In the five years the Jaguars have played in London, they’ve tried all kinds of different things to figure out how to give themselves the best chance to win.
One year the team left directly after a game from Cincinnati. Dinner at the Montgomery Inn on the river, then a special TSA check, bus by bus, in a warehouse at the airport followed by a non-stop flight to London. They arrived on Monday morning, practiced all week with a regular routine and played the game on Sunday evening.
And the Jaguars got blown out.
So they tried something different, leaving on a Monday night, arriving Tuesday, practicing all week at a resort called “The Grove” (they played a World Golf Championship there. Tiger won.) With a regular practice routine on a purpose-built American Football field they had a routine practice week and played the game on Sunday evening.
And the Jaguars got blown out.
The following year they shortened the trip hoping for a different result. They left on a Thursday night, arriving on Friday morning. They practiced at noon at the Saracens grounds (a rugby team in London), stayed right next to Wembley Stadium at the Hilton and played the game on Sunday afternoon.
And they beat Buffalo 34-31.
So the next season they followed the exact same routine, to the minute, and beat Indy, 30-27. And the following year they did the same, blowing out the Ravens 44-7.
They seemed to have found their groove when it comes to playing in London.
Unlike traveling during the regular season in the States where the Jaguars have to charter their own plane, (Atlas Air 747 the last two years) the NFL has a deal with Virgin Atlantic for these London games. They fly the Airbus A340-600, one of the longest civilian aircraft made. It has 68 rows, three cabins and 48 first class seats. That’s one of the keys to chartering that particular plane. The players get the lie-flat seats up front.
That’s no guarantee regarding what might happen Sunday/today. Both teams are struggling at 3-4 and coming off losses. The Jaguars started the week as a 3-point underdog, so the odds makers don’t think much of the Jaguars streak nor their London routine. Their recent woes are helping set the line rather than the extraneous factors regarding travel overseas.
While the football team has settled into a routine, so has the front office side of the club. Between soliciting potential sponsors and entertaining clients, their plates are full. We’ve heard that the revenue generated in London enhances the Jaguars position in Jacksonville and that’s true. Business relationships developed through Shad Khan’s commitment to playing a game in London every year now account for reportedly nearly 20% of the Jaguars yearly revenue.
Their UK fan club has grown exponentially each year. The number of Jaguar jerseys in the stands has multiplied. While the game is still a celebration of American football for fans in Great Britain and all over Europe, there’s no question the Jaguars commitment to playing at Wembley every year has turned many of the general NFL fans overseas into Jaguars fans. Jaguars merchandise sales there are way up.
For Jaguars sponsors, this is the ultimate road trip invitation. Every sponsor gets invited at some point during the season to travel on the team plane to an away game. The game at Wembley includes the charter flight there for some, a stay at a luxury hotel, sightseeing in London and a few parties. Party venues have included the Tower of London (the whole thing), Kensington Palace and the Beatles’ Apple Recording Studio. Shad is really good at throwing parties.
Buying an NFL team has been part of Khan’s business strategy for over a decade. He was hours from buying the St. Louis Rams before Stan Kronke exercised his option. Shad bought the Jaguars shortly after that, having already been vetted by the league as a potential owner.
He had a plan in his head for whatever NFL franchise he eventually owned, in part to be his entertainment center in the US for his North and South American clients. It’s why he quickly expanded and updated the owners box in Jacksonville and wants to make games part of a whole weekend of entertainment including concerts at Daily’s Place. Clients come in from all over as Shad’s guests at home Jaguars games. He does the same on the road.
Entertaining clients in London at the Jaguars game at Wembley is an extension of that philosophy. It’s the same at Craven Cottage, home of his soccer club, Fulham, in west London. He’s petitioned and won the right from the City of London to build a new Riverside Stand at Craven Cottage, cantilevered thirty feet over the Thames. He’ll expand his entertainment facilities there as well to easily accommodate his UK and European clients.
Making an offer for Wembley Stadium was another piece for Khan, with businesses worldwide; to create a revenue stream that includes the Jaguars. It wasn’t a precursor to moving the team, rather another part of the Khan Empire.
Shad’s also really good at thinking of new ways to make money.
Among the questions that will need to be answered for the Jaguars before they go to London is about the starting quarterback. It’s nearly unheard of to take a QB out of the game because things aren’t going well. Yet Doug Marrone yanked Blake Bortles when things went south early in the second half against the Texans.
“The thought process behind [the quarterback change] was, you could take all eleven out, but you don’t have enough people to put in,” Marrone said in his post game press conference, as animated as he’s ever been as the Jaguars head coach. “It’s not like he played worse than anyone else out there.”
“I just literally did it to try to get a damn spark from this football team,” he added. ”To put everyone on notice that they have to focus and they have to go out there and play better. That’s not fair to the quarterback, but that’s the way this business is,”
Fair or not, Bortles didn’t like it. Marrone said he was “Pissed, I mean really pissed. And mad at me. And that’s good. If it was any other way I’d have a problem with that.”
“It’s obviously not what you want to hear as a quarterback,” Bortles said in the post game locker room when asked about his reaction to being benched. I was fortunate enough to watch Chad Henne go through that same thing and me be the guy that went in and played. I think he handled it with the utmost professionalism and that is what I tried to do.”
Getting the call surprised Cody Kessler, but he said that’s the roles of the backup: be ready. He talked to offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and went in the game. With encouragement from Blake.
“Every time I came off the field he was helping me out, telling me what he saw and kind of talking through it,” Kessler explained of *Bortles role once he went to the sidelines. “Every time before I went out there he came over and gave me a pat and said, ‘Let’s go, go lead them.’ You couldn’t ask for a better guy or a better quarterback room.
Based on what the Jaguars have to work with on offense, Kessler was probably the right move, especially at the time. The Jaguars are playing with their third-string left tackle; two of their best running backs aren’t playing, they don’t have a reliable tight end and the receiving corps has dropped too many crucial throws from Bortles. Kessler has a quicker release and is fairly accurate.
But Bortles is and should be the starter. I don’t have a big problem pulling him from the game based on what was going on and who was around him. But once the team gets some semblance of health, Bortles is the right guy.
“I still believe in Blake, Calais Campbell said in front of his locker. “I understand Coach’s decision, and I respect it. At the same time, I believe in Blake. He’s just got to take care of the ball.”
Pretty straightforward for Blake and actually the entire team. How do you get back to who you were and where do you start?
“You keep your head down and keep working. That’s all I’ve ever done my whole life,” Blake said. “It’s all I really know how to do. I think it’s the only thing you can do in this situation. Show up with a positive attitude and get ready to play next week. Whether I play or not is not up to me so I’ll be ready to go.”
“Frustration is a part of the game,” Campbell added, seeming to address the discord in the locker room as the media was being allowed inside. “We’re emotional people and this is an emotional game. At the same time, I think that these guys have a different kind of heart. Losing sucks. You want to stack wins. We’re stacking losses. That’s not who we are and not who we want to be. I do believe we will get it fixed. We have no choice but to get it fixed and it starts with just taking it one day at a time. Nobody should be happy losing. If you’re not upset, you can’t love this game.”
Campbell had to restrain Yannick Ngakoue in the locker room as the doors opened. It wasn’t clear who Ngakoue was going after but regardless, that’s not a good look.
“We got to keep guys together,” Telvin Smith said, not willing to address the situation directly. “We want you to love this team, this organization and love each other. We’re going to have to battle deep. We’ve dug ourselves in a hole. It’s going to take a lot to dig us out.”
It hard to figure Jalen Ramsey out when it comes to playing, production, what he says, what he doesn’t say. He’s been good, but not great, certainly not dominant. Maybe he’s fueled by some made up idea that it’s him against the world. So when asked about what’s going on, Ramsey had this to say.
“What you think, man? You all walk in here, you all see how it is in here. It is no secret what’s going on here right now. Ain’t nobody going to say it because we can’t, but it ain’t no secret what’s going on and it ain’t right right now. It is what it is.”
And what it is, is not good.
Working in Charleston I got a chance to come to Jacksonville to cover the Gator Bowl in the late ‘70’s a couple of times. After the 1978 game between Clemson and Ohio State (the one where Woody Hayes famously punched Charlie Bauman on the sidelines) I asked an usher on the way out, “What else do you do with this stadium?”
She looked at me like I was from another planet and said, “We have the Florida/Georgia game every year!”
As an out-of-towner I shrugged it off, not knowing the magnitude of the yearly contest. I also didn’t realize that just by saying, “Florida/Georgia” she identified herself as a Gator fan.
So when I moved here, I quickly realized there’s not much agreement across the border about the annual matchup, from how many times they’ve played to even what the game is called. I decided I’d list the current winner first after that, so this year, it’s Georgia/Florida.
There aren’t many games like it, if any. Perhaps Texas/Oklahoma, but that has the state fair going on at the same time so it’s not a fair comparison.
Georgia/Florida is a big deal. We need to make it a bigger deal.
Playing the game at a neutral site is unique, but between Jerry Jones in Dallas and Chick-fil-A in Atlanta, we have some competition when it comes to neutral site attractiveness.
And don’t think the game isn’t on other cities’ radar. Or that the two universities wouldn’t listen to suitors, or even think about keeping it in their own backyards. Their stadiums are plenty big and their fans plenty anxious.
Jacksonville has been the host since 1933 (except for 1994 and ’95 when it went home-and-home because of stadium renovations here). The current contract has a few years left on it so now’s the time to ramp it up and show what we can do. There’s about $14 million in direct spending on that one day in Jacksonville just from the game. The actual economic impact is well over $30 million. For one day. Imagine if we created a three-day festival around the game and really had some fun?
As big as this game is for the city I still don’t think we do enough as the host. It’s one of two days a year (the other being Gate River Run) that people come downtown for an event, some with no intention of going to the game, or running. And when it’s over, we just basically tell them to go home.
Aren’t city leaders always talking about how to bring people downtown?
Gator Bowl Boulevard is already closed to traffic, why not line it with street vendors and live music and make a real festival of the day just like we did when the Super Bowl was here? We ought to invest in some big custom balloons and fly a Gator over one end of the stadium and a Bulldog over the other.
A few years ago the city put up big screens in the parking lots to accommodate the fans who weren’t going to the game. Then-Florida President Bernie Machen nixed the idea saying it promoted drinking. I applaud Machen for the work he did in brining attention to the issue of over-indulgence at the game. But getting rid of the big screens wasn’t the solution. When they didn’t appear the next year all you had was crowds of people jostling for position around all of the little screens already in the parking lot. Bring those big screens back.
With the loosening of some of the alcohol restrictions at NCAA events, selling alcohol in our stadium at Georgia/Florida not only makes sense but it’s coming. It will take away some of the time-honored tradition of how to sneak cocktails into the game (my favorite is the bandoliers of shots strapped to your body that you can buy at liquor stores now. What ingenuity!) But it will also keep fans from chugging anything and everything before they get into the game.
We’ve taken steps to create a safer environment for our guests in town that weekend for the game. The JSO walks a fine line between keeping the peace and understanding what’s going on here and they do a pretty good job of it. The city has created safety zones for fans at the behest of both schools. There’s a better understanding I believe among the people who are going to the game of the pitfalls regarding the over-use of alcohol.
If we’re always talking about taking the next step in the city’s development, why not build on something we already have here?
I know it’s politically incorrect to call the game “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” but that’s what it is. When former Jacksonville Journal Sports Editor Bill Kastelz coined that phrase he knew exactly what he was talking about. And I’ve been to plenty of cocktail parties where everybody had a great time and nobody left drunk. So it is possible.
We need to think bigger. And do it fast. The sirens call of big money from other cities could easily block out the tradition that’s uniquely ours.
Don’t let that happen.
In 1994 and ’95 our stadium was being renovated so the game went to Gainesville and Athens. It was at that ’95 game in Athens; won by the Gators 52-17, that Head Coach Steve Spurrier called a trick play at the end of the game to add insult to injury.
“Calling timeout and running that trick play at the end of the game is the single most unsportsmanlike thing I’ve ever seen,” I told the HBC as he boarded the bus outside Sanford Stadium late that afternoon.
“Lawson (Holland, an assistant on the Florida staff) told me nobody’s ever hung half a hundred on them here so I called timeout,” Steve explained. “And we did.”
“I don’t care,” I said
“Come on Sammy, they’ll get over it,” Steve called over his shoulder as the door closed.
No they haven’t.
Just like some Florida fans still remind everybody about the 1942 game, a 75-0 drubbing at the hands of the ‘Dogs. And the ’68 game when Georgia won 51-0. Or the Mark Richt –inspired end zone dance in 2007, which begat the Urban Meyer timeouts in 2008, and on and on and on.
It’s an unparalleled rivalry. I liked it better when the stadium was split into quadrants but understand the “half and half” nature that was necessary after the stadium was reworked.
Being part of the game, Florida Head Coach Dan Mullen calls it, a “healthy” rivalry.
“A lot of times in college football and college sports there are some rivalries that are not as healthy,” Mullen said regarding what he’s seen in his career. “They’re tough, they’re nasty; they’re a great rivalry, but they can become unhealthy. I think this is a healthy rivalry between the two fan bases.”
But he couldn’t help but fuel the fire on both sides of the border when asked about the matchup at his first SEC media days appearance as the Gators head coach this summer.
“Listen, making it to one SEC Championship Game doesn’t make you a dominant program, you know what I’m saying?” he said referring to Georgia’s appearance in the Atlanta game last year. “I mean, two out of the last three years we’ve still been to the SEC Championship Game. So even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while.”
Mullen knows Kirby Smart isn’t creating a “blind squirrel” situation in Athens and I took his comments as evidence that he understands the game.
Should be fun.
It’s pretty simple math. Last year the Jaguars were 3-3 at this point in the season and finished 10-6. That means for the final 10 games of the year they went 7-3 and won the division.
But even Head Coach Doug Marrone knows this year is different.
“When you look back and we were 3-3 last year, but it was a different type of 3-3,” he said at his Monday recap of the loss to Dallas. “It was not the same as where we are right now. Right now, we need to pull up those boot straps.”
As in, they’re broken and need to fix it. Quickly. The Jaguars have suffered an inordinate number of injuries on offense and it appears to have broken their spirit.
At least for now. It’s the coaches’ job to repair that and get it back.
“We have to play better as a team,” Marrone explained.
I’m not going to stand here and say, ‘Hey, everything is fine. We will be OK.’ We are not. But, in saying that, the only way you go ahead and get through this stuff is you’ve got to work harder.”
We’ve heard that a lot in the past. Coaches love to say they need to “get back to work” when things aren’t going well. But this Jaguars team is different. Between the eight Pro Bowl players they have on defense and the success they’ve shown on offense, they’re better than what they’ve shown in three of the last four weeks. Something’s broken and they have to fix it fast.
“We can have all the talent in the world, but if you are not playing as one unit, the proof is in the pudding out there,” Safety Barry Church said in the losing locker room Sunday. “We have to come together to play as one. We will get the job done.”
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist,” Marrone admitted. “We are not a well-coached team and that starts with the coaches. That starts with me first. I am accountable to all of it.”
That might sound like the words of a coach who has some job security for taking his team to the AFC Championship game last year. But in this case those words are real. He’s right and he knows it. This team needs to be better prepared. And not by practicing harder, but by the coaching staff, across the board, finding that little thing that binds players together and makes them a team. Right now, they don’t have that. Marrone knows it’s more of an intangible thing that they have to find.
“Is it this person?” he asked out loud, rhetorically. “If it was just as simple as this or this or this, it would be easy. We would make those decisions and move on. But when you’re playing poorly as a team or coaching poorly, you have to take a good look at yourself.”
They don’t much like what they see when they look at themselves these days. But at least they own up to it. Team Captain Calais Campbell said as much in Dallas.
“This wasn’t us,” he said. “At the same time, we have to wear it. Because it is us. That’s who we are right now. The only way its going to change is the work we put in this week.”
At the team meeting on Monday the message was pretty simple: Either they can fight their way out of this as a team, or it’s going to be a long year.
There are plenty of places you can point a finger at but looking it as a whole is how the Jaguars are approaching a fix. There is one tangible thing the Jaguars can point to as a reason they’re not who they thought they are: turnovers.
“We are ranked 32nd in turnover ratio,” Marrone noted. ”Forget about all of the other stuff. Until we get that right … Because if you don’t get that right and you stay where you are, you are not going to win. We are minus-nine. That is correct. We are minus-nine. We are 32nd in the league, and I think that says a lot.”
Even though he’s not superstitious, I know I shouldn’t be writing about Josh Lambo and kickers this week. Lambo hasn’t missed since last year, either a PAT or a field goal so if he misses today, it’ll be my fault. Kind of like talking to a pitcher who’s throwing a no-hitter. Nonetheless, Lambo has something special going on.
This is his 4th year in the league, but Josh might not have been a kicker at all. He was a first round pick by FC Dallas in the MLS as a goalkeeper but broke his jaw seven minutes into his first game and eventually he turned to football. A strong leg in college landed him in San Diego for two years with the Chargers before the Jaguars signed him as a free agent last season.
“The successes as a placekicker I think came really from the failures as a goalie,” Lambo said about transferring his mindset in soccer to football. “In terms of just dealing with the adversity and not giving up.”
“I’ve worked with him on a couple things,” said Josh Scobee, the Jaguars all-time leading scorer who kicked for the team for 11 years.
“He doesn’t look like he needs any help right now that’s for sure. His kicks are right down the middle. What he’s doing is impressive.”
Mike Hollis was one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history during his tenure with the Jaguars from 1995-2001. He never worked with a sports psychologist but his thought process falls right in line with “trusting the process.”
“He’s obviously done extremely well,” Hollis said. “Josh is a very athletic kicker. With more experience comes more confidence and he has it.”
Hollis started Pro Form Kicking Academy is currently involved in a software company, Meal Prep Tech, but stays active in boxing classes and still kicks occasionally. He got involved with Pilates when he had back issues. “It’s great for our position, it l and strengthens muscles at the same time.”
“Brian Barker was a great help for me,” Hollis explained. “He said ‘don’t ever think you have to do anything different on game day. There’s nothing different with the field. The goal posts are the same. That separates a lot of guys who kick well in practice but don’t perform in games.”
Watching any football practice, you see the kickers off doing their own thing. It goes with the job. Lambo says he does a lot of Pilates and is a big fan of yoga for the physical “as well as the mental and spiritual benefits.”
That’s not something you hear from most NFL players but kicking is a mental game, more than physical. There’s the technique, the trust in the snapper and the holder but what’s happening inside a kicker’s head is the thing that most often determines a make or a miss.
“I always tried to dumb it down,” Hollis said. “Don’t do more than you need to. Dumb it down. If you get caught up as kicker thinking about things you’re going to go crazy.”
Last week Mason Crosby missed five kicks for the Packers, something Scobee says didn’t surprise him.
“I watched all the misses,” Scobee said. “His mechanics changed, he got short, not following through. You miss one it’s bad, you miss two and then the third one you’re pretty freaked out.”
Josh noted that he was lucky he didn’t have to kick a third one in a two-miss game playing for Pittsburgh that virtually ended his career.
“They cut me that weekend,” he explained.
“When I guy thinks too much about the result instead of the form of kicking, he’s thinking the wrong things,” Hollis said of the thought process that led to his success.
“I have definitely been studying mindfulness,” Lambo said. “And mediation is a part of that. Just being able to stay in the present moment and not let any situation get too big.”
“Most of the game is mental,” Scobee added. He worked with a sports psychologist starting in 2007 to get his mind right when it came to kicking.
“It was more about how to think positively, about how to overcome one bad kick or one bad game. Diagnose the problem, figure out what you need to do to fix that and do that. Don’t overthink it.”
“The most fearful thing was not knowing what to correct if I missed,” Hollis said on any lack of success he had. “That allowed me go dumb it down and go back to what I know. I tried not to care. Not that I wasn’t worried about my teammates or coaches. But if I focused on what I needed to do, I was confident I’d make the kick if I went back to everything I was supposed to do.”
“Every kick I made, I’d already made it in my mind,” Scobee said of his thought process before a kick. He had a routine before games, kicking from all over the field and he had a routine during the game going over things sitting on the bench.
“Practicing in your mind,” is how he described it. “There’s only so many kicks you can do on the field before your leg gets tired. Your body will respond to what your brain tells it so when you tell your body what it can do, it helps to make you successful.”
“I’d go out there during timeouts and halftime and change of quarters to visualize in my mind making a kick,” he added.
Routine is a big part of every kickers process, Hollis and Scobee agreed. They have a way they like do things; an order, and they stick to it. Lambo likes to have the media staff create a barrier around him when he’s prepping for a kick on the sidelines for a potential game winner so nothing changes.
Is that superstition? Kickers say no.
“If I am going to make the kick, it has nothing to do with what sock I am wearing or what shoe I put on my foot first,” he explained. “It is about me doing my job, and I can control it. External factors will not control the outcome of something that I do.”
So strong-minded seems like a prerequisite for any kicker. They’re in high-pressure situations, or so it seems, every week. But they don’t see it that way. Lambo says he acknowledges his thoughts, positive or negative when preparing for a kick and lets them pass.
“I do not live in it,” he explained. “If I am anxious, I am not saying to myself, ‘Oh no, I’m anxious!’ If I am anxious, I will acknowledge that I am feeling anxiousness. That is OK. I take a deep breath. I let it pass, and I rely on my muscle memory and my technique.”
And Scobee agrees.
“Pressure is a funny thing,” he says. “It’s usually for somebody who’s not prepared. I could prepare myself mentally for when I got out there on the field. I’d sit on the sideline and go through the whole process, including seeing the kick going through.”
And while Scobee and Hollis admit you have to be fully committed to be successful at that profession, they also agree that a certain amount of isolation is also important.
“I played my best when I paid attention to what I was going to do instead of everything else,” Scobee said. “I tried to be naïve to everything else and didn’t want to be the reason my team didn’t win.”
A game winning kick has special meaning and a special place in a kickers memory. Even though they’ve made the kick in their minds, as football players and members of a team, there’s some emotion when they make that kick on the field.
A 59-yard game winner against Indianapolis had Scobee running all over the field celebrating with teammates.
“I reacted that way because that was the first long game winning field goal that I had kicked,” Josh said recalling the moment. “I had a few more from shorter distance but I probably saved a couple jobs for another year or so with that kick. It was the emotion of what kickers dream of, being at home, and having such a positive impact on so many members of my team.”
And while the Jaguars had limited success during his career, he can only imagine kicking for a team that has this kind of potential.
“This is honestly the only time I’ve missed it,” he said. “I’m a bit jealous of the winning. Everybody’s in a good mood when you win.”
It’s fair to say the Jaguars are a good team looking for answers. Sunday’s loss to Kansas City exposed some of their flaws and gave a blueprint to the rest of the league of the game plan that beats them.
Four interceptions usually sinks a team’s chances for winning but when they needed a stop, the Jaguars defense gave up a methodical touchdown drive to the Chiefs that virtually sealed the victory. Blake Bortles was 33 of 61 for 430 yards but he couldn’t make the key throw when it was necessary. Right before halftime he could have given the Jaguars some momentum but an interception in the end zone ended another Jaguars foray into the red zone without points.
“Looking back, maybe we started throwing it a little too early,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said in his Monday press conference.
“Maybe we just were pressing too much early, meaning, what are we trying to get accomplished? You’re not going to sit here and say that, hey, we’re a team that wants to throw the ball 60-something times or whatever we did yesterday.”
They’re a team that would rather run it 60-something times, but now, with who carrying the ball? Last year’s first round pick Leonard Fournette hasn’t played much and has a hamstring injury that is one of those nagging things that never seems to get better during the season. T.J. Yeldon is banged up and is carrying a heavy load but you need more than one sturdy back in the NFL these days. Corey Grant is out for the year with a foot injury. That’s not good because he was the perfect change-of-pace back late in games. And Brandon Wilds is fine but he’s not experienced enough to handle the complex blocking schemes necessary to run the kind of passing game the Jaguars want to use.
So they’ll have to sign somebody at running back, as well as look for some help at tight end and on the offensive line. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins is on revocable injured reserve, meaning he can come back to the roster in six weeks. Josh Wells’ groin injury kept him out of the lineup for most of the game against the Chiefs. The Jaguars don’t know if his replacement, if he can’t play, is currently on the roster.
“If someone who may not be here right now but you’re going to count on to play, what can he do and how we can get him up to speed in a short amount of time?” Marrone noted when asked if he was going to be looking for replacements. “If not, what’s the best way to attack to give us the best opportunity to win and make plays? We have some options there. We’ll discuss some of the options in case Josh [Wells] isn’t able to go this week. Josh Walker is one of them. There are a couple of other ones. We all have to be ready to go and get ready to play.”
So Dave Caldwell and Tom Coughlin will be looking at everybody available whether they’re currently in Jacksonville or not.
There’s a rash of injuries on one side of the ball for the Jaguars, somewhat unusual but not unprecedented. Every team in the league faces this challenge sometime during the season. Marrone laid it out just like it is, in his normal matter-of-fact way.
“Attrition plays an important role in the NFL. I’ve said from the beginning; the best ability is availability. Guys are going to have to step up, not only at their position, but everywhere around them. They have to play well.”
If they Jaguars have to throw the ball sixty times a game, they won’t win much. So they’ll have to come up woth a game plan that fits the players who take the field in teal, black and white.
What will that mean?
“When you add and you’re missing some key players you have to play to the strengths of what they can do,” Marrone explained. “It is a challenge for us, but there are teams that go through those same challenges. It’s going to be on us as coaches to do a good job of putting in the right plays, going to the right people and being able to go and execute it.”
And as far as Bortles performance? While the offensive line was porous enough for CBS analyst Tony Romo to mention that Bortles had no time to establish a rhythm with in the passing game, Blake has to rise above that and make things happen. From Marrone’s standpoint, he sees the Bortles performance from all angles.
“From the standpoint of making sure we’re doing the right things, where we’re comfortable, when we’re not pressing, when we’re not trying to make plays, let’s just go through the reads, hit the guys that we can when they’re open. When there’s nothing there, put the ball down and run, and take a lot of that off of Blake and not put too much on him.”
What if over the last couple of years you became really good-looking? You know, you went to your 10-year high school reunion and you looked great! Would you know how to act? People would react differently to you; tell you how good you looked, asking if you’ve been working out or whatever.
That’s the situation the Jaguars are in for 2018. After nearly a decade in the wilderness of NFL also-rans, suddenly they’re near the top of the league’s food chain.
“We are past the point of thinking we have to go out and do something special to win,” Blake Bortles said recently.
And while he’s right, the team needs to start acting like they believe that. What do they see when they look in the mirror? Is it a still-forming team that is up one week and not sure the next as they’ve been in the past? Or is it who they actually are in 2018? A team that has the talent and experience to dictate what happens on the field every week.
They’ve talked about building the culture for this year and building it through trust. So trust Bortles, trust the offense and let them go do their thing. Even without Leonard Fournette, Blake and the offense can light it up.
No longer do they have to figure out how to play perfectly and exploit some other team’s weakness. Get on the field, kick it off and make the other team adjust.
A lot of fans are still seething from the Tennessee game and rightly so. Maybe the Jaguars had dipped into their emotional reserves a little too deeply by beating the Patriots. But it was as if Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was willing to play the Titans’ game instead of letting the offense be who they are. The game plan against New England and the Jets took advantage of the Jaguars talents and the opposition couldn’t do anything about it.
“If we get a good week of preparation like we should each and every week and practice is good and meetings are good and everyone is doing the things they should then we expect to win,” *Bortles added.
That’s a far cry from a few years ago when even if they played well, victory wasn’t guaranteed.
“You have to put in the work and you have to put in the preparation, but you can’t make the mistake of not understanding that it is a performance-based business and you have to do it on Sunday,” said Head Coach Doug Marrone.
They’ve put the work in, they’ve built the foundation they’ve acquired the right players and they’ve established a winning culture.
Now is the time to make everybody play YOUR game.
“With Doug coming in last year and Coach Coughlin and then bringing some of those older guys in – that completely changed the mindset of the locker room,” Bortles explained. . “It established the expectations of who we are supposed to be from within.”
″We have always talked about wanting to be as versatile as possible,” Hackett said this summer. ″If you put three tight ends out there and then a fullback out there and then all tight ends and all wide receivers and just always continue to mix it up, I think that is always something that you can really utilize to your advantage.
OK, fantastic, let’s see more of that.
In last year’s playoffs the Jaguars brass knew Buffalo couldn’t score against their defense unless something fluky happened. The offensive game plan was very bland, designed to win a low scoring game. The Jaguars won 10-3 and it was a nail-biter till the end.
As this team has matured, as Blake Bortles has matured, it doesn’t have to be like that any longer. This 2018 team can get it done in a lot of ways. Let them.
“There are different ways to win as far as what our game plan is and how we are going to do it,” Blake explained. “I think we are definitely at the point to where we expect to go play the way we play and be successful.”
“I think we have become a good enough football team and continue to get better to where you don’t ever want to think about it or say it, but we can struggle a little bit here and still find a way to win. We are a good enough football team to where we can win not on our best day.”
This version of the Jaguars has established a culture that can get things done on Sunday. And that’s what makes a winner. Marrone knows his team gets the work done during the week and is good enough to make it happen once they kick it off.
“Even if you go during the week and you are doing a great job, but when that Sunday comes, you have to be able to put that on the field and be able to perform,” Marrone said. “That is how you get labeled – by your performance. Not by how you practice or how you work.”
There’s something to be said for the resiliency of the Jaguars under Head Coach Doug Marrone. With their 31-12 win over the Jets on Sunday, the Jaguars are 8-1 after a loss with Marrone leading the way. In other words, they’ve only lost back-to-back games once: Last year to Tennessee and San Francisco at the end of the year.
All during the off-season and through the summer into training camp, Marrone stressed that each year is different; 2018 is not a continuation of 2017. You can see that with this team, but the common thread of resiliency.
“This is a different team,” he said. “There’s a different type of chemistry to it. That’s why I’ve always believed that every year is different. Every year you start from the beginning.”
It’s pretty common in the league for teams to split the season into quarters. In 2018, the Jaguars have gone 3-1 in the first quarter, losing only to the Tennessee Titans at home.
“You cannot rely on what happened in the past with the team because that was the 2017 team, which did a good job of bouncing back,” Marrone added. “This is 2018 and it’s a challenge for us.”
After beating the Jets, the Jaguars will go on the road. In fact, there are only four regular-season games remaining in Jacksonville, spaced out through the next three months. That might be a good thing according to former Jaguars linebacker Tom McManus.
“I liked going on the road,” McManus recalled. “That us-versus-them mentality. Like “The 300” just you against everybody else.
There is something to going on the road with no other distractions. No family, no ticket requests, all football all the time.
“Come in tomorrow and keep the same mentality all throughout the week,” said Dede Westbrook of the Jaguars mindset for 2018. “It’s going to be tough each and every week out there, but as long as we have each other to lean on, we’re going to be just fine.”
That’s an interesting thought from such a young player. “Have each other to lean on” is a concept a lot of teams never get to experience. Against the Jets, the offense came alive and the defense did what they’re supposed to do against a rookie quarterback.
“We knew that they were going to bounce back from last week not scoring any touchdowns and not really having the best game they could have,” said cornerback Jalen Ramsey. ”They trusted in each other, they trusted in the game plan and they went out there and did some great things.”
Post-game comments are usually full of emotion, up or down, but this year’s Jaguars have a measured tone. As if they still have work to do.
“I get a sense every week from everyone to win everything.,” defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said in the locker room when asked if he sensed Doug Marrone really wanted to win this game. “Here we go by quarters, and we try to win each and every quarter. We’ve got another game—great team we’re playing next week. We’ve got [Kansas City], and that’s what our focus is on now. Like I said, we’ve got to this win, enjoy it now—it’s in the past.”
“You look back to that stuff last year and you think about it,” Marrone said about getting the culture right for 2018 similar to 2017. “But again, I preach so much that everything is new and it is a new team, so I think we have to establish that now”
And that is true. Now is the time to establish what kind of team you are, and the Jaguars are on their way, being the favorites and knowing they can be in every game.
“I believe the way you establish that is learning from the past, being refocused, going out there, putting in the work during the week, the preparation, the extra things you need to do and then obviously going out there and performing on Sunday.”
They did that against the Jets and in three of their first four games looked like the team everybody thought they’d be this season. Now the hard part starts with tough places to play in Kansas City and Dallas on the road and a trip to London to play the Super Bowl Champion Eagles.
“Leaning on each other” will be the key ingredient for the rest of this year.
In this next “quarter” of the season, the Jaguars are away from Jacksonville for three of the four contests, the opposite of the first quarter. It’s a good test.