, Precision Beat Jaguars

I ran into a well-respected media member this week in Jacksonville who greeted me with a smile and a handshake saying, “I’m ready for it to be over.” Everybody gets to that point during the season, and although the Jaguars were technically still in the playoff hunt, my colleague had seen enough.

At some points during the first half against the Saints, you got the feeling the Jaguars felt the same way. With Drew Brees hobbled because of a torn plantar fascia, it didn’t matter against a depleted Jacksonville defense. It seemed no matter what Brees decided to do on any play, it worked.

“The grit, the effort, all that stuff was there but the precision wasn’t there,” Gus Bradley said after his team’s 38-27 loss to New Orleans and Drew Brees. “When I was in Seattle and faced New Orleans, the word ‘precision’ came up all the time. We can talk precision but today we felt it.”

They opened with an 80-yard TD drives capped by a Brees TD pass to take a 7-0 lead. Brees found Jonathan Cyprien singled up on the tight end but the Jaguars safety had his back to the QB and couldn’t get turned around in time,

Brees followed that with a 71-yard TD pass capping a 98-yard drive to make it 14-0. Brees was looking for Nick Marshall matched up on defense and found him, hitting Brandin Cooks for the long TD. While Bradley likes Marshall’s athletic ability and his grit, he doesn’t have the speed or the ball skills at the position to match up against the best receiver on the other side of the ball. If a quarterback can find him in the defensive backfield, you can be sure he’ll start picking on him because he’s a liability.

Not sharp in the first half for the second week in a row, Blake Bortles got a bad break throwing an interception on the next Jaguars possession. On a play that should have been called pass interference as the defender jumped over Allen Robinson, the ball was batted to a defensive lineman who grabbed it for the Saints. Forty-three yards later they made it 21-0 on a Tim Hightower 1-yard run. I know he’s just in his second year in the league but sometimes Bortles makes throws that make you scratch your head. It seems to take him a bit longer to get something in his brain before making the same mistake more than once. In this case he threw it to Allen Hurns who was covered, who he stared down, and who the defender had the play figured out. That led to a Saints FG that made it 24-0.

If this was supposed to be a track meet between two teams struggling on defense, the Jaguars offense was still sitting in the starting blocks.

Finally the Jaguars got on the board with a TD on their next possession. They got Jonas Gray on the field and he proved to be a spark, picking up 23 yards on his first carry. The drive ended with Marqise Lee catching the first TD of his career. Even though the card says go for two there, it’s the wrong time to chase points. I think this is where Gus the Head Coach has to step in and say, “Kick it.” But he chased the points and failed making it 24-6. Not that the PAT is a given in the league any more but the risk of not making the two-point conversion when it comes to momentum, confidence and rhythm outweighs the reward to get the extra point there. Bradley said went for two in that situation to try and build momentum but, “We didn’t execute it.”

Once again, the second half looked much different for the Jaguars. Taking the kickoff, the Jaguars scored on 11 plays, Allen Hurns grabbing a 6 yard TD from Bortles to make it 24-13 after the Jason Myers PAT.

No matter, the Jaguars defense, depleted by injury and not talented enough in key spots to make any stops, gave up a quick TD to the Saints, Brees hitting Travaris Cadet for 44-yards. A blown coverage, either by Marshall or Sergio Brown made the TD look easy. 31-13 Saints.

Right back at it, the Jaguars scored their longest TD of the year two plays later (the first, a 25-yard run by Gray again was called back for holding). Bortles hit Allen Robinson for 90-yard TD to bring the Jaguars back to 31-19. They again went for two and didn’t get it, Bortles still trying the fade route that he’s not very good at. Not sure why they keep calling that play.

Without Jared Odrick in the lineup because of a knee contusion, the Saints ran the ball effectively and kept the Jaguars off balance, moving it efficiently down the field. They scored on another Hightower run to make it 38-19.

Again going with the 2-minute offense, the Jaguars scored their final TD of game on a 20-yard slant to Allen Hurns to bring it to 38-27. Hurns has more TD catches than any non-drafted player in his first two years than any other in NFL history.

In this game the Jaguars gave up more yards than in any other game during the Gus Bradley era. The Saints had more than 500 yards of offense for the third straight meeting with the Jaguars, also an NFL record.

His 34 TD passes added to his Jaguars record and Bortles also set the Jaguars record for consecutive games with a TD pass at 15, surpassing Mark Brunell.

Before kickoff, the Jaguars had been eliminated from playoff contention by a Houston victory. It didn’t seem to impact how they played; they just got beat by a quarterback who knew what he was doing.

“We can talk about precision,” Bradley said, “But they just experienced it,” he finished, pointing to the Jaguars locker room.

In order to fix this problem the Jaguars will need a pass rush. And to get a pass rush, they’ll need better players. Even Bradley admitted they’d be looking to upgrade.

“Maybe we can be more strict,” he said of his dealings with the players. “Maybe we have to challenge them harder. We need guys who can play with that kind of precision.”

“When a guy’s number is called, has to make the play. We need to look at it and then if they’re not doing it, hard decisions have to be made.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Sunday Update /Jaguars Still Motivated?

Sunday AM Update: Reports this morning say Drew Brees will play for the Saints despite only practicing on a limited basis Friday. Brees has a heel problem with a torn plantar fascia but apparently will start.

“It hurts to walk. It has its challenges,” Brees said earlier this week. “But we’ve come up with a good plan for this week, how to support it and how to make it as manageable as possible.”

The Saints will be without WR Marques Colston because of a chest injury suffered last Monday vs. the Lions but TE Benjamin Watson is expected to play.

For the Jaguars, don’t expect to see Telvin Smith or TJ Yeldon against the Saints. After not practicing all week both are listed as doubtful for the game.


With two weeks to go in the regular season, despite their 5-9 record the Jaguars are still in the playoff chase. They have to win both of their games and a lot of things have to happen in the division to help them, but mathematically, they’re still in it. Maybe they’re using that as motivation, but in reality, they know they’re not a playoff team. You can see it in their eyes and hear it ring a bit hollow in their voices when asked about the postseason.

That’s why it’s impressive to see the effort in practice and hear Head Coach Gus Bradley talk about their preparation this week. In most NFL cities this week they’re either preparing for the postseason or next season. Bradley is talking about ‘competition’ and ‘juice’ and this week, not about the future.

“Yeah, third down situations,” the Jaguars Head Coach said when asked about his practice routine this week. “We did a lot of good-on-good again in the red zone and out in the field, so they got another shot at it.”

He remained focused and specific about what they’re up to, 15 weeks into the season. “The part I like about it, it was highly, highly competitive, and there was a lot of juice, as we say, on the field for it. So that’s what you’d hope when you have those third-down situations, or whatever the situation period is, that the intensity rises because it’s not a service look. There’s great competition.”

Most coaches are talking about evaluation and getting ‘looks’ at guys this time of year. Others are talking about managing their stars on the field as they gear up for the playoffs. Bradley is remaining steadfast in his belief that going out there and ‘being our best’ is the main goal, regardless of the out come.

“Well, I think you give them enough to concentrate on.,” Gus explained when asked how he’s keeping the players focused this week on their game and not the happenings beforehand wince their matchup against New Orleans was ‘flexed’ to the 4pm slot.

“I think they know what we’re trying to get accomplished here, and some of the things that took place last week and in previous weeks that we need to get corrected.”

By the time they get to kickoff in the Superdome the Jaguars could know their postseason hopes are gone. So if they’ve been using that as motivation, what’s next?

“My hope is that’s what we’re trying to go get done on Sunday as well as being at our best,” Bradley said, referring to one of his favorite themes. “But I’d be naïve not to know that our players are going to be listening or watching it prior to us getting on the bus. But I feel pretty good just how they handled this week. So put a lot on them a lot of distractions-wise just to see where we’re at with things and very pleased with how they’ve handled it.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars: Third Down Could Fix Slow Starts

Much like he did earlier in the season when the Jaguars were struggling in the red zone, Head Coach Gus Bradley has spent some extra time in practice on third down this week. On both offense and defense.

“I just think again it’ll be an area of emphasis,” Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson said at his weekly Wednesday press conference. “It’s certainly unacceptable. We were 0-for-6 to start the game two weeks ago and finished 2-of-3 in the second half. Last week, we went 0-of-8. It’ll be an emphasis here as we finish the regular season.

And Bradley is devoting extra practice time to the third down situations, especially trying to simulate he tempo of the game situation. Olson laid out specifically how the Jaguars arranged practice.

“We spent two extra periods on it today and the same tomorrow. At the end of practice, it was five-play specialty period at the end of practice, and during the course of practice we had an eight-play period.”

Bradley said he was pleased with how it went and the emphasis put on ‘situational football.’ “We incorporated two periods of third down work, one in the middle of practice and one towards the end ‘good versus good.’ We’ve had this situation where it was in the red zone and we wanted to address it with more plays and just bring the emphasis up to our team, so I was pleased with how it went.”

Fixing the Jaguars third down problem on offense will directly have an effect on the ability to get the offense going quickly. The Jaguars have become a notoriously slow starting team, but converting third downs keeps drives going to give them an early opportunity to score.

“We look at that all the time,” Olson said. “We’ll continue to find ways, as we research it, to find out what’s the reason for the slow starts and certainly third downs has been a big part If we can convert some of those third downs, it has a chance to lead to some scores.”

As a coaching staff, the Jaguars coaches consult with the players to see what they’re comfortable will, what they liked in practice and how they think it’ll go in the upcoming game. From the quarterback to running backs and offensive linemen, everybody has some input during the week. A good blend of pass and run is the most desirable situation but Olson said those numbers can be deceiving.

“We’ve been in a number of two minute situations. Not only at the end of the game, but at halftime. That’ll increase your throwing attempts. It’s a good feeling when you’re up on a team and you can get in that run mode and can consistently win and be efficient in running the football in those situations.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley: Back to Basics

In his comments right after the loss to the Falcons on Sunday, Head Coach Gus Bradley said “this stings” and “we’ll look at it but there are a lot of plays we left out there.”

After looking at it, Bradley thought the same thing. Lots of opportunities lost.

“Right now all that is on my mind is how are we going to start faster, how are we going to take care of third downs to where it’s a nonissue and consistently playing at a high level,” he said on Monday “That’s the areas that we really need to attack right now; tighter coverage in the secondary and with our underneath coverage, so that part is what all of our emphasis is on.”

Without a third down conversion on offense the entire game and not being able to get off the field on defense on third down, it’s hard to start fast or score points with any consistency.

Bradley admitted the Jaguars were on the precipice of grabbing momentum going into the locker room at halftime but the interception thrown by Blake Bortles on the goal line sapped some of the Jaguars energy.

“In that situation throw it away and let’s live to fight another play,” Gus explained. “Also in that situation he could look backside. There’s a possibility of looking backside with the one on one. There were multiple things we could have done.”

Bradley is harping on the learning curve that’s still going on with his young team and his quarterback.

“I think the learning part of that situation was there’s more plays. We’ve got a couple of more plays here. If it’s not there we appreciate your competitiveness and wanting to make a play in that situation but if we have to throw it away we have to throw it away so he’ll learn from that.”

Although the interception by Bortles was the obvious mistake, according to Bradley the whole team didn’t perform with the two things he’s looking for: consistency and precision.

“We just felt like as a team we didn’t play as efficiently and as precise as we liked to do in all situations. There are certain situations that stood out.”

A certain amount of accuracy is expected from every NFL quarterback with some able to fit the ball into smaller windows than others. Bortles wasn’t particularly accurate against Atlanta and it cost the Jaguars a couple of big plays in critical situations.

“I think if you look at the passes that we threw, that’s what took place. There were some chances for us to make some big plays, but it was either, would have been a great catch? Yes. Was it a catchable ball? Yes. It would have been a great catch. Could it have been more accurate? Yes”

Bradley was also very direct about what his defense needed to do to give the team more chances to win. “Six points in the second half did a pretty good job against an explosive team. We need to get off the field and get the offensive the ball and more opportunities and we didn’t do that. We really struggled on third down in the second half.”

And why did that happen? The same things that have cost the Jaguars in the past. Bradley thought they got away from some of the things they had accomplished in the last couple of weeks.

“It’s the discipline part; we have to execute the assignment, execute the defense’s calls,” he said with some authority as a former defensive coordinator.

“We just didn’t make plays. It comes back to footwork when you’re playing a corner instead of a six-inch step, it was an eight-inch step and it got you a little out of whack and you didn’t get your hands up like you did in previous times. Some of those things are coming back, so it’s the consistency.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars: One Mistake

Having not thrown an interception in two games and nearly two quarters, Blake Bortles throw at the end of the first half against the Falcons dashed the Jaguars hopes to get back in the game. It turned out to be the one mistake the Jaguars made in a one possession game that cost them a chance at victory in a 23-17 loss to Atlanta.

Bortles chased down Kemal Ishmail at the 14-yard line with a good effort but 2 seconds were left on the clock allowing Atlanta to kick a field goal and take a 17-3 lead at halftime.

It appeared the Jaguars were about to make a game of it at the end of the second quarter after a field position contest and a solid first half by Matt Ryan and the Falcons running game had made it 14-3.

Taking the opening drive straight down the field, Atlanta took a 7-0 lead when Devonta Freeman scored from 5 yards out ended an 8-play, 80-yard drive to start the game. While the Falcons had lost six straight and seven of eight coming into Jacksonville, their strengths at quarterback, wide receiver and running back are the things that have given the Jaguars defense problems all year long. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones did just what the Jaguars feared most: moved the ball on offense with a blend of crossing routes, the stretch running play and time to throw. That combination has proven to be where the Jaguars defense is vulnerable.

Meanwhile, the Jaguars offense looked sluggish and out of sync for nearly the entire first half. Bortles wasn’t sharp, missing a wide open Julius Thomas streaking for the end zone for a touchdown, forcing them into a field goal and a 7-3 Falcons lead.

But after several punt exchanges that left the Falcons with good field position, the Ryan hit Jones from 11-yards out on a nicely designed misdirection play to take a 14-3 lead. Like most starting quarterbacks in the league, Ryan can take advantage of a defense given time. He did that, avoiding Jaguars pressure and put two touchdowns up in the first half.

With under two minutes to play in the first half, Bortles started buying time in the backfield and finding open receivers. He almost stepped over the line of scrimmage, again, but was ruled behind it on a 25-yard completion in the middle of the field to Thomas. A couple of passes, including a nice circle route to Denard Robinson put the ball at the one with 13 seconds in the half. That’s when Bortles got locked in on the out pass and Kemal Ishmail grabbed it in stride and ran to the Jaguars 16. It was only a good effort by Bortles to keep Ishmail out of the end zone. With two seconds on the clock, Atlanta kicked a field goal to take a 17-3 halftime lead.

Neither the play call nor the execution was any good there. Bortles didn’t have enough options, got locked in on the receiver and did the one thing you can’t do there, throw an interception. Give him some options and if it’s not there, throw it in the stands and give yourself another chance.

Getting the ball to start the second half, the offense moved it right down the field again, this time scoring from the one on a roll out by Bortles who just stepped into the end zone to make it 17-10. Getting him out of the pocket that close to the end zone gives him plenty of options to throw or run or throw it away. Nine plays, 80-yards, 4:20 off the clock and down by seven.

All season the Falcons have been plagued by turnovers and a good defensive play by Jared Odrick let Paul Posluszny grab a tipped ball for an interception on the next Atlanta possession.

Some tough running by Blake, a good “ball spot” challenge by Gus Bradley for a first down, a nice throw to DRob in the flat and a one-on-one ball to Allen Robinson in the end zone from 10-yards out made it 17-all. It was the 13th TD catch of the year by Robinson, leading the league. Also the 14th straight game *Bortles has thrown a TD pass, tying the franchise record.

With momentum, the Jaguars defense was able to force a Falcons punt although they gave up several 3rd down conversions and were called for pass interference on another. But the offense couldn’t do anything with it, suffering through an incompletion and two fumbles before they kicked it back to the Falcons.

Helped by a bogus 31-yard pass interference call against Telvin Smith, Atlanta kicked a 33-yard field goal to take a 20-17 lead midway through the 4th quarter.

If the Jaguars look back on 2015 and honestly rate their defense, it’ll be their lack of 3rd down efficiency that will stick out as a sore spot. Against the Falcons, the Jaguars couldn’t get off the field in the 4th quarter, giving up a 3rd and long several times, allowing Atlanta to keep the ball, run the clock and kick two field goals for a 23-17 lead.

It wasn’t a banner day for Nick Marshall who’s been installed as the Jaguars nickel corner. In the second half Matt Ryan was looking for him and found him often, trailing receivers, allowing first downs and more. And as the kick returner his decision-making was suspect, bringing a kick out of the end zone from nine yards deep with less than two minutes to play. If Gus Bradley calls it “situational football” this play was “not smart.”

In another “one possession” game, the Jaguars made one critical mistake that cost them points and it turned out to be the difference in the contest. It leaves the Jaguars at 5-9 and guarantees them a losing season for the fifth consecutive year and seven of their last eight. They were 8-8 in 2010 with their last winning year in 2007 at 11-5.

Road games against New Orleans and Houston will finish the year.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Falcons A Good Test For The Jaguars

You couldn’t have picked an almost perfect team for the Jaguars to play this week besides the Atlanta Falcons. Coming off their big 51-16 win over their division rival Indianapolis, the Jaguars are favored against an Atlanta team that has struggled, losing 7 of 8 games and six straight.

But it doesn’t mean they’re a pushover for the Jaguars and that’s been the theme all week. Nobody’s a pushover in the NFL and if you don’t bring your best effort or if you think all you have to do is show up to win, you’ll be sorely disappointed. It seems kind of silly to even entertain those thoughts when talking about a Jaguars team that is 5-8 and just a month ago all anybody talked about is if they’d win another game and would Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell last the season.

Fortunes change quickly in the NFL and while the Jaguars are a better team than they’ve been, they have been the closest thing to a pushover in the league for nearly three years. With that in mind, Bradley says the team should understand just who they are.

“I think they’re very confident,” he said this week referring to the win over Indy. “What I like about it is that they have put that one aside and they’re really working on things that we need to work on. It’s been good.”

Atlanta is the best test for a young Jaguars team because they have Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. A good quarterback/wide receiver combination has given the Jaguars problems and today is no different. With a lack of pressure on the quarterback, an experienced guy like Matt Ryan has had his pick of targets. Phillip Rivers shredded the Jaguars defense with a mixture of reading defenses, quick throws, and of all things, using his legs. The Chargers snapped their losing streak against the Jaguars and the Falcons are trying to do the same.

“They’re very talented at quarterback, at wide receiver and at running back, and other positions as well,” Bradley explained. “That’s definitely caught our attention, what they’re (the defense) seeing on tape, so I just see a really focused group on the field. And a real determined group.”

They’ll need to be today in order to keep the momentum they’ve built and the confidence in who they are and how they’re playing. In this season of two steps forward, one step back, we’ll see if this young team can take that second step forward today.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Grier To Transfer From Florida

Still serving a suspension for using a banned substance, Gators quarterback Will Grier has decided to transfer from the University of Florida for what Head Coach Jim McElwain calls a “fresh start.”

Here’s the official comment from McElwain.

“Will came to me about exploring his options to transfer. We will support him and help him in anyway we can. This has been very difficult on him and obviously he is looking for a fresh start.

“We will always be there for him as will all Gators.” –coach Jim McElwain

Grier shared time at quarterback with Treon Harris in the first two games of the 2015 season before taking the starting job and helping Florida to an undefeated record. His TD pass at home near the end of the game against Tennessee was one of the highlights of the Gators season.

The NCAA issued a suspension for one year, carrying into the 2016 season when it said Grier tested positive for a banned substance. Grier admitted to taking the over the counter supplement to aid in weight gain but said he didn’t know it was against the NCAA regulations and didn’t check with the Florida training staff before taking it.

Both the University of Florida and Grier appealed to the NCAA to reduce the ban to include the rest of the 2015 season and allow Grier to be eligible to play at the beginning of the 2016 season but the appeal was denied. Although ineligible to play, McElwain had said this week that Grier would rejoin the Gators football team on January 4th, right after Florida’s bowl appearance.

But this week, Grier apparently met with the coaching staff and decided he would transfer. His options include going to another NCAA FBS School (Division I) and serving his suspension while sitting out the required year for transfers and being eligible to begin play in 2017. Or he could play in a non-NCAA or junior college program in 2016 and be eligible to play in Division I again in 2016. Cam Newton took this route after leaving Florida and ending up at Auburn, leading the Tigers to a National Championship.

Florida has struggled on offense since Grier’s departure with Harris at quarterback. Luke Del Rio, a transfer to Florida would also be eligible to play next year. McElwain has been careful not to criticize Harris knowing he might have to use him at quarterback in 2016 if Del Rio or a true freshman can’t win the job.

The Gators have lost their last two games against Florida State and Alabama and will face Michigan on New Year’s Day.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Julius Thomas Paying Dividends

One thing that’s changed with the Jaguars offense is the production from Julius Thomas at tight end. Thomas’ injury in the preseason slowed what the Jaguars were hoping he could provide to Blake Bortles and the offensive production but in the second half of the season it’s been just what they hoped for.

“I think that we knew there was a chance. I would say where he’s at and what he’s done for us, I don’t know if it exceeded expectations,” Bradley said this week. “We felt pretty strongly about him but very happy with how he’s come along. I think the big thing with him was just getting in a groove with Blake.”

It’s what Bradley was expecting and has been waiting for from his second year quarterback and prized free agent acquisition.

“I think after the injury there was some time there where he was competing but the timing wasn’t quite right,” Gus explained. “They took time after practice and really worked on it. I just think it’s starting to come together but it’s still a work in progress.”

With his size and speed, not to mention his hands as a receiver, Thomas creates real matchup problems on defense, something Bradley is well aware of as a former defensive coordinator. Bortles knows when he comes to the line of scrimmage and sees any number besides one starting with a “2” trying to cover Thomas, Julius is going to be open.

Bradley put his defensive coach hat on to explain how he would see it if he was trying to play defense against Thomas in the grand scheme of a defensive philosophy. “If we want to run our pressure who’s matched up with who, and it puts you into that thinking. Then you start to think is it worth it to run that pressure? In order for us to run that we have to run this matchup.”

As long as Bradley is the coach, Thomas fits into the mold of the kind of player he wants on his team. Dedicated, professional, prepared and a good teammate.

“I think what it says about him is just his spirit all the way through. He missed a lot of games, had the injury but another guy that never wavered. He’s strong throughout, competed, competed through his injury and that’s where I’ve learned a great deal about Julius.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley: “Tremendous Message”

In his nearly three full seasons as the Jaguars Head Coach, Gus Bradley has talked about “how it looks” and “playing together,” “keeping it tight” and “finishing.” Against the Colts on Sunday, it must have looked right to Bradley because the Jaguars did all of those things and more. A 51-16 victory was some validation for the message Bradley has brought and he believes, shows what they’re capable of.

“Well, I think that the sign, in talking to the players, was the importance of all three phases,” Bradley said on a conference call on Monday. “I think we’ve seen games where the offense did well or the defense did well or sometimes the special teams, but to put it together to show what we’re capable of, I think it’s a tremendous message – tremendous message to our team.”

One thing about Gus, his message, nor his demeanor changes. The only time I’ve seen him angry was after the Tampa Bay game this year. And some viewers wrote me with a laugh that they “get madder at their cell phone than Gus was (today.)” But Bradley knows the players on the roster need to see success on the field that translates to wins on the scoreboard. Talk all you want, but do it on the field and that’s what can happen.

“I think it provides even a clearer picture to when we do things right in all three phases what we have a chance to be. So, that’s a great message. I think you can talk it, about, ‘Hey, if we put these three phases together, and then let’s see what happens.’ Well, we had this experience now that took place that I think paints a vivid picture for the players.”

Nothing replaces that feeling of success. To get that again, the Jaguars know they have to practice well and play well. That they just can’t show up and beat people. At some point, their best will be good enough to win. If they’re not there now, what yesterday showed is that they’re close. They have the talent and are gaining the experience it takes to compete in the NFL. The Colts aren’t world-beaters, but beating teams you’re supposed to beat is a step to success in the league. Sunday it started with the defense making some stops in the red zone in the first half, forcing field goals while the Jaguars offense struggled.

“Offensively, we were struggling a little bit,” Bradley explained. “It’s good to see the defense stood up in some of those situations and kept the score within reach so where we felt, hey, we’re in good shape, we just need to get our rhythm back. A lot of those things, a lot of lessons taken from this tape that we have to learn from.”

Although they’re technically still in the race for the AFC south, it’s next year where the Jaguars are expecting to be competitive and compete for the division title. Bradley was most pleased with what the future might hold because of what he saw yesterday.

“I just saw improvement. That’s the part that I’m really excited about. Now the challenge is to build on that. We’ll take a look at it when the season is over to see just how far we’ve come along and the direction. But that game, that performance yesterday, is something we can build on for this week.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Find Momentum, Rout Colts

Scoring on offense, defense and special teams for the first time since 2011, the Jaguars routed the Indianapolis Colts 51-16 at home for their 5th win of the year on Sunday. The 51 points is a regular season team record behind the 62 scored in the playoffs against Miami in 2000.

For 28 minutes, the second meeting between the Jaguars and Colts provided almost no excitement, bad offense, field goals and no touchdowns. For the last two minutes in the first half, there still wasn’t much offense but both defenses scored TD’s to make it at least interesting.

After a big week against the Titans,, the Jaguars offense struggled against Indy early after their opening drive. Taking the kickoff, the offense got a couple of breaks and ran TJ Yeldon enough to allow Jason Myers to kick a 46-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.

Indy did virtually the same, twice, and led 6-3 going into the second quarter. Matt Hasselbeck wasn’t sharp against a depleted Jaguars defense playing without Paul Posluszny and unlike the previous week, Indy was held to field goals in the red zone instead of touchdowns.

As they started near their own goal line with two minutes to play in the half, quarterback Blake Bortles couldn’t handle the snap from Stefan Wisnewski for the second straight week and again it resulted in a defensive TD. Robert Mathis fell on it in the end zone for an easy touchdown and a 13-3 lead.

Going to their hurry up offense, the Jaguars were marching right down the field when a delayed safety blitz dropped Bortles in the backfield for a sack. Instead of just eating it and moving on, Bortles tried to wriggle free, with the ball popping out and picked up by the Colts. Luckily, Yeldon saw it happening and tackled the defender in Jaguars territory.

Looking for more pressure on the quarterback, the Jaguars tried some different schemes and different personnel against Indy. Chris Smith provided some speed off the edge and they were hoping Nick Marshall might be a good slot, man coverage guy. Smith did get some pressure on Hasselbeck but Marshall was picked on all half. Nonetheless, it appeared to light a fire under Andre Branch who sacked Hasselbeck on the next series, forced a fumble, scooped it up and ran for a 49 yard TD.

It was the play that saved the game and perhaps changed the conversation and the entire season. If Indy scores there, who knows what happens but instead the Jaguars were back in it.

Almost on cue, Jason Myers missed the extra point (and was treated to a loud chorus of boos from the fans in attendance) making it 13-9 at halftime.

No offensive touchdowns, three field goals and honestly, a few laughs.

Keeping Myers is a decision Gus Bradley and GM Dave Caldwell will have to own since his misses last week changed how the game was played, but they refused to make a change. I know you “found” him and he’s your guy but you can’t play the game around your kicker.

As the second half started the strange nature of the game continued. It was clear whatever was said in the locker room made the Jaguars defense angry and they played like it. Fast and mean, they forced a Colts three and out and got the ball on their own 20.

On first down, Bortles rolled to his right and hit Allen Hurns near the sideline. As the ball left his hand, it appeared Bortles had thrown an interception but the defender missed and Hurns caught it, ducked under a tackle and ran 80-yards for a TD. It was the longest TD of the year for the Jaguars and the longest career catch and throw by Bortles and Hurns. 16-13 Jaguars after the PAT. And by the way, the crowd went wild when Myers made it.

Still mad, the defense forced another 3 and out and this time Rashad Greene fielded it at the 20 (after taking a peek at the coverage) beat one man after the catch and streaked 80-yards for a touchdown. A hold could have been called at the end of the play but wasn’t and again, Myers made the PAT (driving the crowd into a frenzy). Jaguars with a 23-13 lead.

Hasselbeck was knocked out of the game by a big hit from Roy Miller putting Charlie Whitehurst at quarterback. Another Vinatieri FG made it 23-16 midway through the third quarter.

Building a little momentum, the Jaguars offense moved the ball, blending the pass and run, a big play on pass interference covering Marqise Lee leading to a touchdown. Allen Robinson made a good move in the end zone and Bortles found him for the first time in the game. The crowd was delirious when Myers made the extra point to give the Jaguars a 30-16 lead.

Getting the ball back after a punt, the Jags continued their solid play into the 4th quarter with Denard Robinson running hard for the injured Yeldon who left the game with a knee problem. Bortles hit Julius Thomas for his third TD pass of the game and a 37-16 lead. And yes, the crowd went crazy again when Myers hit the PAT.

While division games are important, beating the Colts is especially pleasing to the Jaguars. Indy has owned the division for so long Gus Bradley has never been on the winning side in this match up. So it’s no surprise that it can get a bit chippy between the two teams. Telvin Smith hit Hasselbeck while he was going out of bounds, forcing him out of the game, again and continuing to swing the momentum the Jaguars way. DRob scored from a yard out after a nice 3rd down conversion to Greene over the middle to make it 44-16. Jonathan Cyprien grabbed an interception off Charlie Whitehurst and took it to the one. Bortles took a big, unnecessary hit on a third down bootleg after two attempts up the middle but scored on a QB sneak to make it 51-16.

So what are we seeing here? The end of the Colts 16 game division-winning streak for sure. But are the Jaguars combining all of the things they’ve learned through the first 12 games of the year and building some momentum? There will be talk about contending for the division title if a couple of things fall their way, but more than anything they need to keep looking in the mirror and figuring out what they’re doing right and try to build on it. Finding some consistency, something they can count on every week is what this team needs to finish the year.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars: 2016 Starts Now

“Our goal is to be at our best. We weren’t at our best today.”

That’s a comment we’ve heard from Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley a half a dozen times this year as his team has bounced around to a 4-8 record. Three-quarters of the season is gone and the Jaguars have been a different team it seems every week.

One week they’re stingy on defense. The next the offense is explosive or special teams make a few special plays. But those weeks are too often paired with bad tackling on defense, no execution on offense and special teams gaffes, like a missed extra point, that cost them games.

While focusing on the Jaguars can drive you crazy, looking around the league just about every team has it’s ups and downs, inconsistency and inexplicable losses.

Except, of course, the Carolina Panthers, who are undefeated at 12-0 and are a favorite to finish the regular season without a loss. If the Jaguars were “at our best” in the opener against Carolina nobody would be talking about the Panthers going undefeated because they’d have suffered their first loss of the year in their opening game. Instead, the Jaguars made just enough mistakes, got in their own way just enough and lost. Even the Panthers admitted after the game they were lucky to get away from Jacksonville with a win. Watching the game you didn’t feel like there was a huge gap between the two teams.

Which should be encouraging for Jaguars fans.

Winning the opener gave the Panthers a confidence boost that even not at their best, they could win games, even on the road, and it’s carried them this far. The Jaguars are a bit younger than the Panthers and haven’t been able to generate that confidence each week to win games late. They’ve done it a few times, in each of their wins making plays late in the game to get the job done, but not enough to call it an identity.

A comparison of the Panthers and Jaguars does one thing: it shows where the Jaguars can get.

In 2010, Carolina was 2-14, and floundering. They hired a new coach, drafted well, including a franchise quarterback, and started the uphill climb to be competitive. They’ve had losing seasons in three of the last four years. And now they’re undefeated.

Can the Jaguars make that transformation?

If so it needs to start somewhere in the last four games of this year. They need to get consistent play from Blake Bortles at quarterback. They need to keep their playmakers on offense healthy. And they need to identify the areas, especially on defense, where they need help and can get an immediate upgrade through the draft or free agency.

Today’s game against the Colts is another good barometer showing where the Jaguars are and where they can be. Again facing Matt Hasselbeck, a veteran, backup quarterback, they’ll struggle to keep Indianapolis from moving the ball without much pressure in the backfield. They’ll miss Paul Posluszny at middle linebacker calling, and making plays. But they should be able to get things done on offense and special teams should keep them in, not cost them, the game.

Win? Every NFL game comes down to one or two possessions and Jaguars games this year have been no different. But finding something they can hang their hat on, something they can count on going forward is what they should be looking for against a divisional opponent they’ll see twice next year as well.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Despite Losing, Jaguars Still “Together”

In the week following the loss to Tennessee, Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley was searching for answers just like anybody else. Having acknowledged that his team is having trouble getting to the quarterback no matter what they’ve tried with different packages, Bradley says they’re taking things back to the beginning.

“I think that you do get back to your fundamentals. Sometimes a game like that it re-elevates the need for that, whether we shrink the package or the calls that we use, we’ll see. It’s really based by game.”

Once again the Indianapolis Colts will be without Andrew Luck at quarterback but they beat the Jaguars in Indy in the first meeting between the two teams in 2015 with Matt Hasselbeck at the controls. Veteran quarterbacks give the Jaguars problems and Hasselbeck is no different with his ability to read coverages, avoid the rush and get the ball to the open man. While that’s a given, Bradley says the Jaguars are looking inward before concentrating on the opponent.

“You know what, I think what we’ve learned, we talk about it, it’s about us but this week it really is,” he explained at his weekly Wednesday press conference. “We’ve got to get some things corrected and that’s been the emphasis for us. We tackle better, we use our fundamental principles, cover better and then let’s see.”

In his third year as the Jaguars head coach, Bradley has never been on the winning side against the Colts, but again, he’s aware of that but not focused on it this week.

“Again, it’s about not them,” Gus said. “Just like last week red zone and offensively, is it corrected? I can’t say that, it doesn’t carry over to the next week. Every week you’ve got to go out there and prepare. So it comes back to nothing to do with the Colts, it’s about us and what we need to do. That part hasn’t changed.”

In what Bradley calls “this stage” of the team’s development, they’re in one-possession games and occasionally, four times this year, get on the winning side of those. Other times, they haven’t been able to overcome their own mistakes but the head coach says the culture is changing, allowing the team to “bounce back” when things go wrong. “Yeah, I do see progress in that. I don’t think we’re so orientated based on that, or one play. We throw an interception and the game is over; our guys have learned to quickly recover It’s very interesting to me how some of the things that separate some teams brings us closer together.”

If, In fact, adversity brings the team together and drags the fans along for the ride, this team, and their fans should be a pretty tight group. Bradley credits the atmosphere in the locker room and the things the players can count on, day in and day out as the glue that’s kept them together.

“I think the culture is meant for times that you establish it and it’s something that they can count on day in and day out and I think that’s where it brings power. They know when they walk in the building what’s going to take place it brings strength.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Long Drive King At Home In Jacksonville

“It’s a combination of things,” Jeremy Easterly said when asked about hitting the golf ball a long way. But the simplest answer: Swing fast. Easterly was clear about the distinction between “swing hard” and “swing fast” and he’s all about the speed of the swing.

At 6’3″ and 255 pounds, Easterly looks the part of a Long Drive champion and a JSO officer, of which he is both. Having been a golfer for most of his athletic life, Easterly decided to get serious about long drive competitions about the same time he joined JSO.

A low, single-digit handicapper through college, it took the challenge and encouragement of one of his fellow JSO officers to enter his first long drive contest.

“I was humbled pretty quickly,” Easterly said of his 30-some yard loss.

But he found he enjoyed it and could hit it a long way, so he’s worked on it for nearly 15 years, getting the right equipment, some sponsors, good coaching and keeping his fitness level high.

This year, a lot of that paid off when Easterly finished second in the world championships in October in Oklahoma. He found the grid with a 386-yard drive falling to Tim Burke by eight yards. With a wind over the left shoulder for right-handed drivers, hitting the grid with power was one of the keys to success on the night of the Finals. Easterly regularly hits it past 400 yards and explains, now as about a 10-handicapper, the difference between what he does and what they’re doing on the PGA Tour.

“They’re trying to drive it into a 25 yard area and set up their second shot. I’m driving it into about a 60-yard wide area and I’m not worried about the second shot,” he said with a laugh.

In the past decade, Easterly admits his length has grown because of hard work but also because of the information available. GolfTec is one of his sponsors and the “numbers” he gets through their technology of measuring swing speed, launch angle, ball speed and the like, allow him to concentrate on specific things to hit it longer.

“I’m looking at club head speed, but also ‘smash factor’ which is a measure of how efficiently you’re hitting the golf ball,” he explained. “You can swing as fast as you want but if you’re not hitting it in the center of the clubface, you’re not getting what you want out of that shot.”

Easterly uses a “Krank” driver that measures 50-inches long and a “Tornado Tee” that minimizes the friction on the ball.

“You don’t want anything affecting the ball except the club,” he noted.

At 38-years old, Easterly is married, has two kids and has a full-time job on the JSO in Zone Two. That could keep him from pursuing long driving as a career, but there’s not that much money in it, at least for now. The Golf Channel has purchased the organization that puts on the long drive competitions and there’s talk they’ll create a tour where the competitors can make a living.

“I only went to four competitions last year,” Easterly told us. “I won in Tennessee and made it to the Finals in the Worlds but if there’s a Tour, I’ll keep working on my fitness and my game and I’ll try to be on it.”

So how long can he hit it? On this day the GolfTec equipment measured drive after drive right around 400 yards, with a long of 413. If you’re a golfer, Jeremy explained that his miss “is to the right. I normally draw the ball when I’m playing but with this long driver, my miss is to the right.” But when he squares the clubface and gets it going straight or with a little fade or draw, it hangs in the air for 8 or 9 seconds before falling to the ground somewhere over 385 and rolling out.

You’d think a long drive in competition of 441 yards would win going away, but even with his most prodigious competition swing in Mesquite, NV that day, he lost by 25 yards. “It was downwind and I smashed it, but got beat by one measured at nearly 470. I think it would have gone off the grid if it hadn’t one hopped into the mountain!” he said, marveling at the competition.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley On Defense: “We’re Not Getting What We Need”

In their continuing struggle to find some kind of consistency, the Jaguars are hit or miss when it comes to which side of the ball will show up each week. While building a strong run defense, one of the best in the league in yards per carry, the Titans took advantage of the short passing game and the yards after catch on Sunday to move the ball against the Jaguars. For Gus Bradley a former defensive coordinator and a defensive minded head coach, it’s about getting pressure on the quarterback.


“We’re trying to figure it out,” Bradley said after looking at video of the loss at Tennessee. “It’s all about rush and cover. Right now, we’re not putting that together. If we need to send more guys in pressure, it’s hard for us to hold up with the coverage. If we’re playing the extra guy in coverage, then we’re not getting the pressure that we need.”

It’s not for lack of changing things up. During the game, Thurston Armbrister was benched in favor of Jordan Tripp at the Otto (strong linebacker) position. If Paul Pozluszny can’t play because of a broken hand, it’ll be Tripp at middle linebacker. Armbrister just needs to play better.

“I think he’ll respond,” Bradley explained. “He went back in there. It’s not like he didn’t play anymore. He was in there in goal line situations. I think it’s more of a heightened awareness of what we expect out of that position.”

And while there have been opinions that Defensive Coordinator Bob Babich isn’t putting the Jaguars in the right situations for down and distance, Bradley disagreed, saying no matter who’s calling the plays, it’s the way the players execute that makes the difference.

“We ran three-man, four-man, five-man, six-man, different styles of pressures,” Gus said. “I think that we’re competing to try to figure out what works best for our guys. We’ve got some good players and right now, we’re not playing fast. I think that’s what we need to take a look at more than anything.”

In Bradley’s scheme that worked so well in Seattle, it’s what he calls the “Leo” position that can change how the defense plays. That player needs to pressure the quarterback, but also set the edge and have speed. Chris Clemons did that last year and it was expected Dante Fowler would fill that role in 2015. After he was injured in the spring, Clemons and Andre Branch took over the position by default, but haven’t produced.

“I can’t argue that fact. When we’re looking at the LEO spot, what we’re getting out of the Leo the last couple of weeks, we need to find a way to get more. Straining. You’re right. I think overall the Leo spot, what we’re hoping to get out of that position, we’re not getting exactly what we want.”

That’s pretty frank talk for a coach who usually deflects any criticism of his players. But Bradley knows it’s a glaring spot on defense that isn’t getting the job done and he can’t hide it. He’s looking for ways to get that position with more production in the pass rush to take pressure off the rest of the defense. They’ve gone to Chris Smith on occasion but because of needs at other positions, he was inactive against the Titans. He’ll get a closer look for the last quarter of the season.

“The pass game is where we haven’t seen as much production as we need out of that. To challenge them in different ways, that’s a conversation that we’ll have as a coaching staff and talk to both of them and all of them. They’re hurting just as much too. They want to try to find a way to be more productive, we were close on occasion. We have to find a way, whether it’s through games, different alignments, things like that. We have to find a way to get more production.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Mistakes Doom Them Vs. Titans

Perhaps the most frustrating things for Jaguars fans and maybe even the coaching staff is they don’t know which team will show up on any given Sunday. Young, developing teams need to have a personality and build it. The Jaguars have never done that consistently. For most of this year they could count on the defense stopping the run and keeping them in games. Against Tennessee they had some success on offense and scored in the red zone but the defense was shredded in the first half, giving up 21 points.

With quarterback Marcus Mariota executing Interim Head Coach Mike Mularkey’s game plan, the Titans didn’t have any problem moving the ball downfield after an initial three and out. Tight End Delanie Walker creates a match up problem for most teams and the Jaguars defensive scheme played right into the Titans hands. Mariota found Walker in the end zone matched one on one with Jonathan Cyprien for a TD to take a 14-6 lead. Even at the line of scrimmage it was obvious Walker would be open, all Mariota had to do was find him.

On offense, the Jaguars scored in the red zone, a little pick play to Rashad Greene but Jason Myers missed the extra point and the Jaguars trailed 7-6. The second Jaguars TD was also in the red zone, a run by TJ Yeldon, his first rushing TD of the year. Gus Bradley decided to chase points early in the game, never a good decision and the Jaguars failed on the 2-point conversion to trail 14-12. The 2-point play was just a simple 5 wide receiver hook play, not giving Bortles many options.

Under two minutes, the Titans converted on 3rd down when the Jaguars rushed seven and didn’t get to Mariota giving him time to find the open man downfield. Bad tackling allowed Tennessee to get to the one-yard line with just 3 seconds to play. Mularkey passed on a field goal; instead knowing his offensive line was blowing open holes on the Jaguars front four. A simple off tackle run gave the Titans a TD and a 21-12 lead at halftime.

By deferring to the second half after winning coin toss, the Titans did steal an extra possession but the Jaguars stopped them to open the third quarter and forced a punt.

Looking more in sync than in the first half, the Jaguars offense marched down the field, TJ Yeldon doing a nice job running the ball and picking up the blitz with Bortles buying some time to find the open receiver. Eventually Bortles got wide and had some time to hit Allen Robinson again for a TD to pull within 21-19. Jason Myers hit the extra point, this time from near the middle of the field. They’ve tried both hash marks and the middle so they should probably pick one and stick with it.

But tackling problems continued to plague the Jaguars defense in the second half. Mariota hit Doral Green-Beckham across the middle with Davon House trailing for a 47-yard TD. Three Jaguars had a shot at Green-Beckham after he caught the ball but none could bring him down and he stepped into the end zone. 28-19 Titans.

Right back down the field, Bortles with a big drive and another TD pass to Allen Robinson puts the Jaguars back within three. Myers again missed the extra point, pretty much ensuring the team will bring some kickers in this week and look elsewhere. Growing with a kicker is one thing, letting him cost you games is something else. If you’re wondering about Josh Scobee, he’s in Jacksonville making $3 million not playing. He’s a possibility and the Jaguars aren’t against bringing him back. After stopping the Titans, Bortles took them right back down to the red zone again, this time hitting Julius Thomas for a TD and the lead 32-28.

That’s when the game got crazy.

On 3rd and 11, the defense was about to give the ball back to Bortles to add to the lead, brining seven players against Mariota and forcing him out of the pocket. Problem was, he was headed straight up field and outran everybody for an 87-yard TD, the longest rushing TD in the NFL this year. 35-32. Titans.

On the next play, Stefan Wisnewski snapped the ball over Bortles head and it was recovered in the end zone by Wesley Woodyard of the Titans for a 42-32 lead.

This time a little dump pass on a circle route from Bortles to Yeldon resulted in a 67-yard gain and a first down in the red zone. Bortles to Robinson from seven yards out made the Jaguars 6 for 6 in the red zone for the day and brought them within three points again, 42-39.

Pretty good clock management and solid defense got the Jaguars the ball back with just under 3 minutes to play but four pass calls and a sack on 4th down ended the Jaguars chances.

I wasn’t sure if Mike Mularkey was trying to stick it to the Jaguars at the end of the game or not. There were a couple of chances he had to kneel on it and run the clock out but instead he ran it in there and even tried play action on 4th down, looking for another TD. Either way, the game ended and the Jaguars fell to 4-8.

This was another one of those games where you can point to specific things that got the Jaguars beat. Bad tackling, missed extra points, a bad snap and failing to get off the field on 3rd down on defense cost them a chance at a win against a “beatable” opponent. If good teams beat teams they’re supposed to beat, the Jaguars haven’t gotten there yet.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars/Titans: A Glimpse Ahead

While thankfully talk of the post-season has faded since last week’s loss to the Chargers, the Jaguars five remaining games will give them a glimpse to the future and a chance to put some numbers up that show they’re an improving team.

Facing the Titans today, they have a chance to win their 4th game in six tries and grab their fifth victory of the season, a number they haven’t reached since 2011

“Football, like life,” Owner Shad Khan said in London, “Isn’t a straight line up. There are some ups and downs.” Khan was referring to the overall picture of the Jaguars since he took over in 2012 and the assessment of General Manager Dave Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley.

When you look at the big picture, no question the Jaguars are an improved and improving team. But when you see it game-by-game, play-by-play, the mistakes and consequently the losses can be discouraging. It’s not in his nature to be discouraged so Bradley chooses to see it from the other side of the equation.

“We’ve entered this next stage,’ Bradley said earlier in the season after one of several close, heartbreaking losses. “It’s a stage where we’re in these one possession games and we need to learn how to win those games.”

In the cyclical world of the NFL, the Jaguars should be an ascending team considering their draft position in the last four years and the money they’ve had available in free agency.

Showing that he didn’t think they were ready yet, Caldwell has been very conservative during free agency, taking players in their second contract phase who looked to have some years and some upside remaining in their career. This year’s class has provided some stability both short and long term on offense and defense. Based on the growth of their young players and what the expectation will be when it comes to wins and losses next season, it won’t be surprising to see a shift in the free-agent focus once 2015 concludes.

To a certain point, Caldwell and the Jaguars will be interested in short-term fixes and big-money free agents they haven’t competed for in the past. The losses of Sen’Derrick Marks, Dante Fowler and James Sample this season didn’t give them a chance to look at those three positions (interior Dine, Leo and safety) and those three have been deficient in their 2015 production. No doubt free agency will be a place the Jaguars look to fix that issue.

Still in the NFL’s concussion protocol program, Allen Hurns won’t play today, his first missed game in 27 NFL games. Marqise Lee should get the start after missing six of the first eight games with a hamstring injury. Lee has great speed and was a dynamic college player, but since turning pro, he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. Every time he runs a route, he’s one of those guys you expect to put his hand up and come to the sidelines once the whistle blows. If he can stay healthy and productive, it changes the whole dynamic for the Jaguars offense.

The same could be said for Rashad Greene who’s “suddenness” Gus Bradley has talked about during the week. Greene’s 63-yard punt return set up the game winning TD for the Jaguars in the last meeting between these two teams on November 19th. Adding him to the offensive mix creates matchup problems for a third corner or a safety trying to cover him in the slot.

Putting Toby Gerhart on injured reserve ended his season and possibly his Jaguars career this week. Bernard Pierce is listed as questionable and Dan Skuta will miss this game as well.

Today against the Titans it’s a chance to show that the Jaguars are capable of beating teams they’re supposed to beat. Going up against a team that’s “beatable” and taking care of business is something the Jaguars need to learn how to do in a business like fashion.

Across the board, the Jaguars are a better team than Tennessee and quarterback play will be the difference. If Blake Bortles starts to play better as he had earlier this year, the Jaguars will come home with a victory. But if he continues to struggle, especially in the red zone and if Marcus Mariota’s ball handling, running and intermediate passing game are successful, it’ll be tough to secure a road win in Nashville.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

A “Speed” Friday For The Jaguars

It was a bit of a different Friday for the Jaguars as they finish up their preparations to play the Tennessee Titans in Nashville on Sunday. Usually Friday is a walk-thru, instructional and very coach oriented. Instead, Head Coach Gus Bradley said the team addressed some specific things they saw in the game against San Diego, especially in the red zone.

“We went out there and did some live reps with it against the defense so really tried to address in a different manner some of the things that have popped up,” Bradley said. “We’ve still got another day of preparation.”

In analyzing the specifics of what’s going wrong both on offense and defense inside the 20, Bradley said first down is pretty good but second and third down are a problem, so they’re trying to simulate that as best they can.

“Defense played their package offense there and got some extra reps in different situations that way,” he explained. “We played more at the speed of the game rather than a walk-through mode.”

Without any practice time this week, Allen Hurns has been declared out of Sunday’s game. Hurns continues in the NFL’s concussion protocol, a very specific program put into place to determine whether a player is ready to get back in the game or not. Hurns won’t play this week and there’s no guarantee he’ll be back in the lineup next Sunday either.

“It’s more steps, not days,” Bradley related. “It’s like five steps that they have to go through and I think some people automatically assume that’s five days. There are some instances depending on independent neurologists that step one and two can be done the same day.”

And sometimes it takes longer so there’s no timetable set for a player’s return to the lineup.

With Hurns out, Marqise Lee has gotten a majority of the reps in practice in his spot with Rashad Greene also seeing more time with the first team offense. Bradley hopes Lee and quarterback Blake Bortles are getting some chemistry through practice.

“For him (Lee) the amount of reps he’s gotten is always good. You see guys like Julius and Blake the last couple of weeks have gone off on their own and worked on some timing things and you’re seeing the same things as Blake and Marqise. That’s a work in progress but it continues to be improving.”

Bradley doesn’t think Greene’s increased role on offense will impact his availability on special teams.

“We really like Rashad. I think that him coming back from his injury and he gives us something that we don’t have; the suddenness that he has.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Mariota vs. Jaguars Defense

If you want to consider most everything else on both teams being equal, it could come down to quarterback play this week for the Jaguars against the Titans. As the number two pick out of Oregon, Marcus Mariota is a true rookie. Blake Bortles is in the middle of his second year in the league. Bortles has shown great improvement over his rookie year although he’s hit a bit of a plateau recently while Mariota has been impressive since day one. His quarterback rating through 11 games is 92.0, good by any measure.

“That’s a pretty good quarterback rating,” Jaguars defensive coordinator Bob Babich said on Thursday. “I believe in the red zone that he’s really good. He’s done a great job for a rookie. Obviously, I think as our players do on our defense, rookies, as they play, the more they play the better they get and the more things they recognize, and those types of things.”

Babich agreed that Mariota is most comfortable with intermediate passing routes because of the offense he played at Oregon. But it’s his ability to keep plays going and get out of trouble that Babich said he recognized early.

“Well, I think he can scramble and make some plays with his legs. He’s doing a good job of scrambling with vision and looking downfield and pulling it down … And I think that with slants and things like that, he’s really good with his timing and his accuracy.”

Just 18 days are between the two meetings of the AFC South rivals, so what they used in the first meeting doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll show up in game two.

“You can’t get comfortable because you think ‘We know those guys,” Head Coach Gus Bradley said a couple of times this week. “You get to know their personnel but last time it was a short week. They didn’t show everything, they’ll have some new players in the lineup. We have to guard against thinking we know what’s coming.”

Babich agreed you have to look at it like a whole new opponent. “It’s a little cat-and-mouse game, obviously the same thing – we’re looking at what they did versus us. In a game like this, your fundamentals – you have to make sure your fundamentals take over – and possibly do some things schematically, or whatever you need to do.”

Last week Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers took advantage of a Jaguars defense that seemed to regress to the same problems they created at the beginning of the year. Part of that was Rivers, part of that was the defense just not playing well. Not enough pass rush, not good enough play on the back end.

“We were discouraged – starting with me,” Babich explained. “We were discouraged with the way we played, in particular in the second quarter. The guys came out, fought hard [and] gave up only 10 points in the second half. So, starting with me, I have to do a better job.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bell and JU: A Messy Split

At JU, the dynamic wasn’t working between Head Football Coach Kerwin Bell and the current university president Tim Cost. Bell had been hired by the previous administration and was asked to build the program with a long-term eye on stepping it up into a different conference and offering scholarships. He approached his job every day with the idea of improving the program, winning games, raising money, and perhaps someday, maybe 10 more years down the road, the Dolphins would make the move to scholarship football.

No matter which side of the discussion you side with, both have merit. At this point Cost wants to keep the program the same and since he’s in charge, it’ll stay the same. No problem there but the Dolphins handling of the situation was unnecessarily messy.

Bell hasn’t been shy about where he was driving the Dolphins football program and with an 18-4 record in the last two years, he was able to talk with local JU supporters about funding the program with scholarships in mind.

So Bell and Cost were at cross-purposes. You’d think those two, along with Athletic Director Dr. Donnie Horner would have met sometime last summer, knowing Kerwin’s contract was up this year and talked about the future of the program. They could have come to an agreement that they saw the future differently, had Bell coach through this year and parted ways.

Instead, just under two weeks since finishing the 2015 season 9-2, knowing they didn’t have a post-season in their future, Bell was told the school wasn’t thinking about scholarships and his services were no longer needed.

Finding a job shouldn’t be hard for a coach with Bell’s record and his reputation for being an offensive guru. The next coach at JU will know that the program is what it is, which is fine, a nice Saturday afternoon on the river against like-minded schools.

But just don’t ask, “What might have been?”

On another note, it was pretty obvious when Mark Richt’s name started being linked to the University of Miami head-coaching job that he wasn’t going to stick around and coach the Georgia Bulldogs for long. Richt had the staff Christmas Party scheduled in Athens for December 14th but sent out an email this morning that the party had been cancelled. Of course it was, since he wasn’t going to be in the building any longer after taking the Miami job on Saturday morning. Richt then told his team and the ‘Dogs will be led by Bryan Clendon who’s currently the assistant head coach and wide receivers coach in Athens.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Twenty-two Years Ago Today: The Jaguars Are Born

It was a cold morning in Chicago , November 30, 1993. I had watched ABC News Nightline the previous evening with Wayne Weaver, then of 9 West shoe fame, and now the new face of Touchdown Jacksonville! Nightline spent a segment on NFL expansion, outlining how Charlotte had secured a franchise in October and how the NFL had tabled the decision on the 30th team until their next meeting.

I had been with Weaver the day the league awarded Charlotte a franchise a month ago and then told him to wait. He was not happy. In October, Wayne invited me to walk with him at the Chicago Hyatt to the NFL’s temporary offices where he was to meet with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. As we waited outside the door for Tagliabue to finish up and speak with Weaver, I asked Wayne, “What are you going to tell him?”

Without hesitation, the future Jaguars owner turned to me with a narrow eyed, unblinking stare and said, “I’m going to ask why we didn’t get what we came here for.”

And with that, the receptionist invited Weaver into the offices. He turned and said to me, “Wait here.” So I sat back down, grabbed a newspaper (still popular then) and settled in for a long wait.

Much to my surprise, it wasn’t more than 15 minutes before Wayne walked back out the door, stern faced and clearly still not happy.

“How’d it go?” I asked somewhat jovially, trying to lighten the mood.

Weaver would have none of it.

“I wanted to know why we didn’t get an NFL franchise and he didn’t have an answer. He said, ‘Be patient,'” Wayne answered as he strode toward the lobby.

There, the other members present in Touchdown Jacksonville were briefed on what the NFL was thinking and what they’re jobs were for the next 30 days. No matter what was said, it was obvious, the league was trying to put a franchise back in St. Louis and avoid Jacksonville. The Cardinals had moved to Phoenix and with the lure of Budweiser and other institutional money in St. Louis, the league wanted a franchise there. And the little publicized fact was Weaver’s connection to St. Louis where he had lived and worked.

But to Jacksonville’s gain, Wayne turned down the league’s suggestion that he become the principal owner and managing partner in St. Louis instead of Jacksonville.

So about 30 days later we were back in Chicago at the same Hyatt going through the same song and dance with the NFL Owners. Weaver had invited me after the viewing of Nightline to go for a run in the morning.

“Seven AM, in the lobby,” he said

So at seven I was standing in the lobby in running shorts and long sleeved shirt and a knit hat. Weaver appeared moments later wearing the most beautiful running suit I had ever seen. We headed out into the cold morning, well below freezing, anticipating something around five miles. We chatted the whole time about how Wayne should present himself to the media when, or if, he got a franchise.

“You’re the shark, we’re the guppies,” I told him. “Move where you want and we’ll follow.”

Then I added, ‘When you’re up there with the Commissioner, look at the back row where the camera’s are. I’ll be standing there pointing into the camera. You look there and you’ll be speaking to all of Jacksonville,” I said with a bit of hyperbole. (In a side note, we stopped at about the three mile mark to catch our breath and out of a grove of trees in the suburbs of Chicago, stepped about a 8 point buck, 10 yards from us. I’m not much for ‘signs’ but I turned to Wayne and quietly said, “You’re getting a team.”)

This time in Chicago they would award one franchise instead of two. Baltimore was still in the picture with two ownership groups, Memphis still thought they had a shot but it was St. Louis and Jacksonville as the front-runners.

Current Jaguars President Mark Lamping knows the inside story of the St. Louis bid. The infighting, the “who’s in charge” that sank their bid. To the public though, they brought in Dan Dierdorf to help make their presentation. Dierdorf, not yet a Pro Football Hall of Fame member (Jack Buck was his biggest patron) might have told the St. Louis story to the NFL Owners but in public he spent most of his time running down Jacksonville. As part of the media in attendance at his press conference, I heard Dierdorf go out of his way several times to outline how Jacksonville couldn’t support a franchise and didn’t deserve one. Perhaps he thought he was doing his job. But at the time, it was unseemly.

Nonetheless, the presentations concluded and the different city representatives were sent to separate suites on one of the top floors of the Hyatt’s adjacent towers.

Weaver invited everybody along who looked like a familiar face from Jacksonville. Ensconced in the suite, the league sent instructions to sit tight while the owners voted. They’d let us know the outcome.

So along with several other media members, I settled in with TD Jax members like Tom Petway and Chick Sheerer to wait. I was looking at the plans HOK had proposed for stadium improvement with Petway when a security guard started to sweep through the suite saying “Media out!”

I grabbed the plans, put them in front of my face and turned on the couch to look at Petway. He just smiled as the guard walked by.

Hearing “But Kouvaris is still in there,” from one of our competitors as the door to the suite was closed only heightened my sense that I was in the right place at the right time, but probably shouldn’t be there.

We had arranged through the Channel 4 News Director Nancy Shafran and a high-level officer of TD Jacksonville a code word, “Tangerine” to tip us off if Jacksonville were to be awarded the franchise.

Suddenly, bursting through the front door was Ron Weaver, a Jacksonville local and Wayne’s brother who had brought Wayne to the table as the principal owner the league was looking for. TD Jax had put together enough money but the league didn’t want to deal with a committee. They wanted one person, and Weaver was that guy.

I jumped out of my seat and found myself in a circle with Ron, Wayne, his wife Delores and David Seldin of TD Jax and the potential Jaguars President.

“You’re getting an NFL team,” Ron blurted out to his brother, red-faced with excitement.

Out of turn I asked, “How do you know that?”

Ron turned to me and said, “Because I just ran into the finance committee chairman in the hallway and he said we were the choice.”

Everybody knew the full NFL Owners membership had never turned down a recommendation of the finance or expansion committee so this seemed to be it: the dream coming true.

“I should go,” I said to Seldin as I turned away, shook both Wayne’s and Ron’s hand and hugged Delores. Seldin agreed and I walked to the sofa to gather my things.

In 1993, mobile phone technology was not what it is now and at the time I carried one of those phones everybody makes fun of: big, bulky, looked like the son of something the GI’s carried in WWII.

As I carefully put the antenna up to the window to see if I had service, I dialed the news director’s private number. When she answered I simply said, “Tangerine.”

“Really? Are you sure?” Nancy said excitedly.

Before I could answer, the other phone in her office rang and she said hold on. In something that seemed surreal at the time, I heard a familiar voice say from the other room of the suite, “Tangerine.” It was our source, confirming what I had just told her.

We quickly formulated a plan, I said my goodbyes’ and headed to the ballroom where the announcement would be made.

As I approached the elevator, a young producer from our competition at the time stepped out of one of the two elevators and asked, “Where is everybody?”

What happened next I’m not sure is ethical or right, but it’s what actually happened.

“Down that hall,” I motioned to her, knowing full well the numerous security guards wouldn’t let her approach the Jacksonville suite.

As she walked off, I stepped into her elevator and hit every floor’s button and jumped out as the door closed. Slowly. I then grabbed the other elevator and hit, “1.” Before the doors opened, I hit every floor’s button on that panel as well, figuring it would buy us some time.

I knew we were right, and wanted us to be first, an important element in the news business.

I briskly walked to the ballroom where Tom Wills, the Channel 4 Anchorman was just about to go on the air.

I had walked by a small room entering the ballroom that had boxes of t-shirts and hats with “Baltimore Bombers” and other contenders emblazoned on the front. The one that was missing was “Jacksonville Jaguars,” confirming what I already knew.

“We’re getting a team,” I said to Tom with a huge smile on my face.

“If you’re sure, let’s go with it,” Tom said. I’ve always appreciated the trust he had in me at that moment, littlerally putting his credibility on the line just on my word.

In seconds we were on the air announcing that shortly, the NFL would award the 30th franchise to Jacksonville.

Sure enough, Paul Tagliabue announced Jacksonville would be awarded the franchise and bedlam ensued at home.

Tom flew back on one of the two private planes Touchdown Jacksonville had brought to Chicago with Petway, Weaver, and several others. I was assigned to stay in Chicago and report from there. In a bit of irony, the plane Tom and Weaver were on had a flat tire and it took a while for them to fix it and get back to Jacksonville.

It didn’t matter though, the team had already arrived.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Rivers Beats Jaguars, 31-25

Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback.

That’s what the NFL is about and looking for their 3rd win in a row and 5th overall, the Jaguars ran into one of the elite signal-callers in the game. Phillip Rivers put on a clinic, using the Jaguars defense as his plaything throwing four touchdown passes in a 31-19 win by the Chargers.

Despite move the ball up and down the field at will in the first half, the Jaguars red zone woes continued. Some of it’s play calling, other problems involve execution but whatever they point to, it’s not working.

Winning the toss and taking the ball, the Jaguars marched right down the field with a 10-play 76-yard drive that ended with a Jason Myers field goal and a 3-0 lead. Three passes from inside the 12 yard line, one incomplete, the fade that Blake Bortles just doesn’t throw very well that forced the field goal try.

Defensively, the Jaguars stopped the San Diego run and the Chargers made enough mistakes to keep themselves from driving, showing why they have two wins coming into the game.

Another drive by the Jaguars stalled at the 33 so Myers kicked his second FG of the game to make it 6-0. The Chargers had a net zero yards rushing in the first quarter. Quarterback Phillip Rivers was 5 of 7 for 75 yards.

As the offense bogged down in the second quarter, the Chargers found some rhythm. Rivers drove his team inside the 10 and completed the drive with an easy pass to Dontrelle Inman for the TD. A simple out route from the slot put Dwayne Gratz on his heels and gave San Diego a 7-6 lead.

To their credit, the Jaguars came right back. A nice punt return by Rashad Green, helped by a 15-yard hit out of bounds penalty put them in Chargers territory. A run by Bortles and a catch by Julius Thomas put the ball in the red zone but again they couldn’t do anything with it. Bortles might have had a chance to run for the first down but would have had to absorb a big hit to do so. He chose to flip it in the end zone, but was across the line of scrimmage. Another FG by Myers made it 9-7.

If you’re going to beat the Chargers and Phillip Rivers you’re going to have to convert the red zone opportunities into touchdowns and the Jaguars haven’t been able to solve that part of the field.

That’s because when Rivers gets his team into position, he converts with touchdowns. Under two minutes in the first half, Antonio Gates came out of the backfield and beat Davon House in the end zone easily to give the Chargers a 14-9 lead. It was a little bit of a different formation, a small twist on what the Jaguars had been seeing, but just enough to make House think about it and Gates was wide open.

Trying to make something happen, Bortles didn’t see Manti Te’o over the middle and threw an interception, his seventh straight game with a turnover. This one meant points for the Chargers as Rivers found Gates matched up against Jonathan Cyprien for a TD. Gates vs. Cyprien is actually no match so San Diego took a 21-9 lead to the locker room at halftime.

In a game the Jaguars seemed to dominate early, San Diego scored TD’s instead of kicking field goals and took advantage of their breaks to score 21 points and lead by twelve with 30 minutes to play. What I’m sure is frustrating to most fans is the innovation the opposing teams seem to have with their scoring opportunities while the Jaguars playbook seems mundane and predictable inside the 20-yard line. With the kind of talent they have at receiver and with TJ Yeldon at running back, it would seem the Jaguars could have all kinds of options when it comes to scoring. But they stick to their script and in this game, scored nine points in the first half.

It was much more of the same script in the third quarter. The Jaguars again drove the ball inside the Chargers 10, only to have to settle for a field goal and being down 21-12. Without crossing routes or the threat of TJ Yeldon running (apparently by choice) the Jaguars don’t have any imagination when it comes to their red zone offensive plan and it leaves Bortles looking, and looking and looking. Blake also had his second “illegal forward pass” penalty when he could have run for a first down inside the five-yard line. He’s still a little off and needs to be more aware in each of those situations.

Perhaps the difference a talented, experienced quarterback can make was never more on display than in this game. Bortles had flashes in between the 20’s but Rivers had command of his offense, and the Jaguars defense, putting up three more points on the Chargers next possession to lead 24-12.

Rivers finds the open receiver, checks down when he needs to and anticipates the moves by his receivers, putting the ball in the air long before his target makes his break. Bortles is still waiting for the receiver to come open and numerous opportunities, particularly over the middle of the field, were left out there.

In the 4th quarter, Bortles showed why the Jaguars drafted him with some toughness and a strong arm. His decision-making wasn’t great, but on 4th down from the Chargers 21-yard line, he hit Julius Thomas with a bullet for a touchdown to bring his team within 24-19. Thomas has great hands and they were on display as he caught the ball going away from him for a TD. A perfect throw and catch to make it a one score game.

But with 12 years of experience behind him, Rivers didn’t flinch and drove the Chargers right back down the field, converting a 4th and 7 by running to the marker and throwing his 4th TD pass of the game to give SD a 31-19 lead. It chewed up some clock as well, taking 14-plays, 80-yards and 6:13 off the clock.

Going for a low throw, Allen Hurns went into the turf, head first and was taken off the field on a stretcher during the Jaguars next drive. It ended with Bortles hit Denard Robinson for 6 yards on 4th and 8. Hurns’ injury was called a concussion but he was immobilized immediately and taken to the locker room.

With 1:33 left in the game, the Jaguars didn’t put anybody back and blocked a San Diego punt, getting the ball on the Chargers 14 yard line. Bortles threw up a 50-50 ball on a quasi-back-shoulder fade to Allen Robinson that ARob came down with for a TD. Myers missed the extra point but the and the Jaguars were down 31-25 with 1:21 left.

The on-side kick was clearly batted out of bounds but that’s not illegal if it’s batted sideways and the Chargers knelt the rest of the game away.

It was apparent there were 10 years of experience between Rivers and Bortles in this game. Rivers used the whole field, anticipated who was going to be open and still has enough arm to get it there when needed. Bortles is still early in the learning process and it showed. Switch quarterbacks in this game, and the outcome is reversed.

Growing with a young quarterback is sometimes what bonds a team and it’s fans. You can only hope Bortles has a growth spurt soon.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Richt Fired: Who’s Next?

After 15 years as the head coach, Mark Richt was fired on Sunday at the University of Georgia. The school president said Richt would have an opportunity to stay on the staff in Athens but that’s doubtful, considering Richt’s resume.

From playing at the University of Miami to Bobby Bowden’s coordinator at FSU, Richt was hired at Georgia to bring some stability to the program and to win. He did both, but in the end, his record in recent years against the Bulldogs’ rivals and against top ranked teams brought some unrest among the fans and big time boosters.

As the head coach, Richt was 145-51, including 9-3 this year and a win over Georgia Tech on Saturday. The ‘Dogs won two SEC titles under Richt, but none since 2005 and they haven’t won the east since 2012. He’ll be able to coach in the bowl game and will be offered a position at the University according to the schools’ president.

There are plenty of names already being bandied about as Richt’s successor in Athens including Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen.

If he chooses to stay in coaching, Richt would have his pick of jobs, including at his alma mater, Miami.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars/Chargers Preview: All About Rivers

It was pretty competitive last year in San Diego in the first half for the Jaguars against the Chargers. But despite being down by only three, 17-14 going to the locker room, the Jaguars couldn’t muster any offense in the second half and lost, 33-14 falling to 0-4.

On a regular basis in the last couple of year, Head Coach Gus Bradley has said many of those games “you learn from.” This year, the Jaguars can apply some of those lessons against the Chargers. After last year’s loss, players took notes, studied film and have tried to learn from the process.

“Yeah, I think a lot of the good players that you spend time around do that,” Bradley said when asked about note taking. “They have files not only on players but on coordinators, what they like to do in certain situations and it’s on the coaches to gather that information. I think it’s really good. Some of the best players I’ve been around do that. They take notes and they will pull out the notebook on former coordinators that they’re facing just to see if any of their notes pertain to that game.”

It’s not too tough to figure out what; pertains to this game against San Diego. Anything regarding quarterback Phillip Rivers would apply.

“I’ll tell you what, the guy is phenomenal,’ Bradley said when asked about the Chargers signal caller. His precision. He commands the whole offense. They go no-huddle and he runs that part of it as well so he just has complete control of the offense, knows defenses, the looks he’s getting and where to go with the ball.”

Which means any amount of experience will help against one of the elite quarterbacks in the league. The Chargers might have injuries, only two wins and have scored a single field goal in back to back games but they still have Rivers and his years of experience.

“It’s still a challenge because they take shots. I know his (Rivers’) average time of getting the ball off is under 2.3 seconds, so he gets rid of the ball fast but he takes his shots too. That’s what he did against us last year.”

There were impressive numbers for Rivers last season against the Jaguars. He was 29 of 39 for 377 yards and three TD’s. As a team, the Chargers only gained 42 yards rushing. So figuring out what to do with Rivers will be the key against San Diego.

Look for TJ Yeldon to get the bulk of the playing time at tailback with Denard Robinson getting a handful of snaps. The coaching staff things giving Yeldon a few plays off here and there during the game increases his effectiveness.

Because of a groin injury aggravated against Tennessee, Dan Skuta won’t play this week. Thurston Armbrister will be in his spot, a rookie who will have his hands full covering tight ends and backs against Phillip Rivers.

It’ll be a little different look for the Jaguars with Marqise Lee and Rashad Greene both having a couple of weeks where they’re healthy and practicing with the offense. They’re easily the fastest players on offense when they’re available.

In back to back weeks the Jaguars have won games where Blake Bortles hasn’t been at his best. Does he start to ascend again after reaching a plateau halfway through the year? If so, the Jaguars offense could be very productive against San Diego.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley Likes The Improvement

It’s a bit of a strange week for the Jaguars coming back from a weekend off and also having Thanksgiving in the middle of the workweek. Head Coach Gus Bradley let his team off over the weekend following the win over Tennessee, and gave the players Monday off before bringing them in for a full workday on Tuesday.

“Sometimes I think when you have some time off like that you come back. I know in the past those Mondays that you have after some time off it takes them a while to get going, but not today,” Gus explained today.

They’ll have Thanksgiving Day off, and then finish up preparations for Sunday’s game against Phillip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. Most players we talked to said the Chargers are the best 2-7 team they’ve ever seen. And most of it starts with Rivers. “He commands the whole offense,” Bradley said on Tuesday. “They go no-huddle and he runs that part of it as well so he just has complete control of the offense, knows defenses, the looks he’s getting and where to go with the ball.”

As far as putting pressure on Rivers in the pocket, Bradley explained why they’d have to play well on the “back end” rather than expect to put Rivers on the ground.

“I know his average time of getting the ball off is under 2.3 seconds, so he gets rid of the ball fast but he takes his shots too. That’s what he did against us last year.”

Now that Sen’Derrick Marks is on injured reserve, the Jaguars are moving a lot of players around on the defensive line. Tyson Alualu has taken on a bigger role. A bit turn of events since Alualu wasn’t sure he’d be on this team in 2015.

“I think with the personnel that we had and when we moved him outside to be head-up on a tackle or head-up on a tight end we did utilize some of his strength so that part of it. I know that was some concern when we got here with his knee but it hasn’t been an issue thus far,” Bradley explained. “His consistency. We know what we’re getting all the time with him versus the run, his toughness, his mentality, every day that he comes to work you know what you’re getting and he’s just been very consistent for us.”

As a free-agent acquisition in the offseason, Jared Odrick was expected to fill a role on the defensive line that wasn’t very glamorous: Take on double-teams, stuff the run, and clog things up. With a sack against the Titans, Odrick raised his profile a bit, but Bradley says he’s always valued Odrick’s contributions.

“I think he’s playing very well,” Gus explained. “When you look at him as far as his role, what we’re asking him to do, and he’s done a really good job. I think he’s been a big part with the run game why we’ve been better versus the run or more consistent versus the run. That was a deal where we felt like we needed that style of player and he’s been a great addition.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bortles: “The pieces are there”

As our guest on Jaguars All-Access Monday Night, Quarterback Blake Bortles was his usual complimentary self when talking about his success, giving credit to his teammates. That continued in a rare Tuesday interview at the stadium.

When talking about the running game, Bortles could not have been more positive about the offensive line or running back TJ Yeldon.

“He picked the offense up quick, he’s been unbelievable,” Bortles said about his rookie teammate.

It could be that the Jaguars will use Yeldon more in short yardage situations going away from the set idea of either Toby Gerhart or Denard Robinson. The one thing they’ve worked on already this week is the running game, something they’ll need to keep the ball away form Phillip Rivers this week. The focus has been on finishing “on the edge” according to Bortles, noting the offensive line coach Doug Marrone used that term to show where the success can come from.

When it comes to the wide receivers, Bortles feels like he can count on all of them, but Allen Robinson has a unique ability to go up and get the ball. At 6’3″, Robinson also has great leaping ability, so even in coverage; he’s able to come away with the ball.

“It’s about confidence,” Blake said about the second year receiver. “You can see it grow. “By the day, by the throw and by the catch. He has an unbelievable head on his shoulders, wanting to get better. He’s a great teammate.”

Bortles had the same positive things to say about Allen Hurns, admitting that he was puzzled the first time he saw him at OTA’s in 2014.

“I remember thinking to myself, how did this guy not get drafted,” Bortles recalled. “He has high character, tough as nails. He’s great.”

Both Robinson and Hurns could be especially effective in the red zone, something the Jaguars have struggled with this year. Blake says it’s a pretty simple fix: play better.

“It’s execution, It’s the details. We’ve shown potential, we’ve had some success there. All the pieces are in place. It’s about execution.”

And while he’s aware of his numbers, admitting they all point to something, completion percentage insn’t something he’s fixated on, especially if the team is having success.

“If they’re not high, that’s OK if we’re scoring points. It’s about getting things done.”

At 4-6, the Jaguars have won back to back games for the first time in nearly two years and are one game back of the Texans and Colts in the AFC South. At Thanksgiving, teams are either in it or out of it, and the Jaguars are in it at this point, but Bortles says they’re not focused on it.

“Everybody sees the big picture. We’re not worried about what’s going on outside this building. We have things we can be better at.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley Day After: Keep it Tight

After a win, it’s easy to pick things apart and look at certain situations where it could have been better. When you lose, it’s much more difficult. So on Friday, less than 15 hours after beating Tennessee, Head Coach Gus Bradley was willing to talk about his teams failings in the red zone, something that’s haunted his team all year.

With a first down at the seven yard line to start the half, the Jaguars chose to run Denard Robinson three times, but only gained 5 yards. And all of those were on first down. It was a 13-play drive for 78 yards and 6:50 off the clock after receiving the kickoff so getting only three points was disappointing. With all of the options the Jaguars have on offense, why does it seem so vanilla in the red zone?

“We felt like if we got it to fourth-and-one at that point in time in the game, there was a strong percentage we were going to go for it,” Bradley said as he explained the thought process on a conference call Friday afternoon. “It was second-and-two and we just felt like we could get it on three downs by running the ball. And then when we lost yardage on the third down and went back to where we kicked the field goal.”

All of that is pretty easy to second guess when there’s no success. And it’s not new; it’s been a problem for the Jaguars for a while. Asking why TJ Yeldon hasn’t gotten a chance in that situation gets the same answer from Bradley that he gave after the failure on the goal line against Buffalo: they had Denard in the game.

“We thought we would spell T.J. and give him [Denard Robinson] some reps. ‘D-Rob’ was in there and we went with him. It just happened to be where ‘D-Rob’ was in the game at that time after the hurry-hurry situation …”

After the problems they’ve had in the red zone and the success Yeldon has in small spaces, that’s where Bradley or Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson has to look at Yeldon, go off script, and tell him to get in the game.

But the players have overcome those problems in three of the last four games and come away with a win. That’s the resiliency Bradley has been talking about, the grit and determination he was hoping the 2015 version of the Jaguars would develop.

“Anytime that resiliency pays off and get a win, I think it adds to the mindset. It helps the mindset [and] it gives them confidence,’ he said. “So that part is good. I think we also realize that every game is different, and just because you did it one week doesn’t mean it’ll automatically show up the next week. ”

Whether you watched the game in person or on the NFL Network, you could see a difference in the Jaguars’ body language at the end of the game compared to the last two years and even the first half of this season. They weren’t uncomfortable and seemed to have their act together. Bradley likes what he’s seeing.

“It’s something we can build on and talk to the players about, but more so to understand, ‘What does it take to get to that point where you do have that faith?'”

From a nuts and bolts standpoint, Bradley thought Safety Jonathan Cyprien played well for the third week in a row and liked what Jared Odrick did in the game. He sees improvement in Andre Branch but says he can play better and referred to the “catch radius” when talking about Allen Robinson, Marcedes Lewis and Julius Thomas. “If it’s not perfectly thrown, (they) have the ability to go up and make plays.”

And as good of a designed play the reverse pass from Bryan Walters was, its lack of success surprised Bradley since he had hit it all week in practice. Walters is a former high school quarterback who Gus says has a good arm.

“The timing and whether he had his shoulders squared, whatever the case is. It just didn’t work. He did have good success (in practice), we felt, had a lot of confidence going into it.”

Now with back to back wins for the first time in nearly two years, the second longest drought in the NFL, the Jaguars have a weekend off before preparing for San Diego at home and the final six games of the year. Even with their struggles, could they rest on their recent success?

“They’re sure saying the right things and acting the right way,” Bradley finished with today. “In the locker room, in our talk, in those, couple of players said some things to the team that I thought were spot on. Your actions are going to reflect it. It think when we come back and go back to work, I think that my mind is of the idea that they’ll come ready to go and work because they’ve shown us nothing otherwise.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Beat Titans, Win Back To Back Games

There’s something out of sync with Blake Bortles since the bye week. Despite throwing for more than 380 yards against the Jets, his mechanics look more like last year than the preseason. His “arm technique” is just that, a lot of arm. When he came back in training camp, you could see him turn his left shoulder to the line of scrimmage and use his footwork and body motion to get the ball out. Now, he’s square to the line of scrimmage and while he hits the open receiver, he’s back to throwing that flutter.

Why does this matter?

Because the space you can throw the ball into in the NFL is very small. About the size of a microwave. To get the ball in that small of a space it has to have accuracy and velocity. And usually the quarterback has to throw the ball before the receiver gets to his break. Bortles looks a little more tentative than he’s been in the first half of the year, like he’s trying not to make a mistake. You can see a quarterback’s confidence in the red zone where there’s a short field and quick decisions and accurate throws are rewarded. Bortles is struggling in that spot on the field, leading to field goals instead of TD’s.

That was the case in the first half against the Titans and lead to a 6-6 tie after 30 minutes of football. The offensive line continued to be sporadic and while the defense stifled the Titans, the offense couldn’t put much together.

Getting the ball to start the second half, the Jaguars marched down the field with a 13 play, 73-yard drive, only to get three points and lead 9-6. Running Denard Robinson at the line for three straight plays from the six only yielded four yards, most of those on 1st down. The Jaguars have too many good options on offense to be just drilling it inside the ten. Sometimes Head Coach Gus Bradley gets too locked into what they worked on practice that week. I thought he should have put Bryan Walters in the game to catch the punt against the Jets. I know it was Nick Marshall’s spot, but right there you need the ball. I’m sure they worked on Denard Robinson running it between the tackles in the red zone, but look at the game situation and put T.J. Yeldon in the game.

Meanwhile, it appeared this officiating crew was trying to make up for last week in Baltimore and couldn’t keep the flag in their pocket anytime the Titans dropped back to pass. Holding and interference calls against the Jaguars, all questionable, gave Tennessee good field position. Marcus Mariota ran the read option to perfection and although Telvin smith was spying him, Mariota beat him to the pylon for a TD and a 13-9 Titans lead.

If it sounds like there wasn’t much going on in this game it’s because there wasn’t. The jaguars weren’t playing very well on offense, no able to find the consistency and rhythm to sustain a drive. And when they did, Bortles threw it right to the guy covering Julius Thomas for an INT and a drive-killing turnover. Allen Robinson had made some good catches on 50-50 balls but that critical mistake turned up from Bortles at the exact wrong time giving the ball back to Tennessee.

After an exchange of punts, the Titans had the ball but solid play by the defense, especially Smith who stayed home this time and tackled Mariota in the backfield, forced Tennessee to punt.

Fresh off the revocable injured reserve list, Rashad Greene was back returning punts, something he’s worked on for several weeks waiting to come back. He took the punt back 63-yards, running north-south quickly and getting it down to the 5. Bortles hit Julius Thomas for a TD on a little out move against the linebacker to give the Jaguars a 16-13 lead.

On the next possession, Davon House forced a fumble and recovered it at the Titans 28 yard line with just over 3 minutes to play. A third and one was stopped at the line when Clay Harbor absolutely whiffed on his guy and Yeldon was stopped short of the 1st down. Jason Myers kicked another field goal to give the Jaguars a six-point lead 19-13 with just over two minutes to play.

Without any timeouts, the Titans moved the ball downfield against the Jaguars soft zone coverage. With 5 seconds to play and the ball on the Jaguars 23 yard line Tennessee had one play. That’s where you always here coaches say, “Somebody has to make a play.” In this situation that somebody was Andre Branch who came off his block and grabbed Mariota from behind for the sack to end the game.

With the win the Jaguars are now 4-6 and have won back-to-back games for the first time since 2013. And they’re in contention in the AFC South. San Diego will be here in 10 days on November 29th followed by a road game at Tennessee and home games with Indianapolis and Atlanta to follow. They have a chance to get on a little run here, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars With A Chance Tonight

Against the Titans tonight, the Jaguars might be a little depleted because of injury but that’s part of the NFL this time of year. The “color rush” uniforms worn by both teams will provide a story line, but this will be a chance for the Jaguars to “ignore the noise,” all of the distractions that go with playing a Thursday night game, and win their fourth game of the year.

While it’s simplistic to distill the game down to a matchup between two young quarterbacks, they do hold the key to their team’s success.

Last week the Jaguars beat Baltimore despite Blake Bortles struggling. The coaches and Bortles himself admitted afterwards that the whole offense had trouble getting in sync, but Bortles also knew he was a part of that problem.

“It’s good to see other parts, defense, special teams, pick us up when we’re not playing well. That’s why it was a team win,” Bortles said on Tuesday.

In the locker room after the game, Head Coach Gus Bradley asked Bortles if he played his best, and emphasized how they still won, with other players getting the job done.

“It’s not all on him and I want him to know that. Keep us in games and good things will happen,” Gus recalled saying. “I see his leadership, he’s always been a pretty strong leader, a different styled leader but the team really responds to him. I think he’s done a really good job of growing. We understand that there are going to be games where he’s playing with more consistency than others, but he’s doing some good things.”

On defense, the Jaguars haven’t gotten much pressure on the quarterback and they won’t again tonight. Not from a lack of effort or scheme, but just because the Titans and Marcus Mariota get rid of the ball quickly out of the backfield. Mariota’s ball handling skills have been on display since his time at Oregon and perhaps his arm is a bit stronger than most scouts expected in the pro game. So it’ll be important for the linebackers and the corners to not give him much of a window to throw into when they’re in man coverage.

Despite a bit of a rocky relationship with parts of the media, Titans Interim Head Coach Mike Mularkey says he’s looking forward to coming to Jacksonville. He didn’t get much of a chance the year he was here as head coach, but still lives in Atlantic Beach and says he’ll make it his permanent home once he retires. That might not be soon if this “audition” works out with Tennessee for the second half of the year. “This is not a dress rehearsal,” Mularkey pointed out this week. “It’s my job to get this team as ready as possible to play against the Jaguars.”

Weather could be a factor tonight, but rain or not, look for the Jaguars to try and run the ball against the Titans and take their shots down field when they can. No matter who the running back is, Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson said this week the Jaguars have to run the ball more effectively and challenged the offensive line to make that happen.

Should be fun tonight with all of the surrounding things that go into a nationally televised night game. About a half dozen PGA Tour pros will participate in a “closest to the pin” contest from the fourth level in the South End Zone hitting out to the 50-yard line. It’s about a 125-yard shot but the thing they have to account for is the wind that high. When the Jaguars invited the media to hit the shot this week, it was blowing about 20 mph out of the east.

While the “color rush” will include all gold from head to toe, the Jaguars will have the option to use the gold jersey in the future as their alternate jersey.

Kickoff is 8:25 with the Jaguars Pregame show starting at 7pm.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Marks Out: Jaguars Short Week

Starting out with the bad news, the Jaguars put Sen’Derrick Marks on Injured reserve on Tuesday ending his season. After working his way back from a torn ACL suffered at the end of last year, Marks was playing an integral part for the interior of the Jaguars defensive line. “Your heart goes out to him for as hard as he’s worked to get back,” Head Coach Gus Bradley said at his press conference. “But he’ll be around the team. It’s hard to explain how important he is to our team on and off the field.”

At the same time, the Jaguars did get Allen Hurns back on the practice field after a trip to Philadelphia to have a “core issue” looked at. Whether it’s some kind of hernia or not, Hurns says he’ll take care of it at the end of the season. For now he was back on the field and expects to play on Thursday against the Titans. TJ Yeldon didn’t practice and neither did Dan Skuta. Both will be game time decisions according to Bradley

Despite the short week, the Jaguars Head Coach expects QB Blake Bortles to bounce back and play better on Thursday. “Oh, without a doubt. That’s what he has to do. You have to have a short memory. It’s kind of like a corner. There’s times when defense has to pick it up for the defense, offense has to pick it up for the defense there’s games like that, so hopefully the whole offense bounces back.”

It’s an accelerated learning curve when you’re playing a Thursday night game and Bradley knows that physically, the players need special care this week to be able to perform just four days after their last game.

“Everything that we’re doing this week is with the mindset of doing everything we can to get the players playing hard and fast on Thursday,” Bradley explained. “I know we’ve got to streamline it because of a short period of time, but it’s all coming together.”

It’s a return for Titans Head Coach Mike Mularkey. Serving as the interim since Ken Wisenhunt was fired, Mularkey is potentially auditioning for the job. But it’s another chance to be a head coach after weird and short stints in Buffalo and Jacksonville.

“It is. Again, based on what happened I didn’t know if I would have another opportunity at this and I’ve been given that opportunity,” Mike said from Nashville. “I’m not doing this job to be the head coach; I’m doing this job because this is what my role is right now. I’m just trying to get this team prepared to play every Sunday and get them motivated and confident that they can win every Sunday. It’s not a rehearsal.”

I the not-so-good AFC South, it’s an important game in the standings that could allow the winner to have playoff aspirations. Two weeks in a row, the Jaguars didn’t match their own expectations but still came away with a victory in Baltimore. Quarterback Blake Bortles acknowledged that he and the entire offense can play better and are looking for that chance.

“I know a lot of the guys have the mindset to where they can’t wait to have another opportunity, another chance to get on the field and play and in a sense not redeem yourself, but go play better, go make more plays, go do stuff like that,” he explained. “I think it’s a good, quick turnaround with a chance to do that.”

And for the first time in his career, Bortles won a game on the road and did so without playing very well. He could be down about that but instead chose to look at the upside of it: winning the game with other parts of the team getting the job done.

“I think it’s a good sign to be able to win when you don’t play well. I think that’s a thing that a lot of good teams are able to do. If you struggle in one phase, the other phases are able to pick it up, so I think we’re able to do that. The defense played unbelievably and special teams had a turnover as well and really picked us up offensively.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley: “Playing our best is always the goal.”

In his never-ending optimistic look at his team and life in general, Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley applied that to the win over the Ravens on Monday.

“Bottom line, your quarterback didn’t play very well but you were still in the game in the end and you figured out how to win it,” I said as Bradley met with the media.

“Well, he did make those throws in the last drive to give us a chance,” Gus said immediately in defense of Blake Bortles.

“Yeah, but what’s that say about your team? It’s the first time since you’ve become a head coach here that your team didn’t play its best and still managed to win the game. That’s saying something,” I pressed.

“That’s why playing your best is always the goal,” Bradley said, drawing an imaginary line on the wall. “We won the game, and that’s here, but we didn’t play our best, and that’s here,” he emphasized, putting both lines at the same level. “So when you play your best, you’re up here,” he said raising one hand above the other. “And that’s when the wins come.”

Without Blake Bortles playing well, the Jaguars needed other parts of their roster to step up: and they did. Defensively, generally on special teams and the wide receivers made plays. It shows the rest of the roster is getting better, and that their margin of error is a little larger than in the past.

“My message to him (Bortles) after the game was, ‘Were you at your best? Were you at your best yesterday?’ Bradley said at his press conference. “He said he wasn’t and I said ‘How was the outcome? We still won.’ I think that’s a valuable lesson for him in a young quarterback and for him to think that the only way we have a chance is if I play lights out. That’s not the case.”

But Bradley admitted he wants to see improvement from Bortles and the entire offense. They show flashes, but still struggle in the red zone and move the ball in fits and spurts.

“Offensively we weren’t as efficient as we needed to be. I thought we saw good execution during the week of practice, but when it got in the game, we got away from it a little bit,” he explained. We’d like to see more touchdowns. Overall, just the execution offensively and efficiency in the passing game is an area that I think we need to improve on.”

Late Monday, the NFL told the Ravens that Luke Joeckel wasn’t set on the last play and a penalty should have been called and the game ended. It’s so easy to go back and look at critical plays in every game to figure out what went wrong and how it should have gone the other way. Bryan Walters had his feet down last week. Odell Beckham caught the ball for the Giants in the end zone on Sunday night. Big deal, the game is over. But Bradley did go through the sequence leading up to the last play and how he showed some “time critical” plays to the team last Friday emphasizing how everybody had to do their job just to run the play.

“We talked about how little things like that are so important because they give you an opportunity. To see that really come up in the game was cool. Did they reflect back on that? I don’t know. You look at Julius Thomas; he caught the ball and right away he handed the ball to the official and hustled back. That’s been a coaching point through training camp. You saw receivers 30 yards down field and turn around and run back and get all lined up and we made sure we had enough guys on the line of scrimmage. A guy like Wis [C Stefen Wisniewski] is looking at the clock and snapping it with less than two seconds because he knows that’s our only opportunity for everybody to get set up. I think there are so many things that had to take place in that last play for us to get that opportunity and to see that on tape and be able to show that to the players is going to be cool.”

One thing the Jaguars have is “want to.” Sometimes it’s missing on a professional football team, that will to win. They’re getting paid, win or lose and oftentimes on losing teams players look internally and figure if they’re doing their job, they’ll keep their job. I once asked Eric Curry when he came over from Tampa Bay to the Jaguars what the difference was between the two teams.

“These guys want to win,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a good feeling in the locker room to play with guys who want to win.”

In his postgame speech, Bradley lauded the team for their will and ability to play to the end of the game. He told them that some teams search for that intangible for years.

“So many times as a coach, you’re saying ‘I hope they develop that, I hope they learn what it takes and to do it every play and every situation.’ I know it’s something that you hope that your team can demonstrate when needed and I just thought they demonstrated it.”

How does a team develop that will? Bradley believes it comes with players working with each other and believing that their teammates will do their job.

“I think you’re starting to see guys trust and develop those things that we talked about last week and the week before about their effort, their grit, all those things that they’ve been developing. It was good yesterday because they came and we put it together and it gave us an opportunity.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Breaks Fall Jaguars Way In Win Over Ravens

Coming into the game against the Ravens I was asked to appear on a few radio shows in Baltimore. While both teams were 2-6 through eight games, most of the talk in Baltimore was about injuries and under performance by their defense. They had all kinds of reasons that their 2-6 record was very different than the identical record of the Jaguars.

After watching the first half of the game between these two teams, it’s obvious that the old adage applied here: You are what you earn in the NFL. While the Jaguars have had trouble getting out of their own way in 5 of their 6 losses, the Ravens have made their share of mistakes all year, continuing against the Jaguars and have earned every one of their six defeats as well.

A collection of punts, penalties, missed coverages and catches made for a half that was fairly entertaining but not very well played. Without any pressure, Joe Flacco provided all of the offense for Baltimore throwing two TD passes and a 14-10 halftime lead. Pressure on the QB has been a problem for the Jaguars all season and with none against the Ravens, Flacco found receivers at will.

On offense, Blake Bortles didn’t look like he was that much different than last week, not feeling pressure, taking sacks and throwing into coverage all too often. Bortles missed a couple of wide open receivers, threw behind guys and early in the second half never looked at Marcedes Lewis who was running down the field uncovered. A field goal did bring the Jaguars within one, 14-13.

Although Gus Bradley said the Jaguars were emphasizing work on special teams since the bye week, it didn’t show against Baltimore, especially on kick and punt coverage. Good field position usually leads to points and that’s where the Ravens took advantage holding the lead through the middle of the third quarter.

Getting turnovers has been a problem for the Jaguars all year long but against the Ravens they grabbed two interceptions and forced a fumble in the third quarter. But they got only three points out of those three takeaways. Between Bortles looking off his game, a drop by Marqise Lee and Jason Myers missing a 26-yard FG attempt, the Jaguars still trailed 14-13 at the end of the third.

A muffed punt by the Ravens gave the Jaguars another chance, and add on the 4th personal foul of the game against Baltimore and the Jaguars had another chance. This time they took advantage with Allen Robinson making the catch in the end zone giving the Jaguars the lead 19-14. Going for two was the right call there but I hate the Jaguars two-point package. Give the QB a couple of options that close to the goal line but they keep trying the fade as the only option and it fails.

With Sen’Derrick Marks out of the game with an elbow injury, the Ravens went to the run, and capitalized on good balance with a TD. Ten plays, 80 yards, they went for two but failed and led 20-19.

A couple of punts by both teams had the clock winding down inside a minute and the Jaguars out of time outs. Two completions over the middle wound some clock and a run by Bortles did the same near midfield. One more catch by Julius Thomas inbounds kept the clock running and with maybe a half-second left on the clock Bortles took the shotgun snap and slipped to the ground. He got up with no whistle and started to run. But Elvis Dumervil grabbed him by the facemask giving the Jaguars 15 yards and an untimed down.

In trots Jason Myers, he of the 26-yard miss and after a Baltimore timeout, he hits a 53-yarder to give the Jaguars a 22-20 win.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, that happens. But this time, it happened FOR the Jaguars as the Ravens look like a team that hasn’t figured out how to win and the Jaguars took just enough advantage of the breaks that went therir way to win. Myers gets some redemption, the Jaguars get a win and they’re coming home on Thursday night against the Titans.

I wish they’d stop talking about being a game out of first place but it is true. Win a couple of games in a row and we can continue that talk.

No time to gloat. A couple of practices before Tennessee comes to town. And wait till those two uniforms are on the field.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley: Spirit? Good, Play? Not Good Enough

It was another Monday at the stadium with Gus Bradley after a Jaguars loss. In the past two years, the tone was different because the Jaguars weren’t even in most of the games the lost. This year, it’s usually one possession or two that makes the difference between winning or losing. Even in the Jaguars two victories, one possession made the difference.

“I love the spirit of our team,” Bradley said outlining the positives in the loss to the Jets. “I love how they’re relentless and they don’t blink and they battle and they fight and they scratch. They’ll do anything they can to give us a chance to be victorious. Unfortunately, it’s not enough.”

Earlier in the year, Bradley was concerned that he wasn’t getting 100% effort on every play from every player. He thinks that has changed, and for the better.

“Yeah I think that through the last couple of weeks some things that are taking place. The standard for us will not change. The players adjust to the standard that we create and I think they understand that. Sometimes players come in from other teams and they have to learn the standard and learn what’s expected from them in all situations.”

If the Jaguars are in these “one possession” games, what’s keeping them from winning more? This year, unlike the previous three, they’re making enough plays to win games. But they’re also making enough mistakes to get them beat. With that combination, and the margin of error in the NFL, you don’t win often.

“I think for us to make the next big step is what do winning teams do consistently? Gus said, echoing the message he gave to his team. “I think when those teams make plays at critical times like we did in Buffalo. When you get into a situation at a critical time, go down and score and defensively stop them and win a game. We need to do more of that consistently when those times show up and I think that’s what this team continues to grow from.”

Now in the middle of his second season as a starter, Quarterback Blake Bortles looks like a second year starter: He makes some great plays and some bonehead mistakes. Usually he’s decisive in the pocket but against the Jets, indecision led to a sack, a fumble and a turnover. Bradley seems to accept that as part of the growing process at that position.

“He was (indecisive). I think sometimes with Blake, he’s had the ability to, when he extends plays, to make big plays. He’s done that throughout the game. He’s done that throughout the year. I think down in that area, he was extending the play and looking to make a big play. It wasn’t there, so now, just take what you can and move on to the next play.”

Anytime Bradley talks about WR Bryan Walters, he talks about how you can “trust him.” He reiterated that on Monday, saying Walters and other players are building trust with their teammates by consistently making plays. But having said that, Gus explained that the game plan on punt return was to have Walters field it if it was expected to land inside the ten (because of his decision-making on catching it, letting it go, etc.) and have Nick Marshall as the returner if it was outside the ten.

At that point in the game, the Jaguars needed the ball, as Bradley has said for a couple weeks, they needed to play “situational football.” But they stuck to the game plan and Marshall fumbled, in essence ending the game. The head coach said they’ll evaluate what they’re going to do going forward on punt return this week but explained why Marshall was in the game.

“I think with Nick’s situation, one of the things that we’re looking at, we’re looking for returns. We’re trying to get more yards return. Kickoff return, he had a couple of really good returns. Then, the punt returns, the 20-yarder. Going into that, where it was on the field, felt like he gave us the best opportunity. I think when you looked; he saw a lot of green grass down the sideline. Took his eye off of it, first foot, second. You can’t do that.”

We’ve heard that from the Jaguars Head Coach a few times when it comes to young players. He’s willing to put up with some early mistakes but they can’t make the same ones over and over. He gave Jason Myers a pass after the Indy game but put him on a short leash. Marshall might have spent his one chance in New York.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Same Mistakes, Same Result: Jaguars Lose to Jets

Some of the same problems that have popped up in the recent past showed themselves in the Jaguars effort early in the game on the road against the Jets. Bad field position, bad special teams play and inconsistent offense, including some key drops gave the Jets momentum and the lead.

After a good three and out on defense to open the game, the Jaguars had some early success with the football, driving down the field and getting a field goal from Jason Myers to take a 3-0 lead. Important not only to get some points but to give the rookie kicker some confidence.

But on the ensuing kickoff, special teams problems jumped up in the form on Jonathan Cyprien losing contain and giving up a long kickoff return. A couple of nice plays by the Jets, including a middle screen and a back shoulder pass led to a TD pass by Ryan Fitzpatrick and a 7-0 lead. A “no-call” for holding against Jared Odrick allowed Fitzpatrick to escape the pocket and find an open receiver in the end zone.

On the next series, Blake Bortles inexperience surfaced as he tried to gun one in there on third down only to have it bounce off the receiver and up in the air for an interception. He either needed to eat it or throw it away and punt instead of trying something that risky. Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson and Julius Thomas all had drops in key situations in the first half stopping any kind of momentum the Jaguars might have built.

Taking advantage of the turnover, the Jets stuffed it in the end zone for a touchdown and a 14-3 lead.

It appeared the Jets owned the momentum as well as the two teams traded field position and punts under the two-minute warning.

That’s when everything the Jaguars tried to do worked and lead to points right before the half. They stopped the Jets offense with some solid play up front on the defense. Using their timeouts wisely, they forced a punt, and put pressure on the punter, getting a short kick. With good field position, Bortles hit Hurns on a beautiful stop and go route, twice, the second time for a TD and a 14-10 deficit going into halftime.

But the momentum had shifted and the Jaguars got the ball back to start the second half. After an exchange of punts the Jaguars drove the ball down the field but got a bad break on a catch by Bryan Walters that was called an incompletion. Walters had both feet down, although it was close, and the replay clearly showed he was in bounds with possession of the ball. Nonetheless, Myers kicked the field goal to pull within one, 14-13. The rookie kicker is kicking from the left hash, even on PAT’s, obviously more comfortable there.

Again the momentum turned, this time in favor of the Jets as they marched downfield to score a TD and take a 21-13 lead. A simple crossing route to the tight end accounted for a big chunk of the yardage. It appeared Telvin Smith was looking into the backfield as the receiver ran behind him to make the catch. Things were going the Jets way, even with their kicker injured, their punter clanged the extra point off the upright and through for an eight point lead.

Some nice throws by Bortles put the ball in Jets territory on the next possession and they actually tried to get it to Thomas in the end zone against one-on-one coverage. Why they didn’t try that play a couple more times is still in question but it led to a FG, again from the left hash by Myers and a 21-16 Jets lead.

Some good defense got the ball back in the Jaguars hands and for the first time in the game TJ Yeldon was able to break free down to the Jets ten. That might be the one thing Yeldon can’t do, break it all the way to the end zone with second level speed.

And that’s where things fell apart.

Holding on Jeremy Parnell moved it back to the 20 and then Bortles was indecisive gliding along the line of scrimmage, got hit and fumbled, turning it over to the Jets. Bortles has to know his internal clock is running out and either run with it or throw it away. He’s not a rookie any longer and even though he’s trying to make a play, he has to be smarter than that.

But the defense forced another punt with just under five minutes to play, giving the Jaguars another chance. Instead, Nick Marshall fumbled the punt and the Jets recovered. They of course scored on a questionable replay to take a 28-16 lead.

That TD on the turnover is on the coaches. No way Marshall should be back there in that situation returning a punt. He’s fumbled before, even in practice and while he does have breakaway speed, Bryan Walters should be in the game for a sure handed catch and an offensive possession to win the game late in the fourth quarter. Instead they give the undrafted free agent a chance, and he essentially finishes the game for the Jets.

In an ironic twist, the Jaguars scored in three plays, Walters making the sure handed catch in the end zone to pull within 28-23.

Two turnovers in the fourth quarter sealed the Jaguars fate in this one, again showing their inability to get out of their own way. Whether it’s execution mistakes or coaching decisions that go awry, beating the opposition and overcoming your own problems is too difficult in the NFL even for the most experienced team. As young as the Jaguars are, with a small margin of error, until they stop making those kinds of mistakes, they’re not going to win many games, especially on the road.

The road loss streak goes to 13 with Bortles still winless away from Jacksonville. They’ll get another chance on the road at Baltimore next week before coming home on Thursday November 19th to play against the Mike Mularkey-led Titans.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Healthy, Jaguars Looking For A Road Win

There was an odd situation at Jaguars practice this week: injuries didn’t dictate who could play.

“It’s the first time I’ve looked out on the practice field away from our field and there was no one out there,” Head Coach Gus Bradley said. “That’s a good feeling, to see guys get reps and the number of receivers that we have, running backs and safeties and all of those things. It’s a good sign.”

Although Rashad Greene isn’t eligible to play until the Tennessee game in two weeks, he was practicing, working on his conditioning. Marqise Lee took some reps during the team and the individual drills. The competition at defensive back was heated since the three guys trying to earn the starting spot are all healthy. The coaching staff dragged out the decision on the starter into the weekend trying to get the most information they could.

“So, kind of let it play out again today and see. I know, like I told you [the media], [Dwayne] Gratz did pretty good [and Davon] House did pretty good,” Bradley explained. “I think ‘D-Mac’ [Demetrius McCray] showed up better today than he did yesterday.”

There’s a lot of talk in the NFL of shutting out “the noise.” That’s the stuff about winning streaks, playoffs and coaching hot seats. But Bradley knows the players are adults and hear plenty about all of those things. The fact that the Jaguars are 2-5 isn’t keeping them out of the playoff picture because the AFC South is so bad this year. So, somewhat begrudgingly, Bradley did talk to his team about what’s at stake, but not like, “hey, we can make the playoffs!”

“No, and I think when I said I acknowledged it the other day, it wasn’t like we put up the standings and showed everything. It was just more, ‘There’s some talk,’ so we just acknowledged it. I said, ‘Hey, this is the position, and now let’s go back to work.”

Playing at the Jets and at Baltimore in the next two weeks, the Jaguars have a chance to break their 12 game road-losing streak. Blake Bortles has never won a game on the road. All five wins in the last two years have come at home. Bradley said he didn’t bring that up this week, choosing to focus on things internally instead.

“It really hasn’t changed our mindset, as far as that’s concerned,” Bradley said on Friday before heading to New Jersey. “I really want these guys to understand how important the process is, how important it is to respect the day and get everything we can out of it and really truly believe about going in there and being our best.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars “Bonus Monday”

After their win in London, the Jaguars bye week came at just the right time according to head coach Gus Bradley. Not just to recover from the trip to the UK, but to get more players healthy and look forward to the second half of the season.

“Bonus Monday,” Bradley called it after practice. The Jaguars did introduce some new packages for the Jets game this coming Sunday but to just get out there and practice again was a bonus.

“I thought also to get the guys running around. They’ve been gone since Wednesday, four days, just to get them back running, throwing, catching and some of our base fundamentals. It was good.”

Apparently the players were fresh and ready as well. It’s mandatory that they get four days off during the bye week. Bradley encouraged the team to clear their minds and be ready to get back to work.

“Yeah, I think they’re excited to come back and get going, They’re concentrating a little bit more after being gone a couple of days but I think Wednesday you’ll see a spirited-type practice. I think it was more (today) we’re back, let’s get locked into it.”

After a quick start, the New York Jets have struggled a bit recently and needed to put Geno Smith in the game yesterday at quarterback after an injury to Ryan Fitzpatrick. Who starts Sunday against the Jaguars has yet to be determined but it’s the Jets defense that Bradley says can carry them.

“I think they’re talented across the board. Not just (Derrell) Revis; Cromartie, their defensive line and linebackers, very talented so it will be a great opportunity. You talk about respect, Revis, you hold him in high regard, that’s a fact.”

During the bye week, Bradley and the coaching staff did some self-scouting, looking at their own team with a critical eye. Gus did see growth and expects that to continue but on special teams, they’ll have some competition immediately. He’s not happy particularly with punt returns so although he’ll review what they’re doing across the board on special teams, he’s not saying what he might do.

“We do that with each of the units and I keep some of that to myself just out of a competition point, but that’s what we worked on today.”

As previously reported the Jaguars brought in some kickers to look at for a tryout during the bye week. After seeing them, they’re sticking with Jason Myers for now. But it’s safe to say, he has a bit of a shorter leash than before.

“We knew we were going to have some good games and some games that maybe weren’t as good but hopefully we see continued growth too,” Bradley explained. “We want to stay away from that one game good, one game bad. You’ve got to have consistency as a kicker so we believe in him, we trust him and we’re going to continue with him.”

Among those not practicing today were Zane Beadles and Marqise Lee. No word on Beadles progress of his sprained foot suffered against Buffalo. Regarding Lee, he remains the “albino tiger.” When you see him, it’ll be something you’ll remember. But for now, the Jaguars have no timetable for his return. Perhaps they were shooting for after the bye week (like with Rashad Greene who is beginning to practice) but Bradley made no predictions about Lee, only saying his soft tissue injury has to completely heal before he’ll be allowed back for fear he’ll suffer another injury.

“I think for the most part he’s had really good days,” Bradley said of Lee’s progress. “If there was a day where maybe we slowed progression it’s due to us saying let’s hold back a little bit. He was out there today and did short sprints and did very, very well in the short sprints. He’ll take the next step now and what that means I’m not sure.”

Since it was a “Bonus Monday” the Jaguars will be off tomorrow. (Although about a dozen players will make charity appearances). They’ll be back to their regular practice schedule on Wednesday.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Bye Week: Honest Talk

There are some subtle changes to the bye week for the Jaguars players although Gus Bradley wouldn’t outline them specifically. He did say he didn’t “want guys to go home and run hill sprints with their personal trainers” but outside of that, stay out of trouble, clear your mind and be ready for the second half of the season when they come back.

Bradley’s look at the Buffalo win gave him a chance to assess where the Jaguars are seven games into his third season.

“Coming off of this game that we just had, a lot of good things, a lot of things that we need to improve on,” he said at his final press conference of the week. “I think we really need to focus on those areas and attack them like we’ve done some of the other things, try to be ahead of the curve on some of the things coming out of the bye.”

Bradley got specific about certain situations, saying that they won’t be afraid to bring in some kickers if Jason Myers seems to be struggling. And he said the cornerback position that’s been up for grabs between Davon House and Dwayne Gratz remains so. Gratz got the start against Buffalo but House saw plenty of action. Bradley says he wants Gratz to take better advantage of opportunities.

“I think he’s a good technician. I want to challenge him more to be more of a playmaker when there is opportunities. Not guess and go ball-hawking, but when the opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it. I think that’s a step that he needs to take.”

I asked Gus after the game in London if the package on the goal line with Tyson Alualu at fullback only included Toby Gerhart at tailback. He said it did, but admitted that TJ Yeldon “makes people miss” and might be an option there in the future.

“If you look at analytics it probably says kick the field goal at that time.. It was a coach’s choice and it was a strong to go for it. I felt strongly for this reason: I feel like we came out of the locker room and we had a long drive. It was 13 plays. We were ahead by quite a few. It was more of a message to this team, let’s finish. Let’s finish right now, let’s put this in and let’s find a way. And it didn’t work out that way.”

He’s right. If they kick the field goal there, they’re up by three scores. But Gus stuck by his conviction thinking his defense could handle it if Buffalo bot the ball back on the one. But it was a huge momentum swing that the Jaguars took over a quarter to stop. That might have been the most surprising thing and perhaps a signal that the young players on the Jaguars are starting to mature and develop as expected. They stopped the momentum of the Bills and created some of their own.

“It was outstanding to stop momentum and switch it in your corner after the number of three and outs,” Bradley explained. “You talk about uncomfortable, keep your spirit and great growth, its classic illustration right there.”

It might have been most important for a young team to have a positive vibe coming home from London and going into a bye week. Gus likes to talk about the “fits” and “how things look” when reviewing a game. A lot of the Buffalo game had the right look and in the end, a victory on the scoreboard.

Perhaps as a lesson to his team he couldn’t have drawn it up any better.

“To have it all come together in that situation was cool. There was poise, there was grit, there was resolve and all the things that we talk about day after day they used in that situation. They felt it and it was cool.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Poll: Bradley Still Popular

Ignoring the noise was one of the goals last week as the Jaguars had lost four straight to fall to 1-5 including games against Indy, Tampa Bay and the Texans they could have, and probably should have won. There was a flood of sentiment on social media and elsewhere that Gus Bradley had to go along with Dave Caldwell and all of their staffs.

This past Saturday in London, Owner Shad Khan, whose voice is the only one who counts, said it hadn’t crossed his mind regarding getting rid of Bradley and Caldwell mid-season. Looking at what they’ve accomplished at the end of the season was “the sane and proper thing to do.”

Before the win in London over the Bills, a local company commissioned a poll through Gravis Marketing regarding the popularity of Caldwell and Bradley. Gravis is a political polling company but stepped into the sports arena asking questions via telephone last Thursday and Friday of 659 people who identified themselves as “Jaguars fans.” Twenty nine percent of the responders were season ticket holders. The margin of error in this poll is considered to be around 4%.

Unlike the calls for Bradley’s job that seemed overwhelming, almost half of the responders have a favorable opinion of Bradley.

Along the same lines, nearly half said Khan should keep Gus while about 30% thought he should hit the road. A quarter of the people answering said they weren’t sure about the head coach’s future.

Not so favorable was the impression of General Manager Dave Caldwell. Less than half thought Caldwell should keep his job while over 60% said Khan should dismiss him or they weren’t sure.

Overwhelmingly, these Jaguars fans thought Blake Bortles was the right guy at quarterback for the team. Nearly three quarters of the answers said he was either on schedule or doing better than expected as a second year quarterback.

It’s pretty clear Gus’ personality is appealing to Jaguars fans and while they like him based on his favorable number, they’re expecting more from the team. Since Caldwell isn’t in the public eye much, and when he is he’s a reserved personality, he doesn’t benefit from a connection with Jaguars fans.

The group surveyed was equally split between men and women and 90% were between the ages of 18 and 64.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley Sees Good And Bad In Win

Of all the things Jaguars Coach Gus Bradley has said in the last few weeks about the Jaguars performance and lack of success, perhaps the most insightful has been about the “stage” the Jaguars are in at this point in their development. Bradley points at the double-digit losses in 2013 and 2014 and how the team has grown since then. Getting into one-possession games in the fourth quarter is what the NFL is all about. A one score game can change with the next possession: If the team behind scores, they grab the momentum. If the team leading scores, the game is basically over.

That’s why Sunday’s win in London could be considered a step in the right direction for the Jaguars. Having built a big lead in the first half, they fell apart in the third quarter but regained the lead late and held on for victory.

“There’s a lot to be said about this game,” Bradley said, his voice hoarse from his in-game exhortations.

“We’ve got to go back and look at some things. To have a lead like we did and not complete it like we wanted to, but with that being said, I think there’s a lot of good things about our team.”

For a few weeks, Gus has talked about “the grit” that’s necessary to get past those bad situations in games. Against the Bills, he said the team had it. “The grit that we’ve been talking about, the turnovers on defense, the pressure on the quarterback, the offense coming through. In all three phases there’s work to be done but all three phases came through for us in some way or some fashion. I thought it was an awesome environment, great opportunity for our players.”

After blowing a 27-3 lead, the Jaguars scored late to win 34-31. It doesn’t happen without the development of quarterback Blake Bortles as a second-year player.

“I thought he showed tremendous poise. I thought the whole team did offensively, but he did, “Bradley explained. “He made some plays. I thought Allen Robinson came up big in that series, too, Allen Hurns, so just showed great poise.”

There’s been a lot of talk about validation for the Jaguars, getting a win after all of the work put in without anything to show for it.

“It really is, but that’s what we’ve seen in this team. We’ve seen it all year where they’ve come back and fought back, but it never showed the results that we had hoped.”

It was a wide swing of emotions in this game, from confused, to elated to shock to jubilation all in four quarters. But Bradley says there was never any despair. He believes his team believes.

“They might have said, let’s go, man, we can get this thing done. But when you hear them talking like that, just regroup and let’s go. We’ve still got time. That was more the conversation.”

After the nearly nine hour plane ride home, the Jaguars had Monday off with Gus Bradley and the payers scheduled to speak on Tuesday. They’ll have had a chance to look at video of the game and tell us what they though about four shots at the goal line without a TD and other failures as well as the success they had at the beginning and the end of the game. Since it’s the bye week, the players are required to have four days off, so they’ll practice Wednesday and return to work the beginning of next week.