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.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Beat Teams You’re Supposed To Beat: Jaguars Win In London

Settling into a routine for the London game seems to be the key for the Jaguars. The game has an “event” feel, much different than any other Sunday during the regular season.

So when the Jaguars played terribly in the first quarter against Buffalo it wasn’t much of a surprise. The Bills were playing without several of their starters including quarterback Tyrod Taylor and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Buffalo took their second possession of the game after a three and out and an average punt by Bryan Anger to kick a field goal and take a 3-0 lead.

At some point at the end of the quarter, Blake Bortles and the Jaguars offense started finding their rhythm. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns found some seams, Marcedes Lewis was sighted and a TD by TJ Yeldon gave the Jaguars a 7-3 lead.

We’ve seen quarterbacks struggle wearing Jaguars uniforms so to see it happen to the opposition and the Jaguars take advantage of it was something new. EJ Manuel certainly looks the part of an NFL quarterback but has never seemed to grasp the complexity and nuance of the game. When he held the ball just a tick too long against a Jaguars blitz, Aaron Colvin got to him and forced a fumble. After it bounced around a bit, Chris Clemons finally picked it up and scored to give the Jaguars a 14-3 lead. It was the first defensive TD for the Jaguars since week 17 of last year.

This week Gus Bradley reiterated his belief that turnovers come in bunches and he looked prophetic on the next play. Manuel looked like he never saw Telvin Smith underneath and threw it right to him. From one Seminole to another, Smith scored on the INT to make it 21-3.

During the next drive, Manuel continued to struggle. Short throws and bad decisions lead to another interception, this one on a great athletic play by Paul Posluzsny. Back on offense, the Jaguars used TJ Yeldon’s speed and shiftiness to score again to make it 27-3. Jason Myers missed his third extra point of the year.

It’s not hard to make a case for the Jaguars becoming a good team and staying there for a while if they can ever get over the hump of figuring out how to win football games. They have quality guys in the locker room, unlike in the past decade and have a culture that would breed success if they can ever find it in the first place. But we’ve seen hundreds of teams get to this point and not be able to figure out how to be a winner.

In person, the Jaguars were the better team on the field against the depleted Bills and were finally taking advantage of a back up quarterback. Manuel did throw a TD in the 2nd quarter and the Bills kicked a field goal right before halftime to make it 27-13.

Taking the second half kickoff the Jaguars needed to respond to the 10 unanswered points by Buffalo. They did everything text book perfect, taking time off the clock and driving down the field. The even got Julius Thomas involved in the red zone as the defender was called for interference giving the ball to the Jaguars first down at the one.

For gives to Toby Gerhart with Tyson Alualu in front of him yielded no points, the only result you’re not looking for there. Hard to say what the problem was but it was obvious the front five didn’t win at the point of attack on any of those plays.

Buffalo got the ball and drove it out from the end zone with a mix of run and pass but stalled at the Jaguars 10. The Bills kicked a field goal to make it 27-16, still a two-possession game. But where was that defense that was around in the second quarter?

Several three and outs by the Jaguars were helped along by an Allen Hurns drop (though he was over that) and kept the Bills in the game.

Without much resistance, Buffalo moved the ball at will inside Jaguars territory. Just when it appeared the Jaguars had them stopped, Andre Branch was called for rushing the passer. Kind of a bogus call, looked like a good football play but another first down for the Bills. Maybe a little luck but LeSean McCoy fumbled the ball at the one and the Jaguars caught a break.

It’s pretty obvious the Jaguars front five on offense just aren’t very good at run blocking at this point. Again on a short second and third and a yard, the Jaguars called time out, only to give it to Alualu and have him come up short. Too cute.

That’s when the meltdown started to happen. On the second play of the B/ills drive, Dwayne Gratz and Johathan Cyprien stopped on their coverage giving up a 58-yard TD to bring the Bills within three. Gratz was called for interference on the two point try, giving Buffalo a chance from the one. Buffalo stuffed it in there to pull within three.

On the Jaguars next possession, Blake Bortles threw it up for grabs with some miscommunication on the route and in was intercepted and run back for a score. It’s the 7th interception for a TD Bortles has thrown in his career, the most in the league in the last two years.

While they do a lot of stupid things, the Jaguars do hang in there. They drove the ball down the field right before the 2 minute warning scoring a TD on a scramble throw and a great catch by Hurns in the end zone to take a 34-31 lead with two minutes to play.

That’s when you were waiting for somebody on defense to make a play and hold the lead. After a questionable call on 3rd down by the officials, the Bills went for it on 4th down and Aaron Colvin broke up the pass to give the ball to the Jaguars and the victory.

It’s a small step but beating teams you’re supposed to beat is a start for the Jaguars. Bye next week and then two road games at New York and Baltimore before home against the Titans on Thursday November 19th.

Full coverage from London on News4Jax at 6 and the Sunday Sports Zone at 10:30.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Khan On Replacing Bradley: “It hasn’t crossed my mind.”

In a wide ranging interview with the Jacksonville media Saturday morning in London, Jaguars Owner Shad Khan addressed the Jaguars record, the future of Head Coach Gus Bradley and General Manager Dave Caldwell, playing more games overseas and the practice facility/Shipyards project among a variety of other topics.

“Frankly, it’s never crossed my mind,” Khan said when asked about getting rid of Bradley and Caldwell during the season. Although he’s disappointed as any fan would be of the Jaguars 1-5 record, he’s not making a change anytime soon.

“It’s the only sane and proper thing to do,” Shad added about keeping Gus and Dave through the season.

Would he then make a change?

“There are 10 games left. Like any fan, I want to see us win. I think we deserve it. No one is more disappointed in our record than Gus and Dave,” Khan explained. “There are a variety of factors to making that kind of decision. ‘Where are we compared to two years ago? What’s in our future? Are we headed in the right direction?’ We’ll consider all of those things before we decide if we’re going to make a mid-course correction.”

I did get the sense that while Shad was disappointed in what’s happened, especially in the last three weeks, he seems committed to what Bradley and Caldwell are doing and appears to be patient enough to give them through the 2016 season to prove themselves. (Provided the Jaguars don’t get blown out for the rest of the year.) He didn’t blanche at the question of benching Davon House, even though he paid $6 million for him in the off-season as a free agent.

“I think it shows that you shouldn’t be playing players because of what you’re paying them. They should earn their position. There are a lot of reasons for encouragement. The way you measure a football team is wins and losses. We should have won the last three games. Everybody feels we should have won. It’s very important we don’t become a victim of status quo.”

“There’s light years difference between three and three and one and five,” Shad said, his expression clearly showing him stepping between his role as the Jaguars Owner and being a Jaguars fan. “But life, like football, is not a straight line going up. We want to see where the journey’s been over the last three years.”

It’s clear that the Jaguars organization has benefited from playing a game in London and today Khan reiterated that he’s thrilled to extend the deal to play at Wembley Stadium. He added that the Jaguars are committed to London and won’t be interested in playing a game elsewhere. The NFL owners have approved games in Germany and in Mexico and he’s all for that, just not for the Jaguars. He thinks it’s good for the NFL but won’t include his team.

“It’s not on the Jaguars radar,” he said.

That doesn’t exclude another game in London though, as the visiting team. The Jaguars won’t take another home game away from the city, but Khan said he was open to the possibility of playing a second game here, back-to-back with their home game. While it doesn’t seem imminent, it does seem like a possibility.

“There might be a time where that would make sense. We have the NFL’s support. We’re in conversations.”

Being an entity on the sports landscape in London is a priority for the Jaguars and for Shad Khan. He might have wanted a longer deal, perhaps through 2030, to play games in London, but for now, the deal is through 2020 with an option for another five years.

“I’m delighted to see it for 5 years and perhaps another five years. Jacksonville has benefited greatly for another five years. Nothing happens without economic growth.”

“Money is the resource that allows us to be competitive,” he explained when asked about the revenue stream that comes from the London connection. “We should use the power of football for the common good. That’s the ultimate goal. To create jobs for Jacksonville.”

“I think there’s been a lot of personal growth in Jacksonville,” Khan said regarding the way business is being done in North Florida and the Jaguars connection to that.

Everybody remembers Shad’s comment about the lack of “mojo” in Jacksonville so I asked him if there was more mojo at home than in the past.

“You have to create mojo,” he said, pointing to the number of young people who are creating opportunities at home. Khan has spent most of his week working with London civic leaders and Jacksonville’s representatives here trying to create a synergy between the two cities.

“I’d like to see direct flights from Jacksonville to Europe,” he mentioned as one idea of how the city can benefit from the game in London. “That helps put Jacksonville on the map. There’s a missing connection point between Atlanta and Orlando for overseas flights and I think Jacksonville can fill that void. That could really help.”

That’s a pretty good example of the big thinking Shad Khan brings to the table when it comes to driving the economic connection of the Jaguars, Jacksonville and London.

Sitting at Khan’s side, Jaguars President Mark Lamping echoed how well the deal has worked. About 15% of the Jaguars revenue is derived from sponsorship opportunities in London. In fact, the Jaguars have assigned one of their Vice Presidents, Hussein Naqi, permanently to London to continue to explore the revenue possibilities and the possible connection between the Jaguars and Khan’s soccer team, Fulham FC.

“Absolutely,” Lamping explained when asked about creating a bigger connection between the two cities and the two clubs. “Visit Florida is the primary sponsor on the front of the jersey at Fulham. That deal was done in Jacksonville, not London.”

With only eight wins over the last three seasons, Lamping said the appetite for a connection to the Jaguars either in London or in Jacksonville hasn’t been dampened because of the record. “Businesses are looking at it as more of an opportunity rather than what the record is on the field.”

And how have the fans reacted to that?

“We have really smart football fans,” Lamping said. “They’ve gone through a lot of speculation about their football team over the years. They’ve clearly outperformed the team.”

Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bulls will be the first live, streamed NFL contest worldwide. (Although it will be televised in a traditional manner in Jacksonville and Buffalo). Yahoo announced that the sponsorship of the game has sold out, not surprising to Khan.

“I see it as an historic moment. It’ll be the answer to a lot of trivia contests 20 years from now. It’s the first. Other sports are finding the value in being able to go directly from the provider to the consumer.”

As the Jaguars owner, Khan seems committed to Jacksonville, saying the team will start to build, in a small partnership with the city, a full practice facility on the south side of the stadium starting right after this season. It will include an indoor practice field and will have a “destination” quality to it as well. While it’s not tied to the Shipyards project, he said it will be “architecturally integrated with bridges and the like” when both projects are completed.

Environmental issues remain with the Shipyards that the city, the state and even the federal government are working through. That’s why Khan said the practice facility would come first.

“That will give the city a chance to look at what we’re doing. We’d like to engage with the city” (with the Shipyards project), perhaps sending a message to Mayor Lenny Curry and the City Council.

At the upcoming NFL Owners meeting, Khan doesn’t expect any decisions on playoff expansion or putting a team in LA. But he expects those subjects to be discussed.

“The stars will align,” he said when asked if either of those will happen.

Will the NFL ever put a team in London? A whole division in Europe?

“I know there’s been a huge amount of speculation but I don’t know if the fans here have the appetite for it. There will be more games here. Team’s playing home games, that’s for sure.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Long Day In London

It was a pretty large media contingent attending the Jaguars practice today at Allianz Park in London. Allianz Park is home to the Saracens Rugby Union Team of the Premier League in the UK. They’re the defending champions but since the Rugby World Cup is being contested here, they’ve moved the start of their season back. That’s why their “grounds” were available for the Jaguars as a practice field. They painted an American Football field on their rugby pitch and even put up goalposts to make their guests feel at home.

Traveling on Thursday night and into Friday puts an early, first 24-hour strain on the players, but as it happened last year, most of them had first class, lie flat seat on the flight over and tried to get some rest. Head Coach Gus Bradley encouraged them to get some sleep as soon as they left Jacksonville so they could take advantage of the eight-hour flight. That’s a good thought but both Sen’Derrick Marks and Dwayne Gratz told me they were “a little too tall” for the seats. “Once you get to six feet,” Gratz said, “those beds get little.” Marks and Paul Posluzsny said they “got a couple of hours” on the plane but weren’t worried. “I don’t need much sleep,” Sen’Derrick said at the team hotel. “It’ll be fine,” Paul mentioned as he headed to a meeting. Trying to sleep on the plane is one issue. Trying to do it starting at six in the evening can also be a challenge.

So far, Bradley is in favor of leaving later in the week. The Jaguars are still searching for a routine that might give them a true home field advantage when they play in London. “I like it,” Bradley said to the assembled media after practice. “I know when some guys have come over later they liked it.”

From the arrival at Heathrow, the team went straight to their hotel for meetings for about an hour. After lunch, they headed straight to practice.

“We practiced at 1:35 today on purpose,” Bradley explained. “It’s the same time as the game Sunday. It worked out great. We had them go through “performance stations” first to get their muscles firing again then we had our regular Friday walk-thru.”

Bradley, Blake Bortles and Julius Thomas met with the media after practice and talked about where the Jaguars are, right now, at 1-5

“It’s a stage and it’s the most challenging stage. One-possession games, we have to figure out how to win those games. It’s a results league.”

Even in the last three losses, Bortles thinks the Jaguars improved and learned something each week. I asked him if they needed to take a “Giant Step” to win those games.

“That’s the thing, I don’t think it’s a giant step at all,” he said with confidence. “We just have to eliminate the mistakes, play better, don’t have silly penalties and we’ll be alright.”

“People on the outside think there’s a big difference between teams,” Thomas said. “It’s not that many plays that are the difference in winning and losing. Each game in the NFL comes down to two or three plays. It’s my job on this team to make sure our young guys know that. One detail on one play can make the difference.”

Representatives from The Late Late Show with James Corden, Corden’s mom were at the press conference asking some random questions. Apparently they had cleared it beforehand with the Jaguars PR staff and the players. Corden is from close by, so his “Mum” asked if Blake needed a place to stay for the next five years to accommodate the contract extension Since James now lives in LA, she explained, his room is available. “Are you cooking?” Blake wanted to know. After hearing the answer he responded, “I’m in.” He was also asked to explain the game of American football to someone in the UK who doesn’t know anything about it. Blake played along and so did Julius, but when they were asked if they knew the show both answered, “I don’t.”

They won’t be up late tonight to watch it either.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Deal in London through 2020

It’s certainly no surprise that the Jaguars have extended their agreement to play one home game a year in London through 2020. It’s only a bit surprising that the new deal is not for longer.

“Our interest in extending our agreement to play a home game each season in London is nothing new. So, we’re very happy to make it official today,” said Jaguars Owner Shad Khan from London.

Khan was interested in extending the deal through 2030 but instead; it’s an arrangement to continue to play at Wembley Stadium through 2020 with an opportunity to extend the deal into 2025. Although Khan has also expressed an interest in playing a game in Europe as well, for now, just one game a year overseas will be on the schedule for the Jaguars. Perhaps if the team was winning there’d be more thought of expanding the footprint onto the Continent but for now, the focus is to get a winning team on the field.

NFL clubs recently approved a resolution to continue playing international regular-season games through the 2025 season and expanded the league’s ability to play those games in countries and territories beyond the UK. Germany and Mexico City are the two places the league would like to play next. If he can figure out how to make it work and not impact the revenue or the product on the field, Khan would like to have the Jaguars in the game in Germany. It’s possible the Jaguars could play a “road” game there either the week before or after the London game. But that’s just a thought for now.

A quick look at the Jaguars revenue makes it clear that London is a key component in the Jaguars profitability. Khan has said many times that a “sustainable franchise in Jacksonville is only helped by playing a game in London.”

Today he reiterated that.

“This is great news for the Jaguars and the stability of the team in Jacksonville, which has come to embrace London as our home away from home.”

An important part of the deal for Khan was to continue to play at Wembley. Earlier this year, the NFL and the English Premier League’s Tottenham Hotspur franchise announced an agreement to play a minimum of two games per year during a 10-year partnership at Tottenham’s new state-of-the-art stadium, due to open in the summer of 2018.

That means the league will have two different stadiums hosting games in London. The NFL’s Vice President of International Mark Waller said today at the announcement, “We are very appreciative of the Jaguars extending their commitment to the UK market, which emphasizes the club’s and league’s strong ambition to continue to grow the fan base for NFL football beyond the borders of the United States.”

When you’re in London for the game, you see a lot of Jaguars gear on fans and for sale. While Americans who have made the trip wear some of it, a surprising number of International NFL fans have embraced the Jaguars as “their team.”

In the UK, FA Group Operations Director JULIE HARRINGTON said today, “We are proud that the NFL identified Wembley Stadium 10 years ago to serve as the focal point of its vision for international expansion. Since then, we have forged a very special partnership with Mr. Khan and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Today’s news and this deal shows their trust and long-term belief in our venue.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

London Is A Jaguars Reality

There’s enough of a control group now for some trends to start appearing regarding NFL teams playing regular season games in London. Is it better to leave early in the week or late? How do teams fare the week before going? How about after their bye? (which always comes after the London trip)

It appears teams headed to London don’t play very well before their trip and there’s some evidence that leaving late in the week is better than going over and staying to prep for the game. This year, the Jaguars are trying their third scenario. After leaving on a Monday in 2013 and last year on a Sunday, the team will arrive in London on Friday and look at it as a short business trip.

As the “home” team for London, the Jaguars are in the third year of a four-year agreement that no doubt will be extended sometime this week. They should be getting used to having a trip to the UK as part of their season.

“Right, the more guys on our team that have done the trip,” Head Coach Gus Bradley said after Wednesday’s practice. He acknowledged changing the schedule this year is another experiment. “This year (going on) Thursday to try to get a feel of how fast our guys acclimate to it, and so it gives us an opportunity to see what works.”

The trip overseas is important to the Jaguars economically, creating more sponsorship opportunities and entertainment options for the team’s partners. They’ve hosted parties at the Tower of London, Kensington Palace and this year at Abbey Road Studios. Bradley is aware of the positive impact this game has on the franchise overall.

“I know there are a lot of good things going on over there in terms of us, with merchandising and things like that. So, I think the popularity of our team is growing over there, and it’s a great atmosphere.”

This week might be a little different for the Jaguars as they travel on Thursday because they’ve been disappointing three weeks in a row. Coming off their loss to the Texans at home stings, but they claim that’s all behind them. Quarterback Blake Bortles has a routine to deal with success, or failure.

“Yeah. I usually take Mondays to kind of mull it around a little bit and learn from it but after Monday I think you’ve got to let it go,” he said at his weekly media briefing. “You’ve got to take what you can, learn from it. I know this is all repetitive but learn from it, move on and get into the next game plan.”

As far as last week, Bortles said he learned a valuable lesson about what they’re calling “situational football.”

“I think situational football on the interception right before halftime, just bad situational football. I think communication, being able to stay on the same page with guys so that we’re as one unit I think throughout the game.”

He’s still learning as a second-year quarterback; perhaps not fast enough for some fans but the coaching staff is trying to develop every part of his game, physically and mentally. Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson has a reputation of making quarterbacks better and he knows its as much between the ears as it is throwing a football.

“You’ve got to learn to play one play to one play,” he said Wednesday when asked about keeping a quarterback focused on success. “It’s no more important than at the quarterback position. If a guy can’t let go of a mistake and it carries to the next play that’s when it becomes a problem. Certainly I think he’ll gain the respect of his teammates when they see how hard he competes on every play and how important it is to him when a play doesn’t succeed.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars “Ignoring The Noise”

Just about every losing team in the NFL talks about ignoring “the noise.” “The noise,” by the way, is what you and I have to say about how the team is playing. After their 31-20 loss at home to the lowly Texans, there has been plenty of noise from outside the stadium about how to fix it. Fire Gus. Cut some players. Puts guys on the bench. Get rid of Dave Caldwell.

They hear it, but they’re trying to ignore it.

“I always want to make sure that we play hard in front of our fans and we give them a good product,” Bradley said at his Monday’s press conference. “What goes on in that locker room and how we handle it in the team meetings and how we talk, there’s not a lot of conversations about ‘here’s what they’re saying outside.’ ”

That’s not unique. Patriots Head Coach has a sign on the door to the Patriots practice facility that says, “Ignore The Noise.” At least Bradley admitted what would put an end to all of that talk.

“They will be happy if we get this right so we put all of our attention into that.”

For the second week in a row, the Jaguars had a lead and lost it and for the third straight week chances to win the game were at hand, and lost. “Very challenging time that we’re going through right now. We’re in that stage where we have to find a way to pull these off,” Bradley explained as part of the growing process. “I believe in the guys in the locker room, I think that’s important that they believe in each other and they do.”

Were expectations too high going into the third year? Bradley declared the team built and immediately everybody thought that meant they’d be competitive and win games. In comparison to 2013 and 2014, there’s no question the Jaguars are better and more competitive. It’s the winning games that’s not happening. Bradley spoke today as if he expected this all along. “Going through this, you knew this was going to be challenging: to teach this team what it takes to get through this and do enough right things to earn that victory. So that’s where we’re at.”

Fans appear particularly dismayed because the Jaguars are collapsing at the exact wrong time and finding a way to lose late in the game.

“That’s the part where I think we have to teach our team, when you have the lead, now you even go more if there is such a thing,” Bradley said, addressing losing leads late in games. ”

“I think instead of dipping your toe in the water, you get immersed in it. And that’s what we need to learn.”

Although practices are closed to team coaches and officials only, apparently the team looks different behind closed gates than it does on Sunday afternoon in stadiums. Bradley wants to see the team that practices show up on Sunday. It appears the Jaguars are now a team full of Blaine Gabberts.

“I want to make sure what we see in practice is what we get in the game. I think that that same competitive spirit transfers over. What we’re seeing now in some guys is they compete 90 percent of the time; I’m just talking about a few. Ninety percent of the time, and then they have a let-up or they lose their focus for a period of time.”

When he said that, a lot of eyebrows were raised. Being able to see that on video when a guy isn’t giving 100% on a particular play means he’s headed to the bench, soon. Gus was particularly critical, without naming him, of Davon House and how he performed late in the game. De’Andre Hopkins was held pretty much in check for most of the game but he torched House on three consecutive drives in the 4th quarter to put the game out of reach.

“You can’t do that, you can’t do that in the NFL. In the secondary, if a guy gets behind you, there’s no excuse. If you lose your eyes, there’s no excuse. You have to be able to do those things, that’s part of being in the league. It’s playing that complete game.”

So they’ll evaluate performance this week and decide who gets to play in London against Buffalo and who’s sitting. Making one mistake can be written off. But the same mistakes over and over, Bradley calls that a lack of accountability.

“But if it’s a repeated action, then what is accountability? If they repeat it and they continue to play and go out there and play, what takes place?” he noted when talking about figuring out who will play and who won’t. “That’s the decisions we have to make this week.”

And how will they make those decisions? Bradley gave us some insight into how he’ll approach the situation. The short answer is: different ways for different players.

“To me, accountability is changing someone’s behavior. If putting the hammer changes someone’s behavior, then put the hammer down. That’s why you have to understand your players and know what they’re all about. If I told Poz I was going to fine him five dollars, he would straighten up. If I told someone else I would fine him five dollars, they may not. Everybody is different, so you have to find out what they value and what’s important to them and hopefully it’s this team. I’m sure it is.”

Hope he’s right.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars All Wrong, Lose to Texans

While the weather was changing through out the game, the Jaguars fortunes were about the same in the first half against the Texans. Good plays were followed by critical mistakes and the Jaguars fell behind 10-7. As Gus Bradley pointed out in the last two weeks, it’s not one guy making five mistakes but rather five guys making one mistake at critical times.

A nice punt by Bryan Anger was downed at the one-yard line but the Texans went on a 99-yard 16 -play drive to take a 7-0 lead. On the drive Houston converted two 3rd and longs and one 4th down to keep things going. That continued the Jaguars problems on defense getting off the field. They’re last in the league in allowing third down conversions.

On offense the Jaguars followed with their own 14-play 75-yard drive to tie the game at seven. Allen Robinson with a nice catch in the end zone for the TD.

But the problems cropped up at the most inopportune times. A critical third down drop by Robinson stopped a promising drive near mid-field. And after giving up a FG, the Jaguars two-minute drill was driving for a score, only to have Blake Bortles lock in on Julius Thomas at the goal line and throw an interception. No points. As much progress as Bortles has made and the success he had last week against Tampa Bay, he still is having trouble scanning the field once he makes a pre-snap read. He had guys open several times but couldn’t find them and either scrambled or threw it incomplete.

Although he went through pregame warm-ups, T.J. Yeldon was inactive for this game because of a groin strain suffered last week. That left the running game to Toby Gerhart and Denard Robinson. Neither got going in the first half so the offense sputtered, only scoring the one TD.

In the second half, there was a glimmer of hope in the third quarter. Despite giving up two third and long conversions to Houston, the defense stopped the Texans on 4th and short at midfield to give the offense the ball. Even with no running game to speak of, Bortles threw a 22 yard completion to Allen Robinson and then a 29 yard TD pass to Julius Thomas, his first as a Jaguar, as they took a 14-10 lead.

When Bradley talks about consistency and precision, he’s talking about the coaching staff and himself as well. On the first drive of the 4th quarter the Texans were moving it pretty easily down the field when a defensive holding call went against Davon House on a 29-yard completion down the sideline. The catch was close, but Bradley threw the challenge flag, despite it was only about a ten yard difference between the catch and the holding call. And it was a first down either way. Who’s advising Gus whether to challenge or not?

Houston followed up by scoring a TD on a pass from Brian Hoyer to DeAndre Hopkins to take a 17-14 lead. While House has been singled up on Hopkins for most of the game and has done a credible job, he looked lost on that play with Hopkins circling around him in the end zone and making the bobbling catch.

On the Jaguars ensuing possession, A.J. Cann was called for holding on third down as Bortles missed Robinson on a deep post to complete the three and out. That’s the lack of consistency and precision Bradley is talking about. Then Bortles equaled out his good play early with a bad throw to Thomas that was picked off for a TD and a 31-14 Texans lead midway through the fourth quarter. The stadium emptied quickly after that.

A touchdown pass from Bortles to Allen Hurns cut it to 31-20 and perhaps fittingly Jason Myers missed the extra point. On the ensuing on-side kick, the Jaguars recovered, but Hurns was ruled offside and the Texans got the ball. Precision on the touchdown play, inconsistency on the next.

So combine all of the things Gus Bradley has talked about this year in terms of precision, consistency, margin of error and correcting the things that are wrong, throw them into one game and have them all go the wrong way and you get a bad division loss at home to the Texans.

It’s off to London this week to face the Bills, also losers this week, then the bye week and road games at the Jets and Baltimore. They’ll next be home November 19th a Thursday night, to play the Titans. Looking at the rest of the schedule, maybe the Jaguars can eek out 5 wins this year if they all of the sudden get their act together and play within their “margin of error.” But with no proof of that, it looks to be a long road through 16 games and another year of waiting and wondering about something that might not even be there.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The Bradley Coaching Experiment

It’s not hard to see that the Jaguars could have won three of the four games they’ve lost this year if they had only gotten out of their own way. But you are what you earn in the NFL and the Jaguars have earned one win and four losses. That has lead to a lot of soul searching this week at the stadium about the whole process. I’ve said all along that Head Coach Gus Bradley’s coaching style is one huge experiment, trying to empower the players instead of the coaches standing over them with demands. Bradley confirmed that this week in not so many words with some of the things he said regarding a change in his approach.

“Whenever things don’t go the way you had hoped you always search inside to try to find out what can I do to help be a part of this?” Bradley said at the end of the week. “Rather than say he’s wrong, he’s wrong or he’s wrong you say what can I do? How can I be a bigger part of this?”

If you’ve ever been on a team at any level, you know that’s a whole different approach to getting things done from a head coach. Usually they have their ideas and they put them in place. You can either get on board or ship out. For Bradley though, he’s looking for answers not just among his team and his staff, but within himself as well

“A hundred things run through your mind saying ‘maybe we should do this, let’s take a look at that, let’s take a look at this,’ and your mind is constantly racing trying to find out what works and that’s the competitive side in you.”

Does that mean he’s not sure about what he’s doing? Hardly. Bradley believes in the process and how to get there. He’s said often that his conviction has been tested but he’s staying on course. There’s a philosophy of the “servant leader” that Bradley adheres to as a coach. He’ll give you the tools to get better: it’s your job to do it.

“I don’t want them to rely on me or their coaches for juice or to always be corrected,” he explained. “They’ve got to self-correct. That’s what happens in a game. There’s no one out there in a game and they’ve got to learn to do it on their own.”

And while having a young team is no excuse, it is the young players who are having the most difficult time self-correcting and staying focused play after play, game after game, week after week.

If you compare scores in the last three years you could make the case that the Jaguars are light years ahead of where they were in 2013 and last year. But it’s no solace to continue to see losses mount when the expectations were so much higher.

When asked about the process, Bradley points to the progress made by Blake Bortles, the defensive backfield, the offensive line and other places. But when I asked him if part of the process of improving the pieces and becoming a better team is actually finishing and winning games, he agreed.

“That’s the next step, to be consistent and precise and finish,” he told me. He also said this week was a big step forward in that process.

“They’ve had good weeks but I just felt like the whole emphasis on putting these things together. I felt more accountability. I’m not saying from me, I think it’s more powerful if you feel from player to player,” as he reiterated where he hopes to put the team permanently.

“We’re learning a lot of lessons about our team. Each week there’s going to be new things that come up, that’s just how the NFL is. That’s how it goes but we’re trying to minimize these things as much as possible. I think how they’re holding each other accountable is a big part of it.”

As they get healthy and mature, the Jaguars appear on the verge of stepping out of the cellar of the league and becoming very competitive. But they have to take that step. There are hundreds of teams that get to this point and never take that step. If they do, they have the talent to be good for a long time. If they don’t, the players will have to adjust to a new message in the future and the fans will continue to wait.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Groundhog Day?

It almost sounded like a repeat of last week’s Thursday press conference. A bad loss the Sunday before, hoping the team can bounce back, the Wednesday practice showing signs of life and the Thursday practice a confirmation of the effort.

“I thought today was a big straining practice even without pads on,” Head Coach Gus Bradley said again this week “Very good. Attention to detail, you could just see a big emphasis on it as there has been, but I felt it more. It’s like players holding players accountable, coaches holding players accountable and the whole mix.”

But doesn’t he say that every week? I mean Gus is an upbeat guy and somebody who see the glass half full, but the Jaguars are 1-4 so how can he always be talking about “good practices?”

“I’ve got to give the guys credit, right?” he said, answering his own question. “You said is this a resilient team and then they come out Wednesday and they work like that, like I said, I always try to tell you what’s going on. That’s what’s going on. It was good.”

OK fair enough, Bradley is very honest in his dealing with the media, rarely trying to paint a story a different color. But during the taping of his weekly television show, he admitted that part of a team that’s supposed to be winning games to show they’re better than they are, is to actually win the games.

“We have some of the pieces getting better. Quarterback, wide receiver, corner back. All of that’s making progress. But you’re right, we need to finish games and win to make any claim to being better.”

While some of the injured players will possibly make their way back into the lineup this week, Paul Posluszny, Denard Robinson and Sen’Derrick Marks, it could be a game time decision for starting tailback T.J. Yeldon. Bradley says Yeldon has a high football IQ so he could miss practice and still play in the game.

“He’s pretty sharp, he’s a guy in meetings that can pick things up really fast, he understands it, football comes very easy to him. I think he displayed that. We did a two minute drill, he caught a pass and went right out of bounds.” Marks, on the other hand, has passed the physical tests and is looking to get mentally ready to see his first action, hopefully this Sunday. Sen’Derrick said he wanted to be pushed, physically and mentally by his teammates and coaches to be sure he’d be ready.

“Yeah, yesterday I talked to him and said I’m going to get after you pretty good to help you fight through it. He said to me today, you can say whatever you want Gus, this is my own battle in my mind and I’ve got to get it right.”

Next week the Jaguars play in London, trying a different travel schedule for the third consecutive year. They’ll leave next Thursday, practice at the Arsenal practice ground on Friday, attend a fan function on Saturday, play the game on Sunday, get on the plane and come home. The Jaguars haven’t won in London and have been blown out by both the 49ers and the Cowboys. This year against the Bills they’re still concentrating on their own game and not the fact that it’s in London.

“I want to make sure going into this game we continue to build off our strengths, not ‘this is a tough game’ and we drop more than our strength level. We’re doing these things good let’s keep these strengths and add to them and now let’s act on the things we’re not doing very well and get those things going as well.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bortles Practices, Bradley Louder

After flashing a bit of anger on Sunday after the loss to Tampa Bay and still being disappointed after watching the video on Monday, Gus Bradley was back on the field with his team Wednesday. Bradley told us Monday that he was going to try and be more of a “presence” on the field with the whole team, so they would know he was there and recognize his voice and interest. He said he stepped it up during practice but wasn’t sure if it had an instant impact.

“I don’t know. I think that was more at the point in time I was a little emotional. We want to keep the things that are building, we want to ensure they keep building and then these things we need to correct let’s act on them and get it done.”

Being consistent is what most NFL coaches strive for, so Bradley wanted to keep the same routine, but ramp up the results.

“It breeds credibility to players but at the same time, act,” the Head Coach said about not being all over the map when it comes to what he’s like in practice. “Talked to them about being pros, going out there and really playing at a high level at practice. Like I said, I thought that was accomplished.”

In a bit of a surprise, Blake Bortles practiced on Wednesday. It was reported that he had a mild shoulder contusion and might not practice early in the week but he reported he felt better Wednesday morning and went through the normal practice with the team. Sen’Derrick Marks and Denard Robinson also participated in practice and have a chance to play Sunday.

“Very pleased with Blake Bortles how he practiced, going through what he’s going through,” Bradley noted at his normal Wednesday press conference. “Sen’Derrick Marks and D-Rob. All three I thought performed pretty well today and we’ll wait and see how it goes.”

Bradley reiterated that the Jaguars didn’t tackle well on Sunday either on defense or on special teams. He did reveal that they’re looking for a 4.8 second hang time average from Bryan Anger on punts and a few were under that, giving the returner a chance to react. By the way, 4.8 seconds is a long time and that’s what the time is on a 60-yard punt. But the Jaguars want that number even on shorter ones.

There was a new face on the practice field working with kicker Jason Myers. Apparently Myers was looking for a “tune up” every now and then and the Jaguars said he could bring his own kicking coach to practice to see how it worked out.

“Dave (Caldwell, Jaguars GM) and I talked about that we’re out there coaching these guys and he feels really good about his kicking coach that he’s had in, so we’re looking at bringing him in every four weeks or so just to fine-tune some things.”

Switching from special teams to starting running back is what the Jaguars have asked of Toby Gerhart this year. This week Gerhart might get the start because of injuries to Robinson and T.J. Yeldon, who didn’t practice today.

Bradley sees Gerhart as finding a groove. “I think he’s getting used to that and also transferring over so it was a little bit of a time period there, an adjustment period. But he practices good and I think this is the time for him to get some reps and he’s been pretty excited.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Spurrier Retires On His Terms

He’s always wanted to do things no other coaches have done and it appears Steve Spurrier has accomplished that again. Spurrier reportedly told his Gamecock football team Monday night that he was retiring immediately and an announcement would be coming as early as Tuesday. South Carolina is expected to name either G.A. Mangus or Shawn Elliott, both Spurrier assistants, as the interim head coach.

Spurrier has always said he would walk away when he lost his effectiveness and if he does retire at this point, he’s true to his work. The Gamecocks have been a disappointment this year after losing their starting quarterback. Spurrier has had trouble settling on a replacement, using Perry Orth, (from Fletcher HS in Jax Beach) and others without much success. South Carolina is 2-4 overall and 0-4 in the SEC after their loss to LSU last Saturday.

It’s not unusual for Spurrier to walk away from a job. He did the same in Washington after two years as the Redskins Head Coach. He reportedly left $15 million in guaranteed money behind and said recently, “I wanted to walk away from more money than any coach had ever left behind. I wanted to do something nobody had ever done.” Steve had no success in the NFL either as a player or as a coach. He was the quarterback on the winless Tampa Bay Bucs team of 1976. Spurrier was the third pick overall of the ’67 NFL draft by the San Francisco 49’ers and played for them for nine years before being traded to the Bucs for his final year. His two-year tenure in Washington as the Redskins Head Coach finished with a 12-20 record and Spurrier saying the “team needs new leadership.” In truth, he didn’t have any say in who would play in Washington under owner Dan Snyder and when Snyder released former Gator Danny Wuerffel before the 2003 season, figured if he “couldn’t pick who the backup quarterback was, it was time to go.”

But his time in college football was legendary. At Florida from 1964-1966 he won the Heisman Trophy and the SEC Player of the Year. He was the ACC Coach of the year at Duke in 1988 and 89. He won the same honor in the SEC five times with Florida and South Carolina. He’s won more games at both schools than any other coach. He won a National Championship at Florida and took teams to 21 bowl games. His overall record as a coach is 228-89-2. But he’s lost eight of his last nine SEC games.

Former Gator quarterback and current assistant at South Carolina G.A Mangus is one of the candidates to be the interim coach for the Gamecocks.

Spurrier turned 70 this past April and always said he wasn’t interested in coaching much past 60. “I thought I’d travel a bit move to the beach (he has a home in Crescent Beach) and play some golf. But that wasn’t such a good plan at the time.”

Perhaps it is now for the ‘Ole Ball Coach.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley: “Still Painful”

“Still painful.”

That’s how Gus Bradley starting talking about his observations of Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay after looking at the video and having 24 hours to reflect.

Bradley admitted he didn’t know what to say after seeing the multitude of mistakes, including 23 missed tackles in the game.

“You look at it and you go, how can we get this fixed? Sometimes I think the biggest message to our team is personal responsibility.”

That’s been a selling point of Bradley’s head coaching “experiment” as he is trying to empower the players to take the responsibility as well as hold their teammates responsible. He was particularly wounded by the defensive performance and the lack of somebody stepping up and making a play instead of waiting for somebody else to make a tackle.

“No, no. You make the tackle,” Bradley said, his voice still strained from yesterday’s game. “Take personal responsibility for making that tackle, Take personal responsibility, take accountability for it and let’s get these things cleaned up.”

While players make plays, even Bradley wondered if his team was prepared to play against the Bucs. That brings into question the whole coaching philosophy, the coaching staff and Bradley’s role in what’s happening in games and during the week.

Gus admitted his demeanor has to change. “I think I can be stronger on the practice field. If I do that, I think the players need to feel me that when a situation like that occurs, to hear my voice, offensively, defensively and special teams. That’s where I take personal responsibility. I don’t think I’ve been as animated on the field when it comes to those issues. So that part, I think you’ll see that part will change.”

It’s obvious Bradley has confidence in the physical ability of his team and the talent level he and General Manager Dave Caldwell have put together for the 2015 version of the Jaguars. But he’s stumped when it comes to why the players are making mistakes, albeit different players making different ones in each game, and not able to maintain a level of precision and consistency necessary to compete every week in the league.

“You know what, it’s personal responsibility. You’re in the NFL. You’re a player in the NFL. Take care of your business and focus. If you do three good things and you didn’t do it that time, you’re losing focus.”

Does that mean they need to start cutting players? As Tom Coughlin once said in the expansion year, “These are our players.” As in, “Where are we going to find new players right now?” But the Jaguars need to decide whether some of their current players are part of the solution or just part of the problem.

“Yes, you’re right,” Bradley agreed. ” You trust people until they prove unreliable. If they’re unreliable, you have to make changes. I agree 100 percent The NFL is ‘tolerate until you can replace.’ That’s for all of us. That’s the environment that we know that we’re in, the players know that we’re in that environment and the coaches. That’s just a fact of life. The players need to sense that. But we need someone that we can replace them with.”

Why haven’t the Jaguars cut anybody? For now, not one player is standing out as making the same mistakes over and over. It’s a shared responsibility, team-wide. And with a team that stops itself as much as dealing with the opponent, Bradley reiterated their margin for error is small.

“We are not a team that’s going out there and winning 31-7.” Then he corrected himself a bit. “We’re not a team that’s going out there and winning, first of all. You’re playing close games there’s little margin for error.”

Will yelling and screaming and a bigger presence in practice be the solution? Gus isn’t sure. But he is turning up the heat on his players.

“These conversations that we have I want to shock them, I’m going to hold them accountable for that. I’m going to watch them closely and make sure they take it upon themselves. This group is special, they take personal responsibility. If they’re not we’ll ensure that they do and we’ll hold them accountable for it.” Which maybe means roster changes are imminent.

And being a defensive coach, Bradley wants a team with his trademark on it to be tough on defense, stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback. Against the Bucs, the Jaguars did neither.

“This game was more disappointing because this is our strength. We are built to stop the run and we didn’t. That’s what’s disappointing more so than anything else.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Bradley Is Angry

I’ve never seen Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley this fired up.

After the 38-31 loss to the Bucs in Tampa, it was an inordinate amount of time before Bradley made his way to his post-game press conference. When he did, his entrance was swift and he started in right away. He didn’t mince words.

“OK, this one is painful,” he started. “We scored more points than we have in the past but there are still errors. A turnover that lead to a touchdown. Defensively, 183 yards on 40 carries, whatever it is, 4.6 (yards per carry,)” he continued. I couldn’t quite tell if Bradley was so red faced because he was flushed with anger or from standing in the 85 degree sun all afternoon.

He continued with the litany of problems the Jaguars had on Sunday afternoon. “Special teams, 28 yards per return. Just unacceptable.”

And then he started into a “big picture” look at the Jaguars situation. “We’re after victory. We’re after being our best. Well, that wasn’t our best, And it’s not acceptable. And that is the challenge. We have to dig deep and find out what these issues are and clean them up as soon as possible, because the expectation that we had in that locker room, this opportunity, was not met.”

I didn’t like the first question asked of Bradley, “Is this the bottom?” but it did provide a spectacular answer.

“No, this does not feel like the bottom but it feels like something is wrong in how we played. Maybe there is a difference between being ready and prepared. And we weren’t prepared as well as we needed to be and everybody can take responsibility for that.” I thought Gus might put the blame for that squarely on his own shoulders, but he spread it out through the team and the coaching staff.

I didn’t like Corey Grant being in the game in the 4th quarter, backed up near the Jaguars own goal line. Perhaps everybody else was hurt? No, Bradley said, “We had some plays for Corey in the offense.” Still, in the 4th quarter, with the lead and the momentum? It’s not time to try “some plays.” It’s time to have your best players in there who understand what’s at stake at that point in the game.

It was interesting to see the raw emotion of Bradley after a game, unfiltered. In the last two year he was able to keep everything in check, knowing that his team was ususally out-manned but it all came flowing out in this situation. Clearly he believes in his team, believes they’re “built” as he has mentioned before, but he also knows something’s missing.

“It’s the play after play, you know, what they call grit, where you do a play after play after play after play the right things. And you do it enough that when a mistake happens, you can overcome it. But right now, we’ve got to many. We are not showing the grit needed to sustain it.”

I asked Gus how the momentum could switch so quickly when they had scored 17 unanswered points to take a 24-20 lead. “Third and 15 and we failed to make the play. Was it the play? Could we have a better call? We had guys that had an opportunity to make plays. We didn’t make the play.”

And don’t think he didn’t notice the teal jerseys in the stands and the vocal fan support on the road.

“There’s no excuses for it. I do, I feel bad for our fans. How many, 7000? I saw them all in the corner chanting and we come out and we don’t play as well as we are capable of playing? THIS IS REAL! I feel for them. They come down like that, how can’t you. That’s just disappointing as well.”

There were some solid individual performances worth noting. Allen Hurns and Blake Bortles had plenty of stats. But the overall team loss changed Bradley’s emotions from confused and frustrated to angry.

“I hope this setback SHOCKS US TO GET THINGS RIGHT,” he said, his voice now booming. “I believe in these guys. The reason I am upset is because they are capable of better. I am not upset because we are not very good, we are capable of being better and we are not showing that. We have enough good players in that locker room to do better than what we are doing on the field. That’s a fact.”

And finally Gus said all is not lost. But it’s slipping away.

“The script isn’t done yet,” he said after being asked about the division race. “But I just think that right now, we need it, we all need it. Let’s get this thing right now. We are very capable of playing better than we did today. And we missed it, again.”

If you log onto News4Jax and click on the Sports tab, you’ll find the interview in it’s entirety. Turn the volume up to get the full effect.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Falter Again, Lose To Bucs

Much of the discussion on the drive to Tampa this weekend centered on the good and bad teams in the NFL and where the Jaguars fit in that discussion. We came up with New England, Green Bay, Atlanta (sort of), Denver and maybe a couple of others as possible good teams. Both the Jaguars and the Buccaneers qualified among the bad teams in the league along with the Raiders and a few others. So that left about 22 average teams in the league.

But if the Jaguars play at their best, can they win? You’d like to think so but after a week of supposed “great practices” the Jaguars looked anything but even close to good against the lowly Bucs.

After deferring to the second half the Jaguars defense allowed the Bucs to march down the field in the opening drive, giving up a field goal and trailing 3-0. I never worry too much about opening drives because they’re on a script and each team is figuring out what the other is doing. But in this case, Jameis Winston had way too much time and Doug Martin was chewing up yardage on the ground at will.

After a couple of three and outs by both teams, the Jaguars put together a nice drive. Blending the run by T.J. Yeldon and Blake Bortles passing, the Jaguars scored a TD, Bortles to Hurns and a 7-3 lead.

But the Bucs kept chewing up yardage and were gaining confidence for a team that had lost 10 straight at home. They kicked a field goal to pull within 7-6.

A big 61-yard punt by Bryan Anger was negated by a 58-yard runback. The Bucs scored after some horrendous tackling by the Jaguars, Martin taking a quick pass from Winston for 10 yards and a13-7 lead.

That’s when Blake Bortles threw an interception, trying to force the ball on the outside to Marcedes Lewis giving Tampa Bay good field position. He had receivers open all over the field, but never saw one of them. In fact, the Bucs were scrambling on defense, knowing at the snap of the ball they didn’t have the formation covered.

It didn’t take long for the Bucs to capitalize, Martin scoring on a 1 yard run to make it 20-7. Do the Jaguars have enough offense to overcome a team that scores 20 points?

At least they got the two-minute drill right. It’s a mystery why they don’t run more “up tempo” more often, considering how comfortable Bortles looks in that situation. They marched right down the field and scored on a 13-yard TD pass from Bortles to Allen Robinson, 20-14 Bucs at the half.

Getting the ball to open the second half, the Jaguars had a nice drive going but it stalled near the red zone with Bortles getting locked in on one receiver again. A Jason Myers field goal made it 20-17.

A good defensive stand gave the Jaguars the ball at their own 40. Again a little success bred some confidence for the Jaguars and they went 61 yards in 6 plays, a TD pass from Bortles (his third) to Yeldon gave the Jaguars a 24-20 lead. The pass was back across the field and had interception written all over it but Yeldon was wide open and held onto it for six.

After a Bucs FG made it 24-23, the Jaguars gave the ball to the rookie Corey Grant at the ten where he promptly fumbled and gave up a score for a 31-24 lead after the 2-point conversion. That’s where the Jaguars can’t get out of their own way. Leading, holding the other team to a field goal and still holding onto a one-point lead, it’s imperative not to do something silly that gets you beat. But they seem to find a way. And what’s Grant doing in the game at that point anyway?

After not moving it on their next possession, the Jaguars special teams and tackling let them down again, giving the Bucs a short field and they took advantage. Martin scored again to give Tampa Bay a two-touchdown lead, 38-24.

Not much happened for the next six minutes as the Bucs just ground the clock out with one first down after another until the Jaguars scored on a 59 yard catch and run by Allen Hurns and a 5 yard TD catch by Allen Robinson. It was Bortles 4th TD throw of the day.

But the Bucs recovered the ensuing onside kick and the final score was 38-31, Tampa Bay.

For the second week in a row, it’s a particularly disappointing loss since the Jaguars had the momentum and the lead but couldn’t hold it. It’s their 12th straight road loss and snaps a 10 game home losing streak for the Bucs.

I’ve asked a lot this week if the Jaguars were good enough to win if they play their best.

We still don’t know.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars on the Verge? Or More of the Same?

With a body of work spanning over 20 years, the Jaguars franchise doesn’t have much to speak of when it comes to success on the field. Fans of the team from the beginning hold onto the successful playoff runs in ’96 and ’99 but that’s nearly a generation ago. A road win in Pittsburgh in 2007 was the last victory in the post-season and the Jaguars last appearance in the playoffs.

So while it appears General Manager Dave Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley have them headed in the right direction, there’s no tangible, tactile proof, in other words wins, that would bear that out.

Owner Shad Khan has a distinct style when it comes to running his businesses. He acquires the company, looks it over, assesses what the management team is up to and makes decisions based on their success. He did that when he bought the Jaguars, letting Gene Smith run the team, hire Mike Mularkey and show what the franchise was all about.

“I hire the best people,” Khan told me after his first year of ownership. “Whomever is the best, that’s who I’m looking for.”

So when the Jaguars went 2-14 after that first year, Khan decided to make some changes. “I was told that if we signed a defensive back and a wide receiver (Aaron Ross and Jerry Porter) and re-signed the defensive lineman (Jeremy Mincey) we’d be competitive in the division. And what did I get? Two wins. I knew we needed to make a change.”

That’s when Caldwell and Bradley got their chance. Since then through 36 games the Jaguars have 8 wins. Are they on the verge of changing the history of the franchise or is it just more of the same?

“Sometimes it looks like you expect it to look and other times, it’s not there,” Bradley said this week. He talks a lot about precision and consistency, neither of which have been hallmarks of the 2015 team.

Quarterback Blake Bortles talked this week about cleaning up the details, staying focused for 4 quarters. “Everything else is kinda in place. The one more improvement is to win.” Scoring points and winning the game is the whole point of playing. Bortles believes everything is in place to take the next step. “Our numbers are good except for offensive scoring. We’re throwing the ball and running the ball well. We just need to finish drives.”

That’s the optimistic view any team wants their quarterback to have but is it realistic? Are the Jaguars at the point that if they perform to their own capabilities and cut out the mistakes they’ll start winning?

“We are,” Ryan Davis said in Tampa as the team finished up their preparation for the Bucs. “Guys can make plays. We have the talent. We see it every week.”

Last week’s loss to Indianapolis was confusing and disappointing to everybody, including Gus Bradley. Many fans said it was the last straw in breaking their support.

But not for everybody.

As many as 3,000 Jaguars fans have followed the team to Tampa. Some as part of fan organizations, others just because, as they explained, they’re fans.

“I think we’re a good team and the season is about to turn around,” Murray Rubin from Jacksonville said in the lobby of the team hotel. Rubin and his wife Nadine made the trip to Tampa on Friday with two other couples and will stay through Monday supporting the Jaguars. “Not us,” Nadine said when I asked if they were about to give up after last week. “It was heartbreaking but we just need to anticipate what’s going to happen on the field and we’ll be alright.” Every fan has their opinion but the Rubin’s, sporting their Jaguars gear proudly, believe the team’s fortune is about to change. “Our season is going to just fine.”

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Jaguars Ready for Tampa

It’s a short trip but a regular week for the Jaguars as they prepare for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday. Coming off the tough loss to Indy where Head Coach Gus Bradley said, “We missed it,” the team seemed to bounce back quickly.

“A very crisp practice today. I really liked this week as far as the attention to detail and those concepts,” Bradley said after Friday’s walk-thru.

Talking with Gus on his television show, he admitted he wasn’t sure how the team would respond but that by Wednesday’s practice they were looking forward to the game against the Bucs. That’s what they’ll need for their third straight road game where the opponent thinks it’s an easy chance for a “W.”

Despite the injuries and the uncertainty at several positions, Bradley likes how the team has taken to the idea of going on the road this week and coming home with a win.

“The ownership of it, the ownership of our mentality going into the game, the ownership of the game plan going into the game,” is what Bradley said he liked about this week’s preparation. “So three really good days of practice, so we’ll see how it pans out.”

Since Tampa is just over a three-hour drive, several thousand Jaguars fans are making the trip. Some groups are even having an organized tailgate on Sunday morning (we’ll have coverage of that on the pregame show on Channel 4).

Bradley is impressed by that. “Yeah it’s unbelievable. We talked about it last night on the show. It’s amazing. I know we mentioned it to our players and it’s unbelievable. I don’t know if words can express it.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Know What They’re Lacking

So far the two buzz words this year for the Jaguars have been precision and consistency. Regrettably, the Jaguars have had neither too often and thus, a 1-3 record a quarter of the way through the season. But a w

A win against Tampa Bay this week puts the Jaguars about where everybody was hoping before the season that they’d be after five games. While neither team looks to be headed to the post-season in 2015, they do look a lot like each other when it comes to youth and results.

“They’ve brought some veteran guys in from Chicago on defense,” Gus Bradley said today at the stadium. “And on offense they’re trying to build something with Jameis.”

You could say the same about the Jaguars after their offseason acquisitions and what they’re trying to do on offense with Blake Bortles, T.J. Yeldon and company. But the Jaguars should be a year ahead of the Bucs when it comes to the process. And perhaps they are.

At the very least, Bradley says the team has bounced back from their los to Indianapolis and is understanding where they’re deficiencies are.

“It’s not just effort and energy and enthusiasm,” he said after practice on Thursday. “What I liked about today was yesterday we talked about the details; the message today was to come back and apply those details to today’s practice.”

Although he declared the team “built” at the beginning of the year, the Jaguars still have some work to do to be competitive week in and week out. They appear to have the talent on the roster but a lot of the intangibles are missing. Some of those could be called the “details” that they haven’t mastered with precision or consistency.

“I’m talking about communication, the line calls, the defensive calls, the communication that takes place in the back end and doing it from start to finish,” Bradley explained. “So that was really the message today, very pleased with how it went. Everybody’s got to do their job and that’s what it comes down to play after play and that consistency is what we need to continue to build.”

And while the building process continues, it’s not an open-ended timeline. They don’t have forever and Bradley knows it.

“I’ve talked about this ‘Race to Maturity’ that we’re in and that’s still true. But we can’t wait around, we have to go out and get it done.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Lindy Infante: Jacksonville’s First Glimpse

I was pretty shocked to get the phone call this morning that Lindy Infante had died. His wife, Stephanie, confirmed that Lind passed away in St. Augustine after a lengthy illness at 75 years old. While he gained a national identity as the head coach of the Packers and Colts in the NFL, I got to know Lindy when he was the head coach of the Jacksonville Bulls, an expansion franchise in the fledgling USFL.

Former Bulls running backs coach Buddy Geis called me early with the news, and coincidentally, I was with Matt Robinson, the first big free agent signing for Lindy and the Bulls.

“He had the best offense ever,” Matt said shaking his head in disbelief. “Somebody was always open,” the Bulls first quarterback remembered.

While a lot of coaches have designed offenses to take advantage of whatever the defense was giving them, Infante had a whole different idea. He put the power in the quarterback and the wide receiver’s hands, letting them read what was going on in the play as it happened. It’s pretty routine now, but in 1984, it was considered revolutionary.

“Whatever the defense was doing before the snap of the ball and as you dropped back, if the quarterback and wide receiver saw the same thing, the defense had no chance,” Matt explained. “If they played inside technique, two deep, press coverage, it didn’t matter, you knew somebody would be open.”

Infante was the offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals before he came to Jacksonville as the head coach of the Bulls. At the time he was one of the “hot” names in coaching. After the league folded, Lindy joined the Cleveland Browns as their offensive coordinator, helping create the “Cardiac Kids” with Bernie Kosar at quarterback and Infante calling the plays. Kosar was the only QB Lindy seemed to have any luck with.

Most of his career was marred by bad timing and injured signal callers.

With the Bulls, Infante found exactly what he was looking for in Robinson. A smart, talented thrower who had some experience. Matt had played for the Jets, Broncos and Bills in the NFL but was lured to Jacksonville and the USFL by Lindy’s offense. But after a couple games, Robinson injured his foot against the Tampa Bay Bandits and the Bulls were forced to go with backup Robby Mafouz. That year it was never the same.

The following year, the Bulls thought they had pulled off a coup, signing Brian Sipe from the Browns as their prized free agent. They traded Robinson to Portland and installed Sipe, another smart thrower from the NFL, as the starter. And again, after a couple of games, Sipe was blasted to the turf, tearing up his shoulder and collarbone. He, and the Bulls, were never the same, going through quarterbacks like Ben Bennett, Ed Luther and Buck Belue looking for somebody who could run Lindy’s offense. (BTW, that team started Archie Griffin and Mike Rozier in the backfield, three Heisman’s among them). The USFL folded that year.

After the stint with the Browns where he was again the hot coach in the league, the Green Bay Packers hired him as their head coach. His bad quarterback luck returned. Don Majkowski was the toast of the NFL after a Pro Bowl season and 16 starts in Green Bay, leading the Packers to a 10-6 record. Infante was the NFL’s Coach of the Year. But Majkowski held out the next season, played in 9 games and the Packers were headed downhill.

Lindy once told me that the Packers were prepared to get the first pick in the 1989 draft after a 4-12 season and were planning on rebuilding around Troy Aikman. But in the last game of the year, the Packers slipped to the #2 pick through a couple of fluke results and Aikman went to the Cowboys. The Packers drafted Michigan State’s Tony Mandarich, who was later exposed as a steroid fraud. When Infante lost his job as head coach of the Packers after the ’91 season, the team acquired Brett Favre the next year from Atlanta. His quarterback luck continued at his next head-coaching stop in Indianapolis. After two losing seasons and a 3-13 record in 1997, the Colts fired Infante. They drafted Peyton Manning that year.

I hosted Lindy’s show called “Bulls Sidelines” for the two years he and the Bulls were in town and got to know him pretty well. We shared a builder for both of our first houses in Mandarin. We played some golf together and talked a lot of football.

I last saw him at the Florida/Georgia Hall of Fame induction two years ago. I mentioned that we should get together and play some golf again. “Call me, I’m in the book,” he said in his post-football casual manner.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Sticking With Myers

If you poll enough Mom’s on soccer pitches on any given Saturday, you find that it’s no fun being the goalies Mom. Too much pressure, too many things can happen in front of you that give you no chance of making a save. Imagine being the kickers Mom this week in the NFL. Imagine being Jason Myers’ mom. Impossible.

So while kickers are paid to make kicks, the pressure is enormous when your teammates have played an entire game and it comes down to one swing of your leg for the win. And when it doesn’t happen, all fingers are pointed at you.

After missing some kicks on a Thursday night game, Josh Scobee heard it from all over the country and eventually was released by the Steelers. Jason Myers missed a couple of game winners for the Jaguars Sunday, but head coach Gus Bradley is sticking with him. In fact, he’s not even going to entertain the thought of looking elsewhere.

“I don’t think so,” he said when asked if he’ll look at some other kickers. “If it happened repeatedly where it was game after game. It’s actually three misses to be honest with you because the one was a timeout. He’s got to learn from it. We’ll see how it works out but I do believe in him. I like his mentality. That’s one of the big reasons why we went with him and we’ll stick with that part of it.”

Myers was given a big task at the beginning of the year when the Jaguars sent Scobee, a popular 11-year veteran, to the Steelers for a sixth round pick. Myers was in the Arena League a year ago and kicked at Marist while in college. Jaguars’ scouts saw him at a kicking camp and liked his leg and his mentality, so they gave him a shot. When he performed during the preseason, they deemed Scobee expendable.

Bradley said they expected some misses. “I think when we first signed Jason and we made that decision we knew that there was going to be some waves I think that we were going to have to go through. I like his mentality, we’re very confident in him and he had an unfortunate day.”

“Unfortunate day” for a kicker is usually disastrous for his team. It means he missed and his team lost. Other players make mistakes and while they know it and it shows up on video during the game review, it’s usually not on display for all to see. With kickers, it’s either do, or not do.

“He’s no different (than other players),” according to Bradley. “But as far as his mentality and his competitiveness and his demeanor we just have great faith in him. Everybody saw it. I think we just have faith in his demeanor, what he’s all about.

Bradley said he didn’t talk with Myers on the field before or after either kick. But in the locker room he told him to “Stay strong. It’s what your demeanor and mentality are all about. You utilize that trait that you have.’ He really is strong-minded. It didn’t show in those last two kicks, but he really is. His demeanor and his mentality are what you’re looking for.”

So while the Head Coach spent a good part of his Monday game review defending his kicker, he still knows that young players will make mistakes, kickers included.

“I think you come to know that the game is not going to be perfect, there’s going to be mistakes and then you learn how to deal with them from there. But when it’s at critical times like this in heightened environments, that’s when you hope that kickers come through. He’s young. Sometimes it takes some time for these guys to learn that part, but hopefully not too much time.”

I guess the question is, how much is too much? For Myers? For Bradley?

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Like You, Bradley is “Confused and Disappointed”

Emotions were still running high Monday at the stadium after the Jaguars watched video of their loss to Indianapolis in overtime. Fans, players, and coaches all seemed to feel the same way: Confused and disappointed.

“It’s a tough game to watch,” Head Coach Gus Bradley admitted in his opening statement during his Monday press conference. “I think we had a great opportunity yesterday with our team and the way we wanted to approach it and go about it. I truly felt we missed it, it got away from us and it’s very disappointing.”

“We missed it,” was a theme running through Bradley’s observation of the game. A chance to win, slipping away through inconsistency and a myriad of other problems. Last year, the Jaguars were the least penalized team in the league. This year is a different story. They’re on pace to give up over 1,300 penalty yards after 13 flags were thrown against them on Sunday.

“There’s self-inflicted wounds that are hurting us badly,” Bradley explained. I look at one drive defensively, (5 penalties for 40 yards on the Colts only TD drive) Good teams consistently don’t have even a series like that so far too many penalties in that situation.”

It is interesting that Bradley uses the phrase “good teams” when he’s outlining how things should go versus how the Jaguars are playing. There are flashes, and perhaps that’s what the realistic expectation should be for a team with a second-year quarterback and with their best players rehabilitating injuries. But even Bradley admitted he was confused after seeing the game a day later at how on one series the Jaguars could be so solid and in the next, clueless.

“Yeah, disappointing because we did miss it (an opportunity). I’m probably a little confused like our fan base is. When you see good plays, when you see big plays, when you see guys taking shots or guys making plays and it feels like it should, and then you don’t see the consistency.”

If “precision” was the word last week, “consistency” was what was lacking against the Colts. Offensively,, Blake Bortles had a strong first half, taking the team to a 13-10 lead going to the break. While it could have been more, it still was a lead. Nonetheless, not getting more points in the first half lead to more inconsistency in the second half, perhaps because they were pressing and eventually the game came down to a kick. Or two.

Bradley saw the same thing we did. “Offensively we moved the ball but the issue is this; in the first half I think we had first and ten on the six, first and ten on the 13, we had first and ten on the 16 and came away with two field goals and a touchdown. We’ve got to score more points than that. Its self-inflicted wounds again; botched snap, not handling it right, penalties, disciplined and staying focused throughout.”

And while social media was flooded with “Bring back Scobee” talk, Bradley reiterated his support for Jason Myers, despite missing two game winning kicks.

“I think when we first signed Jason and we made that decision we knew that there was going to be some waves I think that we were going to have to go through. I like his mentality, we’re very confident in him and he had an unfortunate day yesterday.. We know with a younger kicker like this he’s going to go through some of these situations.”

No team wants the game to come down to a kick, especially one from around 50 yards. The Jaguars are no different and there were numerous opportunities lost all over the field “There were mistakes made out there by multiple players.” Bradley agreed. “They took their turns, and his is more visual. Everybody saw it. I think we just have faith in his demeanor.”

“I think it’s a work in progress, I do. To say that it’s like a well-oiled machine where we’ve been together for seven or eight years, no it’s not that but I’m seeing good signs. But also to be real I’ve seen some signs that are disappointing, It has the capabilities, we’re just not seeing it consistently.”

So again this week, Bradley will ask his team to bounce back, but in a very different way than after the loss to New England.

“Both are tough. It’s tough, it really is. I think games like these, they really challenge your conviction and how you want to approach it. I do know that it might be where everybody wants us to become negative, but I know becoming negative isn’t going to work. Challenging our guys and demanding that we do things right and are disciplined and focused, that’s what we need.”

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Jaguars Can’t Covert, Lose To Colts

After being picked apart by Tom Brady last week, Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley lamented his whole defensive philosophy against the Patriots. Different week, different team and different starter at quarterback but against the Colts, Bradley’s defense looked eerily similar to last week to open the game at Indianapolis.

Rushing four and playing zone behind it, the Jaguars didn’t have any answer for the 40-year old Matt Hasselbeck as the Colts took an early 3-0 lead.

On offense, quarterback Blake Bortles looked sharp, hitting Allen Hurns 8 times in the first half and a deep ball to Allen Robinson to give the Jaguars a 10-3 lead. Nice blend of play-action, T.J. Yeldon running the ball and Bortles finding the open guy, they looked like that team we saw in the preseason and on occasion against Miami two weeks ago.

Then it was about the most inexplicable defensive series of the year. A combination of five penalties, equally shared by rookies and veterans gave the Colts a short yardage TD chance that they took advantage of to tie the game at ten. It was a weird series because the Jaguars defense had a couple of chances to end the drive but keep giving the Colts extra chances and it finally lead to points.

A Jason Myers field goal gave the Jaguars the lead at halftime but FG’s instead of TD’s felt a little empty despite a halftime lead.

As the game progressed, the Jaguars defense started to pressure Hasselbeck with some success. The third quarter was a lot of back and forth with a bunch of punts. The Colts did win the field position battle and took advantage of Paul Posluszny’s ankle injury that forced him out of the game driving deep into Jaguars territory. They got a field goal out of it to tie the game at 13.

In 2014 the Jaguars were the least penalized team in the league but against the Colts, penalties were a real problem. The “illegal formation” is a point of emphasis for the officials this year and it bit the Jaguars early in the 4th quarter. A 3rd and 3 was converted by a great catch by Bryan Walters. The play was negated by an illegal formation call against the Jaguars (the Colts had a couple called against them in the first half.)

Just as Indy was driving late in the 4th quarter to take the lead, Frank Gore fumbled at the goal line and Abry Jones grabbed it in the end zone for a huge break for the Jaguars. Josh Evans stripped the ball at about the 3 and on the next drive made a good stop at the line of scrimmage to force a punt. Evans was in the game because Sergio Brown was injured and couldn’t start, James Sample got hurt during the game, as did Aaron Colvin.

Bortles and the offense had a couple of chances as the 4th quarter progressed, one really good one around the two minute warning but a low snap that Blake couldn’t handle drove them out of field goal range and forced a punt. The defense forced a punt again, and Bortles run on 3rd down put them just inside FG position for Jason Myers. The rookie kicker had two chances after the Colts called timeout right before his first attempt but both were wide right from 53 yards out and the game went into OT. Thought he’d make it the second time but just wide right.

In overtime, T.J. Yeldon dashed 36 yards to past midfield but they couldn’t get past there and had to punt. Good defense gave the ball back to Bortles and company. Another run by Bortles gave Myers another chance from 48 yards but he missed again, this time left to give the ball back to the Colts.

This time, they didn’t dawdle as the Colts drove the ball down field with a mismatch on Jonathan Cyprien with Coby Fleener and a strong run by Frank Gore. Adam Viniateri kicked the FG to give Indy a 16-13 win.

You can blame Myers if you want and call for the Jaguars to re-sign Josh Scobee (the Steelers cut him on Saturday) but you can’t rely on kickers to win games for you from around 50 yards out. Several times during the game, and again in overtime, the Jaguars stalled around midfield. Earlier they settled for FG’s instead of scoring TD’s and it cost them.

Not sure you can chalk this one up to learning or youth or anything besides a lack of execution in critical situations. Injuries hurt and maybe it’ll be a little better when Julius Thomas and the rest of the guys hurt get into the lineup. But on this Sunday, the Colts got it done, with a backup quarterback, and the Jaguars, with backups of their own in the game, didn’t.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Reports: Luck Won’t Play Today

It’s a quarterback league, no question. So when one of the top quarterbacks in the league might not play, it’s news. In their first three games the Jaguars have gotten all starters: Cam Newton, Ryan Tannehill and Tom Brady. This week Andrew Luck is officially listed as “questionable” but reports are now that he won’t play against the Jaguars today.

Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley says they need to be prepared for whoever is taking snaps in Indianapolis.

“Every week you go into it, you know who the backup is and you show some clips of him. This week it might be a little bit more real so I think that you go into it, you prepare for Luck, you know everything that he likes to do, the style and mannerisms,” Bradley explained. But you might spend a little bit more time on Matt Hasselbeck. I think it’s probably more real than a normal week, no one can argue with that, so you have to be prepared for both.”

Another factor in the Colts’ decision to sit Luck today against the Jaguars is the quick turnaround for a Week 5 Thursday night game against the Houston Texans. Luck has not missed a game or snap because of an injury in his four seasons in the NFL.

Hasselbeck, who just turned 40 on September 25, hasn’t started an NFL game since November 4, 2012 when he was with the Titans. He’s thrown 56 passes in the last two seasons. But it’s not as if he lacks experience. Hasselbeck has thrown for nearly 35,000 yards and 203 TD’s in his 17 year career that included leading the Seattle Seahawks to a Super Bowl.

So with a 40-year old quarterback and an inexperienced offensive line, the Colts will be a very different team facing the Jaguars today.

When the Jaguars are on offense, Bradley expects Blake Bortles and company to be thinking about moving the ball downfield quickly.

“I think every week we understand the importance of explosive plays. I think you see us we’re taking more shots, more shots downfield, because of the importance.”

Against the Colts, whether it’s Luck or Hasselbeck, Indy can score points. The Jaguars have to match that. Luck has more turnovers, 28, than any other player in the NFL since the beginning of 2014. If he gives the Jaguars the ball, they have to take advantage of it.

“We all know the scoring opportunities rise with explosive plays within a series, so it’s always important whatever week it is. That’s kind of our mentality,” Bradley explained.

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Mixed Injury Report For Jaguars Vs. Colts

It’s a mix of good and not so good news for the jaguars this week when it comes to who’s available and who’s not. Andre Branch will see his first action of the year since his injury in training camp. Luke Joeckel and Jonathan Cyprien will both be back on the field as well. Zane Beadles, Chris Clemons, Josh Evans, Davon House, Allen Hurns, Roy Miller and Tyler Shatley are all listed as probable with various bumps and bruises. House and Evans are probably game time decisions since their practice time was limited on Friday. Sergio Brown is also listed as doubtful since he didn’t practice all week because of a calf injury.

After not practicing all week as well, Marqise Lee has been declared out of the game against the Colts. His injury is officially listed as a hamstring problem but he continues to fight a balky knee.

“We’re getting our heads together and trying to figure out a way and what’s best for him,” Bradley noted addressing Lee’s continued leg problems during his career. “It’s a matter of how do we get him back to where he’s healthy for long periods of time? That’s kind of the discussion now.”

Perhaps the Jaguars best offensive lineman, Brandon Linder, won’t play Sunday because of a shoulder problem. Either Tyler Shatley or A.J. Cann will start at right guard.

Denard Robinson is out again this week and although they say they’re making progress, Sen’Derrick Marks and Julius Thomas won’t play against the Colts.

If you play the “what if” game in the NFL, which you’re not supposed to do, the Jaguars are playing without their best defensive player (Marks), their prized free-agent signing (Thomas) and their number one draft pick (Dante Fowler). Add to that the corner they signed to hopefully play man on the opposition’s best receiver (House) and the wide receiver they expect to stretch the field (Lee) and you have a roster that looks pretty depleted.

But Head Coach Gus Bradley was more interested in looking at the players returning than the ones that won’t play. He stressed that Branch’s return gives them more flexibility on defense.

“I think it’s good because we get another rusher on the field, that’s good, and then also just to keep guys fresh rotation-wise and especially so those guys on third down can really get going. He looks pretty good in practice so I don’t know if we’ll get to an exact count (of plays for Branch). I think you’ll see how those guys roll a little bit.”

Even though Sam Young did a credible job at left tackle during Joeckel’s time rehabbing his ankle, Bradley thinks Joeckel brings some continuity to the offense and some other skills Young doesn’t have.

“I think versus the run I think as far as pass and run Joeckel gives us that. I think his stability and what he brings to that offensive line group, again continuity is important and they practiced with him in there all during training camp and to get him back is a good sign.”

For the first time this week, Bradley gave some thoughts on being criticized as the head coach when the team isn’t successful. With just eight wins in his two-plus seasons as the Jaguars leader, Bradley has been given a pass by most fans (and media) since the team was in an obvious “building” mode. But this week, after the blowout loss to New England, Bradley was in the middle of the “what’s wrong” discussion.

“I think with this job criticism comes,” Gus said this week. “I think that you just know that and the fans are passionate. I think there’s an obligation to be truthful and upfront and say, ‘here’s what took place, here’s what I can tell you,’ and be very open and honest with them. With that criticism can follow but that comes with the job. I understand it. I take it as a sign that we have passionate fans and we tell them to come along this journey with us and be a part of it. When you’re a part of it there’s challenges and that’s okay. I’m good with that.”

We’ll continue this discussion on “Jaguars Friday Night” at 11:20 and tomorrow on the “Gus Bradley Show” starting at 10:30pm on Channel 4.

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Jaguars Move On To Colts

As the week progressed for the Jaguars, their routine started to take over and the focus went from what went wrong in New England to what can happen in Indianapolis. Head Coach Gus Bradley saw the progression from one emotion to the next.

“I would say that Monday it was tough when we went through everything and Tuesday you started to see them go down there and they were good, ” Bradley said after Wednesday’s practice. “Then Wednesday they showed up and it’s back to work. They were great. I was very, very pleased with today.”

Sometimes when things don’t go right, a team wants to fix it right away. In baseball, it could be the next night. In basketball and hockey it comes up pretty quick. But usually in the NFL, you have to wait a week. On one hand that’s good, but Bradley says on the other hand, the quicker they now move on the better.

“I think our team feels like they wish we could play tomorrow,” he explained. But we need these practices and they’re excited about the opportunity.”

For the second week in a row, Blake Bortles will take the field with a QB counterpart who’s an established star. Last week he was quick to point out that he wasn’t playing Tom Brady. This week, Andrew Luck, a little banged up (shoulder), is another player who can make the opposition look silly. The comparisons of young quarterbacks are inevitable and when you put Bortles in a division game, he’ll be head to head with Luck despite just now entering his second full year as a starter.

“I think similar feeling but I think way more prepared going into games now than I was 16 games ago,” Blake answered when asked if he felt different from when he went in last year against the Colts. “I feel a lot more prepared. I think just a better weekly routine of how to prepare; a better process has been put together. It’s still every week and every opportunity you get to go play is exciting, no matter if it’s your first or last. It’s an awesome feeling to be able to play football on Sundays.”

Bortles admitted it was a “Bad read and a ba throw to kind of compound it,” last week when he threw the interception to Devin McCourty at the end of the half. But he said he moved passed it right away.

Keeping with his development and going through his progressions is what Offensive Coordinator Greg Olson is looking for. It’s not getting the tight end the ball or avoiding mistakes. It’s just getting better every day, every play.

Olson outlined what he expects from his quarterback. “Blake’s concern is understanding where he’s at in his progression and one, two and three, and understanding match-ups when he does have the match-ups that we’re looking for with Marcedes and getting it to him.”

As far as having a tough time running the ball because defenses are filling up the line of scrimmage and daring Bortles to beat them, Olson said that was expected.

“We knew that going into the season that would be the case. Anytime you have a young quarterback, I think you’re going to have loaded boxes until you can prove that you can beat them consistently in the passing game.”