Football

Social Media a Fact of Life in Pro Sports

Walk into the Jaguars locker room during the “media availability” time on any given day and there will be a smattering of players arrayed in front of their lockers in various positions of repose with one thing in common: They’re all on their phones. Not talking on their phones, not texting, but looking at their phones, perusing social media.

“Media availability” happens four times a week for about an hour in the middle of the day, between meetings and around lunch. So it might be the only time the players have to check their phones.

While social media has given fans perceived access to their sports heroes, it’s also given players some ownership over a part of their public image and branding.

“My social media is about who I am not about what I have,” said Defensive Lineman Malik Jackson. “I’m fashion forward, so I post some fashion, some things about the team and some stuff about my family. That’s about it. Instagram is visual and written, that’s why I’m on it.”
We used to joke in the sports department about what goes happens on social media. “I woke up this morning thinking maybe Twitter would be nice today,” my colleague Matt used to say. “But then I got on it and.. . . Nope!”
Since becoming the NBA commissioner in 2014, Adam Silver has encouraged the use of social media league wide. So much so that it’s become an indelible part of the league’s culture.

“Those guys in the NBA, they’ve got a lot of time on their hands,” Jaguars Defensive Lineman Abry Jones said regarding what seems like the constant stream of tweets and post coming from NBA players. “Two hours here, two more there. We don’t have that.”

In 2018, the NBA has already been tweeted about more than any other sports league. The league’s official Twitter account has 27 million followers, 3 million more than the NFL’s. On Instagram, the NBA has 31 million followers, more than the NFL, MLB and the NHL combined. In the NBA, there are 33 players with at least 2 million followers on Instagram. In the NFL, there are nine.

But NFL teams are using social media platforms to expand their reach. The Green Bay Packers have more Twitter followers than the entire population of the Green Bay metropolitan area.

Jalen Ramsey is the most active and followed player on the Jaguars roster. Ramsey has nearly a million social media followers, three-quarters of those on Instagram. He’s created some controversy and has experienced plenty of blowback on social media. So much so that he recently tweeted, “I’m gone from here, y’all gone miss me. I ain’t even trippin lol.”

When asked who that was directed at, Ramsey said, ““Whomever. You have something to say, you have some negativity, I guess the fake fans, the fake … Whoever. Whoever.”

While the Lakers’ LeBron James has 44.5 million followers on Instagram, more than the top 12 NFL players on that platform combined, Sixers Guard J.J. Reddick has none. He deleted all of his accounts recently. He believes he was an addict and it was taking away from his real life.

“It’s a dark place,” he told Bleacher Report. “It’s not a healthy place. It’s not real. It’s not a healthy place for ego. It’s just this cycle of anger and validation and tribalism. It’s scary, man.”

“I encourage players to use social to interact with fans and the community,” said Tad Dickman, the Jaguars Director of Public Relations. “If they’re looking for a restaurant, I’d rather them ask fans on Twitter than just go to Yelp looking for a place to eat.”

At the beginning of the season, Dickman, a 29-year old a social media participant himself, conducts a seminar on social media use, gives the players a handbook outlining the do’s and don’ts and how players can use it to their benefit. While the NFL has a broad social media policy, most of the specifics are set team by team.

No game footage can be used and live streaming is prohibited according to NFL policy. For the Jaguars the rules are pretty basic: No pictures or videos that could harm the team. No pictures from the training room or the locker room.

“Just like missing a meeting or being late, violating the rules could involve discipline,” Dickman responded without elaborating when asked if the players could find themselves in trouble posting on social media.

Like any organization with young employees, the Jaguars warn their players about putting out too much information.

“I don’t want people all up in my business,” Jones said, explaining why he limits his social media use to Instagram and even there, not much. “I like to stay in touch with some friends.”

Most Jaguars players have limited their social media to the Instagram platform. And as Jackson alluded to, it seems that everybody on there owns everything and has a fabulous life going on.

“It’s all fake,” fullback Tommy Bohanon, an Instagram participant said with a laugh. “I like to keep up with some friends. I don’t post much, but I scan through it to see what’s going on.”

Bohanon said the negativity on his accounts isn’t an issue. “I don’t care what anybody outside this (locker) room says. They don’t know what’s going on anyway.”

“I’m just on Instagram, I got rid of the rest,” Offensive Lineman Josh Wells explained.

Any trolls?

“Me, no, not me. But I know guys on the team who really get it all over social (media).”

Which is why some players have self-imposed rules.

Famously, James halted his social media posts during the 2015 NBA Playoffs calling it, “Zero Dark Thirty-23” mode.
“No phones, no social media, I don’t have anything,” James said at the time. “There’s too much nonsense out there. Not during this time. This is when I lock in right now, and I don’t need nothing creeping into my mind that don’t need to be there.”
Golden State’s Steph Curry recently stopped his usual ritual of looking at social media at halftime.

“When everybody is watching your game every night, if you let one ounce of negativity or one terrible comment creep in, especially right before a game or at halftime or something, it’s probably not the best bet,” Curry told the Mercury News.
I asked Head Coach Doug Marrone if he’d ever been on social media, he laughed as he headed to practice.
“Never. No Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook, nothing. When I’m gone from here nobody will know how to find me!”
Probably a generational thing, but for sure, social media is a fact of life sports teams will have to continue to deal with in the future.

Georgia Florida is a Big Deal

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.

Recovery is the Latest in the NFL

There’s a scene in Godfather II where Vito Corleone is in his dimly lit apartment worried about his son Fredo.  Fredo has pneumonia and is being tended to by his mother and a nursemaid using a glass tumbler with a flame underneath. The thought was it would suck the illness out of his tiny body.  It’s a centuries old routine done by the Chinese, the Greeks and the Italians among others.  I saw my grandmother use that process calling it, “ta koopia” in her island/mountain Greek/English.

Who’d have believed that a modern-day version of that is considered “cutting edge” in the world of sports recovery?

“If after our evaluation you need cupping, we can do that for you,” said Ashley Isleborn who operates the Sports Recovery Annex in San Marco. “Cupping creates a vacuum effect that brings nutrient rich blood into the area.  It promotes healing and increases range of motion in the muscles.”

Watching the Olympics you probably saw local swimmer Caleb Dressel with round bruise marks on his back and shoulder in a pattern.  That’s from cupping.

The Sports Recovery Annex is one of about a half-dozen recovery businesses that have opened in town in the past two years.  They all emulate the tools and services training rooms for professional sports teams have to keep their players in the game.  Blue 32 is run by former Jaguars DB Drayton Florence. Current Jaguars DL Malik Jackson has part ownership in Recovery Zone in Riverside.  Professional golfer Russell Knox helped start Cryotherapy Jax on the Southside.

“We saw a need for a community type athletic training room,” Iselborn added. “We wanted to make the equipment and medical professionals that are available to professional athletes available to the general public.”

Cupping is just one of numerous new-wave tools athletes, from professionals to weekend warriors, are using to recover, recuperate and perhaps extend their careers.

“I do it all,” Jaguars Defensive Lineman Calais Campbell told me after the Patriots game. “Massage, cryotherapy, Normatech, GameReady, dry needling, acupuncture, you name it.  What ever I can do to get ready to play.”

Recent research has shown that active recovery is the next step in getting your body ready to perform again.  You might not recognize any of those product names, but they’re everyday happenings for current NFL players. Teams even have a hyperbaric chamber (the thing Michael Jackson used to sleep in) to promote healing.

Former Jaguar John Jurkovic once said that playing on the defensive line in the NFL is like “being in 42 car wrecks in the same day.” And anybody who’s played football knows the difference of being “in shape” or being “In football shape.”  You know that soreness that comes a few days into practice.  They even have a clinical name for it now, “DOMS.” Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.”

Cryotherapy is a three-minute process, getting into a gas-filled chamber up to your neck that cools down to minus 200 degrees.  Normatech is a full body compression system designed to flush the lactic acid out of your limbs.  GameReady combines compression and cold and can reduce swelling.  Acupuncture has been around for 5,000 years and is part of every NFL team’s recovery regimen.  And dry needling is just what it sounds like.  They insert these small needles into a problem area, hook them up to some electric stimulation and it helps “release” that muscle.

Teams all over professional sports have come a long way in a short time.

Former NFL running back Pete Banaszak laughs about guys smoking in the locker room at halftime in the ‘60’s and “70’s. “Biletnikoff was always walking around looking for a light,” he said.

“You’d do the hot tub/cold tub treatment but basically you were just sore all the time,” he added.

Twenty years later, Jaguars Linebacker Tom McManus was among the early adopters of an active recovery regimen.

“I’d get two massages a week,” he recalled.  “The first a deep tissue that really hurt, and one later to help me get loose. I’d see a chiropractor once a week during the season.  I’d get in a cold tub almost every day. Up to my neck.  That cold down to my bones I liked.”

I was walking into the Jaguars locker room in Stevens Point, Wisconsin during their first training camp when McManus’ teammate, running back Randy Jordan literally climbed into a trashcan full of ice and water.

“Nothing, I hate the cold,” Linebacker Telvin Smith said when I asked him what he does for recovery.  “A couple of massages, that’s about it.”

Quarterback Blake Bortles says he does some but he probably hasn’t given enough of the new tech a chance. He sticks to a routine.  “Massages, hot tub, cold tub, the regular stuff,” he said standing in front of his locker with a few cupping marks on his back.

“I was old school,” Guard A.J. Cann said of his thought process coming out of college.  “I’d just work through it and get back out there.  But some of the guys said ‘you have to invest in this’ meaning your body.  So now I do all of it.  Dry needling? It hurts, but it works.”

In his seventh year in the league, Safety Tashaun Gipson says his age has already caught up with him.  He’s now working on active recovery in a lot of ways.

“I don’t know, since I turned 28 I’ve really started to do some things,” he said. “I used to not even stretch before games.  Guys in Cleveland would make fun of me.  Now, our massage therapist says I get more massages than anybody else. You have to take care of this body.”

Like a lot of players, he’s taking it to a new level.  Shunning old eating habits, getting the proper rest, using the active recovery tools, Gipson says it’s made him a better player.

“I used to have taco Tuesdays, had to have my Chick-fil-a on Wednesday.  I could eat French fries with every meal.  Not anymore.  I’ve hired a chef and they’re making it right.”

Drayton Florence started getting involved in recovery after six years in the NFL.  He started “Blue 32” after seeing enough “Weekend Warriors” trying to stay active. He’s invested in almost everything that’s in an NFL training room, plus a mobile unit.

“You have a lot of gyms popping up all over the place.  People are beating their bodies up,” he said.  “I wanted to give the average Joe a chance for recovery.  A guy like LeBron James spends over  $1.5 million on recovery every year.  There’s a reason he hasn’t missed a game. You can’t compete at a high level without taking care of your body.”

Florence gives free treatments to military veterans on the 22nd of each month, hoping to help with their transition into civilian life.

“We started as a training room for athletes. People thought we were crazy.” Maria Rivera the owner of Cryotherapy Jax said.  “But we’re more spa-like now. About 80% of our clients are people who want to stay active; another 10% are working on pain management.

“Our clients want to stay off medications and are looking for alternative therapies to stay active.”

Aren’t we all?

Football Gambler: A Day in the Life

As a boss “Dirty Carl” was nearly the ideal kind of guy to run a bar in DC.  Well dressed, older than the staff, he commanded a level of respect because of his age and he knew the business.  He’d sit at the end of the bar, stay out of your way and hand out sage life advice to the bartenders and waitresses.  He’d disappear into his office for hours at a time, but it didn’t seem weird at all.

Because we all knew Carl ran the bar, but he made his money as a bookmaker.

“I’m worried that the FBI is tapping the phones and Carl is walking around here with the Racing Forum hanging out of his back pocket,” the establishment’s owner once lamented well before the dawn of the digital age.

Right on Wisconsin Avenue, the “Pour House Pub” was a popular haunt for local TV reporters and anchors and professional athletes.  So when football season rolled around, “Dirty Carl” was always on the floor, talking to everybody, gathering information.

I remember two rules Carl had about betting football: 1) Only bet the underdog if you think they can win the game and 2) Don’t try and get “whole” by betting the Monday Night game.

For the last 40 years, my fall weekends have been locked down covering football games all over the country.  I loved it, watching the passion of fans, the competition and the excitement and pageantry of the events.  So when my friend Wooly invited me to Las Vegas for the opening weekend of the NFL, I said yes thinking, “This will be something different.”

Watching games through the eyes of a fan is very different than watching games through the eye of a reporter. And both are VERY different than watching the game as a gambler.

Fans paint their faces, wear team colors and yell themselves hoarse during the game.  Reporters are supposed to be dispassionate, watch what happens and ask the questions most fans are wondering about. There’s even a rule posted, “No cheering in the press box.”

Gamblers are looking at numbers. They like the “action.”  Looking for a field goal here, a turnover there, and maybe a bunch of scoring from both teams in the first half to guarantee the “over.”

“Why would you watch the game if you don’t have a bet on it,” my friend Keith has said often.

I found myself last weekend at a sports book in Las Vegas surrounded by guys who had “action” on the games. Most were screaming at the screens arrayed around the front of the room after what seemed to be the most random events.

“That throws the whole line off,” the guy behind me moaned after a missed extra point.  In the first quarter.

After bringing breakfast to my friends at 9:30AM, our version of a “tailgate,” I didn’t leave that room until 6:30 that evening. The cacophony of sound and the visual and mental stimulation was eventually overwhelming.

Looking for some quiet, we went to a nearby restaurant and sat at the bar for dinner.  Of course there was a television there and the Packers/Bears game was showing. We weren’t too interested because we had the Pack, giving seven points, Aaron Rodgers was out of the game and they were already down by 17.  My betting partner and I sat there and watched as Rodgers engineered the greatest comeback of his career, and one of the best in NFL history.  When Green Bay took a 24-23 lead, as a fan, I was very impressed.  As a reporter, I was trying to put it in a historical perspective.  But I forgot, as a gambler, I should have a whole different perspective.

“Good, there’s some time left,” my cohort said as Randall Cobb scored the Packers third TD of the half with just over two minutes left in the game.

“What, you’re a Bears fan now?” I asked sarcastically.

“No stupid,” he scoffed at me. “The Bears will have some plays where Trubisky could do something stupid and we could get a defensive touchdown and a “backdoor” cover,” he explained.

So after watching Rodgers perform one of the great athletic feats in recent memory, my mind switched to rooting for a dumb play by a second year quarterback to grab an extra 200 bucks.

I thought, “This is no way to watch a game!”

But that’s what is happening all around the world with sports betting.  You can get a bet down on just about anything in the UK.  Betting parlors are on every street corner.  Could that be part of the sporting world of the future in the United States?

As the US Supreme Court has ruled that gambling on sports is legal, it’ll be a state-by-state question put to voters and legislatures.  Right now, Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware have legalized sports betting.  In Florida, question three on the November ballot will ask if voters should decide whether gambling should be legalized or the decision should stay with the state lawmakers.

But that doesn’t mean anybody in the forty-seven other states isn’t already betting on games.  Whether it’s an app on your phone or a digital connection to a bookmaker, over $93 billion is estimated to have been bet on college football and the NFL last year, skirting the current laws.

Fantasy giant FanDuel said this week that betting on the NFL in the opening weekend exceeded their projections by 300%.

I enjoyed the weekend with my friends and yes; it was weird not to be at a game on either Saturday or Sunday for the first time in four decades.  But I also found out you have to “stay in the game.”  I liked the camaraderie and the laughs, but fretting whether the Panthers would do something stupid at the end of the game and might not cover or wishing the Vikings would get a late field goal to pad their lead takes some stamina. Not to say It wasn’t fun and I would do it again.

I’m probably not the right personality to be a serious gambler.  I don’t like putting my money on teams I don’t like and I don’t like betting against my favorites.  I guess that’s why every time I was in Las Vegas over the last ten years I put money on the Jaguars to win the Super Bowl.  Which usually brought a laugh from the guys selling me the ticket.

By the way, over the weekend we made thirteen different NFL wagers for a net result of -$14, including the “vig.” Seemed like a lot of work and emotional investment no mater what the total. And I think it’s the first time in my life I didn’t go outside for the entire day.

But the Jaguars made me money.

Adding London games is fine for Jaguars, as a road team

We haven’t heard much about “the Jaguars are moving” story in the past couple of years. Los Angeles has two teams and a multi-billion dollar stadium being built. But there’s a new, albeit faint drumbeat about more games in London and fewer games in Jacksonville. By now you’ve probably heard what NBC’s Peter King said a couple weeks ago regarding the Jaguars potentially playing four games in London beginning in 2022.

It would be pretty easy for the Jaguars to play more games overseas. But I don’t think fans will accept giving up any more home games here at home.

So that’s not going to happen.

Next year, I think the Jaguars will be playing two games in London, one as the home team and one as the visitor either the week before or the week after.

I’ve said all along the Jaguars would play more than one game overseas. And not all in London. Shad Khan has said he would like to have a game in Germany or in Spain at some point and I think it’s possible by 2022 the Jaguars would have already played in one of those places.

And they’ll play at Wembley whenever they play in England even though the league has a deal to play two games at Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium at White Hart Lane. Shad is buying the national stadium outside of London and his team will always play there. Which means home or away, it’s a moneymaker for the local owner.

If the NFL really wants the Jaguars to have more of a presence in London how about one game as the home team, and a few more as the visitor all played over a three or four-week stay? While that means four games in London, it wouldn’t mean fewer games in Jacksonville.

I’ve been to every game the Jaguars have played in London and you wouldn’t know who was there as the home team or the away team. As the Jaguars have settled in on a schedule and gotten more comfortable with the routine, they’ve taken advantage of being the “home” team for the past few years.

Khan wants to have a base in North America to entertain clients and have meetings outside of a work setting. The Jaguars certainly provide that, both at home and when they play on the road in the States. Shad revamped the owners box here in Jacksonville, expanding it and making it pretty special to help showcase his team.

He’s building a new Riverside Stand at Craven Cottage in London, renovating the hospitality area to bring it up to a standard so he can entertain clients from Europe and beyond at Premier League games.

So from his perspective of using the NFL and the EPL as an adjunct to enhance his businesses, the Jaguars in Jacksonville and Fulham in London perfectly fit the bill.

“The fact we are playing one game a year at Wembley now, that we have other commercial interests in London and throughout the UK, has really made us stronger here in Jacksonville,” Jaguars president Mark Lamping recently told The Guardian newspaper in London. “I think most of our fans understand the role London plays,”

When the league wanted to expand the number of games in London, at first they couldn’t find enough owners willing to go. Now there aren’t enough games to accommodate the owners that want to play there.

Shad was way ahead of the curve, as usual, on this one and he’s gotten the other owners excited about taking their team to the UK.

Talk about the Jaguars playing in London, Germany or Spain doesn’t diminish the name “Jacksonville” in front of “Jaguars.” Au contraire, as the French would say, looking at it from the other side of the equation, it makes us the cool kids on the block.

Improvements around the stadium, the continued planning for a “Lot J” entertainment complex, the development of the Shipyards and a high end, world class hotel on the St. Johns river are pretty good indicators that Khan likes it here.

There’s even an idea floated about putting a giant sunshade over the stadium, like an arch a couple of hundred feet wide stretching over the structure from North to South.
“London strategically is really important to us and it’s really important to Jacksonville that the Jaguars don’t lose our position in London,” Lamping said. “Whenever you can include Jacksonville and London in the same sentence, it’s a good thing.”
“London is the NFL’s international primary focus. It’s a market they believe with appropriate amount of development over time could potentially be a city to host a full-time franchise,” he added. “Whether that ultimately accrues to the Jaguars or another team relocating there.”
That’s the first time I’ve heard anybody associated with the organization ever use “Jaguars” and “relocating” in the same sentence.

Of course, that’s exactly what the rest of the league, media and fans think.

Always kind of a mystery, Jacksonville didn’t have a sports identity outside of the city limits before the Jaguars were awarded. The only thing people knew was that it’s where the tolls were on 95 and it smelled badly. Getting rid of the tolls, cleaning up the air and the arrival of the Jaguars changed all that.

But outside of town we’re still the underdog city that’s always losing it’s team to somewhere, and is a complete afterthought among the league’s media.

If all you did in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh or even New York was go from the airport to the Hyatt, to the stadium and back to the airport, you wouldn’t know much about any city.

And that’s all they do.

They don’t see the beach, or Mandarin, Ortega or explore the St. Johns. Time constraints and just plain laziness are both to blame. I’ve offered to give tours to the guys I know, but have gotten no takers.

All I ever heard was, “You’re not getting a team!” when I’d show up at the owner’s meetings with the Jacksonville contingent. But we partnered with Wayne Weaver, did everything right, and were awarded the 30th NFL franchise.

Thanks to Weaver, who was popular among the ownership as a prospective fraternity brother (and that’s what the owners group is) and Roger Goodell, who was the city’s biggest patron inside the league office, the city that couldn’t, did.

And that didn’t sit well with anybody else. Baltimore, Memphis and St. Louis, where Weaver had a history, couldn’t believe it. And Charlotte did their usual look down their nose at us.

“Don’t worry Charlotte, you’re not Jacksonville” said one columnist in the self-proclaimed “Queen City” the day after we got the team. Charlotte was awarded the 29th franchise a month earlier and couldn’t imagine being put in the same category as swampy tackle box Jacksonville.

Of course Charlotte is so snotty they can’t even call their downtown “Downtown.” They have to call it “Uptown.” And they’re right, they’re not Jacksonville. No beach, hot as blazes in the summer and cold as you-know-what in the winter.

And the fact that we like it here just plain makes people from elsewhere angry. I was raised in Baltimore and my parents always say the attitude in Jacksonville reminds them of “Charm City.”

In Baltimore they don’t want to be D.C. or Philly or certainly not New York. In Jacksonville we don’t want to be Atlanta, or Miami or Tampa and certainly not Orlando.

We’re perfectly comfortable in our own skin. Winning season or losing season, we’re pretty happy with our team, who we are, our friends and the lifestyle.

Everybody can come visit and we’ll even show them around. And they can even move here. Just don’t tell us how fabulous everywhere else is now.

We’re not listening.

Coughlin culture still permeates Jaguars

As the Jaguars gathered this week in Year 2 of the Coughlin/Marrone era, expectations are high. While quick turnarounds are common in the NFL, the Jaguars’ “worst to first” in 2017 seemed to come out of nowhere.

Can a management and coaching change make that much difference? There are a lot of moving parts that should get credit for where the Jaguars got last year, but no question the tone set from the “Win Lunch!” introduction of Tom Coughlin as vice president of football operations had a lot to do with it.

“Do you think you’ll hire somebody established or make your own star?” I asked my source in the Jaguars organization late in 1993. The team had quickly begun their search for their first head coach shortly after being named the 30th franchise in the NFL.

“I think we’ll make our own star,” was his quick response.

“Then you should hire Tom Coughlin,” I said.

Only Joke In The Hall Is TO

I didn’t want to write this article about Terrell Owens snubbing the Pro Football Hall of Fame because it only feeds his problematic (maybe clinical) need for attention. But not going to the HOF induction is unprecedented, and fans, the Hall and even Owen’s supporters deserve better.

Upon being notified by Owens last month, the Hall took the high road.

“We are disappointed but will respect Terrell’s decision not to participate in the Enshrinement,” Hall-of-Fame president and CEO David Baker said.

This week the Hall said they’d basically ignore Owens during the Enshrinement weekend. HOF executive director Joe Horrigan said, “The focus is on the guys who are here.”

You hear that from coaches all the time about players who are holding out. The Hall is following the same procedure. They’ll mail his gold jacket on Saturday morning after the rest of the class gets their coats at the Gold Jacket Dinner Friday night. He won’t be mentioned that night or during the ceremony. But any time the class is announced as a group, he’ll be included.

And that all sounds about right.

Owens gave no real reason as to why he’s not going to his own induction. He didn’t show up with the rest of the Class of 2018 at the Super Bowl this year, so you figured something was up. He was vocal about the process of selection, calling it “a joke” when he wasn’t selected in his first or second year of eligibility.

For some context, you know the names, John Mackey, Mike Ditka, Carl Eller, Jack Youngblood, Jerry Kramer and Kevin Greene? All are Hall of Famers, all waited at least 12 years before they were selected and inducted into the Hall.

From a statistical standpoint, Owens is number two in almost every receiving category and made enough great plays to merit consideration and eventually selection to the Hall. But as I’ve said many times, if we call football “the ultimate team game” doesn’t what kind of teammate you are count?

As selectors we’re given very specific instructions on what to consider when discussing a Hall of Fame candidate. “On the field” is generally the guideline, but does that only mean between the lines on Sunday? What about practice and the locker room? Those count as well. If it’s just about the numbers, it would just easy to add them up and make a list every year.

But it’s not.

In that model Gale Sayers and Lynn Swann would have never sniffed induction. They don’t have the numbers. But they pass the “eye” test. When you watched them play, you knew there was something special about them, something that made them the best of the best. Former Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli falls into that category in my opinion. He doesn’t have the numbers but watching him play you knew you were seeing something extraordinary.

So getting “into the room” is a process that distills a large pool of eligible players, coaches and contributors down to just 15 to be discussed by the committee at our annual meeting. As the Jacksonville representative on the committee, there are confidentiality requirements regarding what I can reveal about the meeting but suffice to say, the opinions are spirited, pointed, well researched and sometimes contentious but they’re honest and authentic. Nothing phony gets into the discussion. Too many smart people in the room.

But here’s the thing: Owens in the Hall.

His enshrinement is no longer in question. Owens received the required number of votes on that Saturday in Minnesota and he’s going to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I don’t care what the reason was he didn’t get in during his first two years of eligibility nor do I can how he got enough votes this year.

He’s in.

He won’t have a special section, or a different place for his bust. He’ll be lined up with the rest of the 318 who have gained immortality in Canton. No mention of any of the negatives that have followed in his career, no asterisk saying he was selected in his 3rd year of eligibility, just a place among the select few who are considered the greatest in pro football history.

Once that announcement is made on the Saturday night before the Super Bowl, the selection process is over. As selectors, we don’t find out who gets into the Hall in each class until everybody else does. We vote at the end of the meeting and we leave. When the announcement is made, that’s when we find out.

There’s a big push these days for players to be “first ballot” selectees. That might be a thing in baseball with many more ballots and a very different process. Nobody ever asks guys in the Hall of Fame if you were a “first-ballot” or second or third or whatever.

You’re a Hall of Famer. Period.

And once that year’s class is named, I can tell you as a member of the Selection Committee, it’s over. The Committee moves on. The process is very serious and very difficult.

One thing it is not is “a joke.”

So I’m not sure what Terrell Owens is trying to accomplish by not attending the ceremony in Canton. If he thinks it’s a snub that will somehow “show up’ the Hall and the selectors for not honoring him sooner he’s sorely mistaken.

We don’t care. It’s over.

Hopefully my friends who have been Owens apologists over the years will stop telling me what a great guy he is.

He’s not. It’s that simple. Not anybody I want to be associated with anyway.

He says he’ll have his own celebration at his alma mater, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, on Saturday, August 4th a few hours before the ceremony starts in Canton. Not on a different weekend, not on a different day, just another attention grabbing stunt by a guy who has no concept of team.

Good.

Don’t invite me.

Career Transition Happens Fast, And Every Day

Maybe you’ve heard I had a dramatic change in my employment status recently. It can be quite a shock if you’re not prepared, but you make of it what you want. No matter what career you have, you’re always looking forward to the next thing, the next accomplishment. When you’re suddenly not in it any longer, it changes your routine, tightens your social circle and, despite it being a cliche, you learn who your real friends are very quickly.

So it got me thinking about how quickly a professional athlete goes from celebrity stardom, fame and in some cases fortune, to displaced back into “civilian” life. It can be a harsh reality for those guys who have played sports their entire career. If you made it to the professional level, regardless of the sport, your athletic talent made you something special starting in elementary school. You’ve been celebrated and in some cases coddled to maximize your performance most of your life.

Then all of the sudden, it’s gone.

Whether they had it taken from them or they gave it up on their own, the reaction has been the same: They didn’t want it to end.

So what happens when somebody comes by your locker, (in the NFL he’s called “The Turk”) and says, “Coach wants to see you. And bring your playbook.”

“It’s a combination of shock, disbelief and fear,” former Georgia, NFL and USFL quarterback Matt Robinson said. “What does my future hold? Why does he think I’m not good enough for this job? What have I done differently than when I made teams?”

Broncos Head Coach Red Miller made a blockbuster trade with the Jets to acquire Robinson giving up a first and second round pick and another quarterback, Craig Penrose to get Matt as his starter. A year and a half later, a new Head Coach, Dan Reeves called Matt in the office and said, “I’ve never seen a guy so good one day and so bad the next. So I’m going in a different direction.”

Robinson laughed telling me that story saying, “Although it’s the truth it doesn’t make it any less painful this many years later.”

“Sometimes it’s a personality conflict with a coach or a teammate who has more value to the organization. It’s not always about how good you are. Sometimes it’s about money. I was anxious to get into the business world so the transition wasn’t traumatic for me. I had a longer career than I expected.”

Robinson is active in the NFL Players Association; helping recently “retired” players with their move out of the game. The NFLPA and the NFL through their Legends community recognized the need for a real transition plan for most players.

“I don’t think anybody believes it the first time they’re cut,” Robinson added. “It takes three or four times early in a career to come to that reality. Veterans around eight or nine years in the league start to look for “The Turk,” knowing their day is coming soon.”

It’s coming, no matter what. It’s just a matter of time. If he’s smart with his money, a player could be set for life. The reality is a Sports Illustrated study showed 78% of all players in the NFL are bankrupt or in financial distress within two years of leaving the league. NFL Legends is trying to change that statistic, creating programs for continuing education, preparing players for jobs and life after football. Players have been part of a community in the locker room their whole lives, and suddenly they’re out of it.

“This ends,” I told former Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell in the late ’90’s once in the locker room when he was a player here. I thought he “big timed” me and blew me off during an interview early in his career. He kind of rolled his eyes and walked off. Years later when his playing career ended, we ended up working together on several projects and laughed about that conversation.

“You’re right. It does end. And quickly,” he said with a chuckle.

Brunell played 19 years in the NFL but still wasn’t ready for it to be over. He kept himself in shape, ran, threw and did whatever that summer, waiting for the call for his 20th year.

It never came.

“It takes a while to realize that it’s over,” he told me. Brunell has stayed close to the game through his work with NFL Legends, and as the Head Coach at Episcopal. “I’ve been benched, traded and cut,” he said. “I’ll be alright.”

Other guys don’t adapt as well. Michelle McManamon is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Jacksonville based “Operation New Uniform.” They mostly work with veterans transitioning out of military service into the civilian world. Recently though they’ve included athletes whose careers have ended and are looking to reconnect with reality.

“Whether it’s voluntary or involuntary, when transitioning out of the military, professional sport, or a business, our roles sometimes get confused with our identity. McManamon explained. “The quicker we understand that our roles don’t identify who we are and that it is our identity; self-image, self-esteem, self-concept, and self-worth that make up our being, the smoother the transition will be.”

Athletes are accustomed to an interview being somewhere on the field, usually starting with a 40-yard dash. Stepping into the real world requires some adjustment and new skills.

“We teach our clients the importance of asking high impact questions in interviews,” McManamon added. “This gives the interviewee the ability to maintain control and gain confidence throughout the interview process.”

“You spend every minute during the week trying to make yourself better on Friday for high school, Saturday for college or Sunday for the pros,” former Jaguars linebacker Lonnie Marts explained. “Then you don’t have that, and you’re thinking ‘OK, I’ll get back involved with my friends and family.’ Only to find out they also have lives of their own. You just didn’t notice.”

Martz has stayed close to the game as the Athletic Director and Head Coach at Harvest Community School. “Hey you need a job,” Lonnie quoted his wife saying with a laugh.

“I knew it was over when my agent called and said, “Nobody’s interested after your last workouts. It might be time to hang ’em up.”

“It’s kind of a fixed process,” Martz believes. “They want to slide the older guys out regardless of their talent. They tell you, “We don’t want you, and it’d be better if you went without a fight.”

It’s rare to see a Paul Posluzsny or Rashean Mathis walk away from their career as an athlete with some juice left.

“In my mind I was prepared mentally to stop playing,” Rashean told me. “I always told myself I was OK if I had to stop playing because of injury or whatever. I know that sounds counterproductive and not very positive but by saying that I was a little better in getting out.”

And even though he felt like he left on his own terms, the reaction of his mind and body somewhat surprised Rashean.

“Even when I stepped out, and I knew I was doing it, I was at a crossroads thinking, “What do I do next? What is my career move? Do I jump into something right away? Turn down coaching? A lot of stuff comes at you quickly and it takes time to sort it out. Your mind and your body has to figure it out at the same time.”

“I couldn’t look Telvin (Smith) or Myles (Jack) in the eye if I was a step slow and didn’t make a play,” Paul Posluzsny said at his farewell press conference. Paul knew he could still play, but he wanted something different.

“I don’t’ know,” he added when pressed. “Graduate school, something in aviation (he’s a pilot). When asked if coaching could be in his future he paused and said, “It’s something I wouldn’t not rule out.”

Former Major League Catcher Rick Wilkens said somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “It happened more often than I’d like to remember,” about being told he wasn’t in a team’s plans. “It bothers you a little less the older you get. I’m an old fashioned guy, being an organizational player. So when it first happened with the Cubs it was a shock. I had invested a lot in the community and the people there.”

Wilkens spent time with eight different teams during an 11-year Major League career. As a left-handed hitting catcher, he was a pretty valuable commodity. At one point Rick was one of only six catchers in MLB history to hit .300 and 30 home runs in the same season. He did that with the Cubs early in his career so being traded from Chicago had his head spinning.

“Nobody wants to hear ‘We’ve traded you to the Houston Astros'” Wilkens said. “Nothing against the Astros but you go through the whole spectrum of emotions. I got pulled off the field during a game and the manger Jim Riggleman said, “Rick, I don’t know what’s going on but I’ve been told to take you off the field. Go in the clubhouse.”

“I was surprised, shocked, in denial and then you get mad. I was trying to play hurt, so I was pretty agitated. But it’s part of the game. As you get older you get a little smarter and your understanding gets a little deeper.”

And despite the wisdom that veteran status gives players, and his deeper understanding of the game, Wilkens wasn’t ready to end his career when he stopped playing.

“My last full season (w/ San Diego) I felt like I still had a lot to offer the game. I was brought up that if you put up good numbers and caught and played the game how you’re supposed to play it you’d be able to stay in the game. I played independent league ball thinking I might get picked up but it didn’t happen and I saw the writing on the wall.” The evolution of the game kind of forced me out.”

Even success on the field didn’t soften the blow for Brett Myers. While they didn’t yank him off the field, after the 2009 World Series with the Phillies, they called Myers into the clubhouse office while he was cleaning out his locker to tell him they weren’t brining him back next year.

“I felt like I was slapped in the face,” Myers recalled. “I busted my butt since I was 18 years old for you, so 12 years’ later you just said ‘beat it?’ You’d think they’d have some loyalty, but it is a business. I told them when I left, ‘You’ll never win a World Series without me.’ I was more bitter than thinking it through, but they haven’t. I wanted to finish my career in Philly. These days a lot of front office execs are basically running fantasy baseball with guys careers.”

A 12-year career with four teams ended in Cleveland for Myers. The Indians signed him and kept Corey Kluber in the minors. When Myers got hurt mid-year, they brought Kluber up and he flourished. Brett talked with him at the end of the season in Cleveland (they both lived in Jacksonville in the off-season) and explained to him how good he was. Kluber won the Cy Young the next year.

“That’s part of your job late in your career, to help the young kids come up. Take them under your wing. I don’t want any credit but I just hope some of them said ‘He gave me some good advice.'”

So is Myers happy at this point how his career played out?

“Over the year’s I’m more satisfied, but I also realize when you can’t help a team anymore and you should just pack up and go home. I’m still frustrated how my career was jockeyed around and how it might have been different. I took the ball even when I was hurt. I just told them ‘Give me the ball.'”

“I was always musically inclined so I’ve always dabbled in music a bit,” he said of his post-baseball life. “That’s really helped. The adrenaline of getting on stage is like playing. And staying here was important to me. This is my home.”

So if “The Turk” shows up at your cubicle one day just know that all of these guys picked North Florida as their home after their athletic careers ended, voluntary or otherwise. And they’re all doing well.

(Author’s note: I just wanted to say thanks to everybody who wrote, emailed, texted, called and stopped me on the street to offer their support in my own “transition.” You’ve been very kind and I appreciate it.)

No TO, We Don’t Care

It’s rare to sit down and write an article you don’t want to write. I didn’t want to write this article about Terrell Owens snubbing the Pro Football Hall of Fame because it only feeds his problematic (maybe clinical) need for attention. But not going to the HOF induction is unprecedented, and fans, the Hall and even Owen’s supporters deserve better.

Upon being notified by Owens, the Hall took the high road.

“We are disappointed but will respect Terrell’s decision not to participate in the Enshrinement,” Hall-of-Fame president and CEO David Baker said in a prepared statement. “While unprecedented, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the nearly 5,000 volunteers and the entire community are committed to celebrating the excellence of the Class of 2018 that will kick off the NFL’s 100th season.”

No real reason was given by Owens as to why he’s not going to his own induction. He didn’t show up with the rest of the Class of 2018 at the Super Bowl this year, so you figured something was up. He was vocal about the process of selection, calling it “a joke” when he wasn’t selected in his first or second year of eligibility.

For some context, you know the names, John Mackey, Mike Ditka, Carl Eller, Jack Youngblood, Jerry Kramer and Kevin Greene? All are Hall of Famers, all waited at least 12 years before they were selected and inducted into the Hall.

From a statistical standpoint, Owens is number two in almost every receiving category and made enough great plays to merit consideration and eventually selection to the Hall. But as I’ve said many times, if we call football “the ultimate team game” doesn’t what kind of teammate you are count?

But here’s the thing: He’s in the Hall.

Once that announcement is made on the Saturday night before the Super Bowl, that process is over. As selectors, we don’t find out who gets in the Hall in each class until everybody else does. When the announcement is made, that’s when we find out.

There’s a big push these days for players to be “first ballot” selectees. That might be a thing in baseball with many more ballots and a very different process. Nobody ever asks guys in the Hall of Fame if you were a “first-ballot” or second or third or whatever.

You’re a Hall of Famer. Period.

And once that year’s class is named, I can tell you as a member of the Selection Committee, it’s over. The Committee moves on. The process is very serious and very difficult. One thing it is not is “a joke.”

So I’m not sure what Terrell Owens is trying to accomplish by not attending the ceremony in Canton. If he thinks it’s a snub that will somehow “show up’ the Hall and the selectors for not honoring him sooner he’s sorely mistaken.

We don’t care.

Hopefully my friends who have been Owens apologists over the years will stop telling me what a great guy he is.

He’s not. It’s that simple. Not anybody I want to be associated with anyway.

He says he’ll have his own celebration somewhere else at a different time.

Good.

Don’t invite me.

Anatomy Of A Pick: Jaguars Take Bryan At 29

It wasn’t flashy or a big splash but rather described as a “value pick” as the Jaguars selected defensive lineman Taven Bryan with the twenty-ninth pick of the 2018 NFL Draft.

Bryan is listed at 6’5″ and 291 lbs and was projected to “become an instant starter” by the NFL scouts at the combine.

So how did the Jaguars get to Bryan?

They were a little surprised that three offensive linemen were picked so early in this draft. They knew G Quenton Nelson and OT Mike McGlinchy would be gone before their pick but going in the top 10 was a bit unexpected. That shifted their focus to other players, and once the Raiders took T Kolton Miller at 15, it shifted their focus to the next four players on their board.

“We felt like we solidified a lot of needs in free agency so we could take our highest rated guy. And we did,” General Manager Dave Caldwell said.

Of the nine picks before they were on the board, the Jaguars had four players rated about the same. Leighton Vander Esch, the linebacker who went to the Cowboys at 19 probably wasn’t in that group because the Jaguars, and much of the league, thought he’d be gone before then. Back to back centers were taken at 20 and 21, not on the Jaguars radar. They might have liked Rashaan Evans, the Alabama linebacker taken at 22 by the Titans but he was gone. Not a pressing need.

Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn, listed as an offensive tackle was a nice player but not rated that high by the Jaguars. Probably not big enough. Listed at 6’3.” He went to the Patriots.

The next three picks are probably players the Jaguars were considering if they fell to them at twenty-nine.

“We thought with about 10 picks to go, one of the players we liked would come to us,” Jaguars VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin said.

It might not have been a top-heavy draft for receivers but D.J. Moore from Maryland was getting a lot of late attention. Even with third and fourth string quarterbacks he had plenty of production for the Terps. And he’s fast. Not unexpected the Panthers needed just that and took him at twenty-four.

Local product Hayden Hurst was a favorite in town and emerged as the top tight end prospect in the last several weeks. He would have filled a need, and at 25 years old, he’s got the maturity to step in and play. He spent two years in the Pirates organization as a pitcher before going to South Carolina to figure out a football career. Quite a story for a first round pick, the first ever out of Bolles. The Jaguars would have liked him, but the Ravens took him at twenty-five.

Was it possible Alabama’s Calvin Ridley would fall all the way to the Jaguars? Even though he dropped through the top twenty, there were still too many teams in front of the Jags to expect to get receiving help. In a surprise, the Falcons took him at 26, despite having Julio Jones, another Alabama receiver, and Mohamed Sanu as their starters. He was projected as an excellent slot receiver and could be that for Atlanta. Even if the Falcons hadn’t taken Ridley, he probably wouldn’t have gotten by the Seahawks or the Steelers, picking right before Jacksonville.

Coughlin said he took some calls from other teams but decided to stick in their spot. Bryan was the highest rated player remaining on the Jaguars board when they made their pick.

“Outstanding value,” Coughlin noted. Which means he thought Bryan would go higher.

‘He showed athleticism at the combine, that’s for sure,” Jaguars Coughlin said late on Thursday. “His 40, his vertical, his direction changes. He’s a solid young man.”

Running under 5 seconds in the 40-yard dash is impressive for a player his size, but it wasn’t just the “measureables” that convinced the Jaguars to take Bryan. Coughlin has always liked players who compete in the weight room as well as on the field and Bryan fits that bill.

“He’s a weight room guy,” Coughlin said with a big smile. “If I was a young guy like Bryan, I’d be getting Calais’ coffee to learn from a great pro like him.” Coughlin on Bryan’s personality.

“Is that what he said? Bryan said with a laugh on a conference call with local reporters. “I don’t know. I will have to see when I get there, I guess.”

With the success they had on defense last year, Bryan thought he might go to any team but the Jaguars. And he thought he’d go higher in the first round.

“Yes, honestly I was really surprised,” he noted. “I thought there was no way the Jags were going to pick us. You guys already have a bunch of Pro Bowlers and a bunch of great players. I was, ‘Well, they are definitely not picking me.’ Then you guys called me and it was awesome.”

Bryan said all of the right things you’d expect a rookie to say coming into a new situation in the NFL.

“It is a great opportunity. Those guys are Pro Bowlers. There is a mix of old and young guys. They are definitely good at what they do, seeing this past year. I’ll come in and try to learn everything I can from them and try to pick their brains as much as I can and try to do as much as a I can to help the team out.”

No Sure Thing In The Pro Football Hall Of Fame

Privileged to be in the room as the Jacksonville representative during the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame discussions, I’m annually surprised but never shocked at what happens during the selection meeting. When you get 48 people with an opinion talking about the same thing, the winds of change are always blowing. Players you figure going in are locks aren’t always that at all and others who seemed to float into the final fifteen without much fanfare turn into “can’t miss” finalists.

It’s unpredictable. Even among the selectors during breaks in the eight hour meeting the question, “What do you think?” is always met with the same answer: “Who knows?”

Getting to the final fifteen to be discussed by the selection committee is extremely difficult. That’s why listening to the presentation for each player is sometimes awe-inspiring and never disappoints. The players were so great during their careers that “I’m voting for that guy” is my first thought when his credentials are laid out.

Of course, of the fifteen, only five will get in, and the cut process from fifteen to ten and ten to five becomes more and more difficult. Sometimes the cut only comes because the committee figures a player will be back in the room again. Some of it’s a perceived slotting process, with one player waiting on another who’s been a finalist longer.

I know, it seems convoluted and perhaps even unfair, but that’s why it’s so hard to get into the Hall.

This year the three first-time eligible finalists all got in. Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Randy Moss were certainly Hall of Fame-worthy players. There’s a thought that when a player of that caliber becomes eligible, he should go in immediately. A “first ballot” Hall of Famer is a line thrown around by everybody as if it’s that easy. It’s not.

While this year’s class is the youngest every selected, where does that leave players who had Hall of Fame careers but didn’t get tagged with the “first ballot” line?

This year five offensive linemen made up a third of the finalists. Joe Jacoby was eliminated in the first cut, still leaving four in the final ten, including Tony Boselli. You knew they were going to cancel each other out in the next round; it was only a question of whether one might sneak through.

None did, confirming that it’s a logjam that might not soon easily be fixed.

No one questions Boselli’s greatness. He’s considered the second best tackle in the history of the game behind Anthony Munoz. But the credentials of Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson and Kevin Mawae are impeccable. All great players, all eventually get to Canton. But when?

You could make the distinction that Boselli is a tackle with the other three interior linemen. But if you pit one against the other, it never works out well.

That’s why all the talk of momentum and who’s on deck is generally wrong. Although he’s the next wide receiver “on deck,” there’s no guarantee Isaac Bruce will get in next year. Same with Tony. Or the other three lineman.

Tony Gonzalez, Champ Bailey and Ed Reed are all first-time eligible players in 2019 and look to be finalists. Do they have the “first ballot” tag that seems to spark outrage when they don’t get in? If so, that leaves two spots for 12 other players, at least four of them offensive linemen.

That’s why the answer inside “the room” will carry outside all year as well: Who knows?

The Argument For Tony Boselli

If there’s one sticking point to Tony Boselli’s inclusion as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it’s the perceived brevity of his career. The numbers are straightforward: Boselli played 91 regular season games plus six playoff games for a total of 97 games.

Games played is a good measuring stick instead of seasons since the length of an NFL regular season has expanded from twelve to fourteen and to the current sixteen games.

So by comparison, players who played about one more modern 16-game season more than Boselli who are in the Hall of Fame include:

Lynn Swann … 116
Earl Campbell … 115
Dwight Stephenson … 114
Kellen Winslow … 109
Paul Hornung … 109
In addition to the two players who were selected for induction last year, Kenny Easley and Terrell Davis, played 96 and 78 games respectively. In all, there are 32 players with less than 100 games played already in the Hall including: Gale Sayers, Dick Stanfel, Doak Walker and Cliff Battles. That’s about 12% of the total number of players in the Hall. So including a player with less than 100 games played takes a special talent and Boselli qualifies as that.
Having drafted Boselli with the second overall pick in 1995, Tom Coughlin saw every play Tony played. He called him the “cornerstone of the franchise” and believes Boselli lived up to the expectations.

“Tony was simply the best offensive tackle in the game throughout his career,” Coughlin said. “I never had to worry that his guy would make a play. Ever.”

Often called the best tackle to ever play the game, Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz agreed.

“In my opinion, after watching Tony Boselli play during his NFL career, is that he is one of the best offensive tackles I have observed.”

I asked Mark Brunell, who said Boselli was easily the best player on the Jaguars, if Boselli was the best football player he’d ever played with. The 19-year veteran and teammate of Boselli for Tony’s entire career said “I wouldn’t say Tony was better than Brett Favre, Reggie White or Drew Brees, but those are the guys he’s in the conversation with.” Pretty high praise and comparison to two, no discussion, first ballot Hall of Famers and a Super Bowl winning quarterback.

It’s no coincidence that when the Jaguars were relevant when it came to the post season in their infancy, it was during Boselli’s career. They went to the post-season four times in his first five seasons and twice played in the AFC Championship game.

You could call the era Boselli played in the “Golden Age of Tackles” in the NFL.

Willie Roaf, Jonathan Ogden, Walter Jones, Orlando Pace all Hall of Famers, and Tony Boselli had an overlapping career with all of them. Another tackle might not be a Hall of Fame finalist for another ten years. Maybe Joe Thomas and possibly Tyron Smith or Taylor Lewan15 years from now. So we’re talking about a special time from 1992 when Pace came into the league until he retired in 2009.

Statically, Tony compares favorably with all of those players. In an analysis of sacks allowed and yards rushing and numerous other categories, Boselli is equal to or above those other four.

Boselli was on the All-rookie team in 1995. He was All Pro three times, 4 if you count the 1996 selection by Sports Illustrated. He was named to five Pro Bowls.

He was named All-Decade first team of the 90’s despite only playing five years in the decade and one was his rookie year. He passes the eye test. If you saw him play, you knew you were watching a special talent.

Gary Zimmerman, in the Hall of Fame, was the other All-Decade tackle. Willie Roaf, in the Hall of Fame, was second team. Every other offensive first-team All Decade Player of the ’90’s has been elected to the Hall.

Everybody I talked to from Boselli’s era agreed that he was Hall of Fame material during his playing career. The perceived brevity of his career, 97 games, should be viewed in its perspective. It wasn’t so brief after all.

If the election of Easley and Davis last year showed that greatness is the overriding qualification for the Hall, Tony Boselli checks every box.

What Are Tony Boselli’s Chances? Inside The Hall Of Fame Process

It’s a long process to induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While the only eligibility for players to be retired for five years, the qualifications are stiff.

But they’re not spelled out.

If you were a Pro Bowl or an All-Pro player, you’ll get on the initial ballot, but pretty much any player who’s been out of the game for five years can be placed on the list through a simple call to Canton.

And that’s where it starts to get tough.

This year just over 100 former players were nominated for the class of 2018. That list was sent to the 44 members of the selection committee. Those selectors represent the 32 NFL teams, the Pro Football Writers Association, at-large journalists who cover professional football, and two current members of the Hall. The list has grown with NFL expansion as well as the desire of the Hall’s Board of Directors to include more “national” broadcasters and writers who don’t necessarily cover one team.

I don’t remember if there were many “at-large” selectors when I was asked to join the committee in 1995 as the Jacksonville representative but I do remember the committee was much smaller. At the time, pro football coverage was still dominated by the “legacy” writers and broadcasters of the game. Jack Buck, Will McDonough, Edwin Pope, Tom McEwen, John Steadman and Furman Bisher were all regulars. They were a tight knit group who traveled together, drank together and had definite opinions about who was worthy of induction to the Hall.

There wasn’t really a hierarchy, but certain members provided a little more clout than others. It always helped a candidate if they spoke up on their behalf. And almost always sank their candidacy if a negative opinion was offered.

Two things were certain in the early years of my membership on the committee: As the new guy I’d get lobbied by some other members to be a part of their cause and Jack Buck would always end the meeting with a hilarious, profane joke.

I’m not sure if I was the youngest guy on the committee, but the average age was 56 in the late nineties. It relied on some statistical analysis, but mostly on the “eye” test: Either a guy was a Hall of Famer or he wasn’t.

Now, the committee is younger, more broadly informed about everything that goes along with pro football (the explosion of information has helped that) and while the “eye” test is still a good gauge, statistics have a larger role in a player’s career.

From the more than 100 on the original list this year, the 44 members of the committee were asked to cut that list to 25, and then to 15. The 15 are called “finalists” and in the vernacular of the committee, they get “into the room” to be discussed at our annual meeting, the day before the Super Bowl.

The meeting used to start around 7AM and ended at noon because that’s when the press conference was scheduled for the announcement. Over the years that time has been pushed back to accommodate the meeting, and television, the NFL network, and now the NFL Honors show that airs on Saturday night.

Each player is presented to the committee by the media member from the city where he played the majority of his career. Sometimes two selectors will speak if a player, like Cris Carter, spent his career predominantly in two different places. (Philadelphia and Minnesota). The presentations are supposed to last about 5 minutes and are generally positive, although a player’s career is laid out including the ups and the downs.

A comment, question and answer period follows each presentation, so with 18 presentations including the contributor and the senior categories, it’s a long day. When I first joined the committee, coffee and pastries were offered before we started. Now the Hall of Fame staff provides two full meals.

Once the presentations have ended, a vote is taken to cut from 15 to ten, and then the ten remaining are voted on to cut the list to five. Even after that arduous process of getting to the final five, an up or down vote is taken on each of the final five with an 80% approval of the committee necessary for election to the Hall.

I used to sit at the meetings between Furman Bisher of Atlanta and Edwin Pope of Miami. Kind of an amusing coincidence since Jacksonville is between those two cities. Furman loved to talk about golf in North Florida, which courses he liked and what tour players he had no use for. He joked that he talked about golf since he didn’t have any Falcons to present to the selectors for the Hall. I can remember Furman making presentations for Deion Sanders and Claude Humphrey as players who spent parts of their career in Atlanta. By contrast, it seemed that Edwin was up and down in every meeting presenting the numerous Miami Dolphins who had made it into the final fifteen.

So I felt more like Furman than anybody else last year when I made the presentation for Tony Boselli. It was the first time in 22 years I’d been asked to make a presentation, with Boselli being only Jaguars player to ever make it into the room.

This year I’ll also present Tony to the committee. Last year he made the first cut to 10 but was eliminated in the cut to five. Sometimes that means a player has the support of a big part of the committee, other times it doesn’t. Sometimes there’s carry-over, sometimes there isn’t.

Nobody denies Tony’s Hall of Fame ability as a player. It’s the perceived brevity of his career that is the only sticking point.

That’s where there’s one difference this year that plays in Boselli’s favor. Last year’s class included Kenny Easley and Terrell Davis. Easley played 95 games, Davis 86. So length of career didn’t’ keep either one of those players out of the Hall and both played fewer games than Tony.

Will that matter? No prediction here out of respect for the entire process but I do think Boselli belongs in the Hall based on the criteria presented. With fifteen worthy players, including five offensive linemen on the ballot, for only five spots, the competition, like every year, is very tough.

Heartbreaking Loss In AFC Championship Ends Jaguars Season

If there was an early indication of how the AFC Championship game against the Patriots would go it was how the Jaguars would survive the original onslaught from New England. Gillette Stadium can be a tough place to play when the Patriots are rolling and the noise meter is rising.

Giving New England the ball after winning the toss, the Patriots zipped downfield, using mismatches putting wide receivers on linebackers in four- and five-wide formations. Tom Brady found the open receivers to drive it inside the ten.

But the defense came up with a big stop and forced a field goal and a 3-0 Patriots lead.

Right away the Jaguars offense responded behind Blake Bortles. On their second possession, mixing the pass to receivers and running backs and using Leonard Fournette in the middle of the line, the Jaguars scored to make it 7-3. Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was mixing up the calls and using Corey Grant going wide for big chunks of yardage. The Jaguars clearly knew the Patriots couldn’t keep up with Grant on the edge and he burned them. A nice play call for Marcedes Lewis who blocked then released to the end zone gave the 12-year veteran the first post-season touchdown catch of his career.

On the next possession the Jaguars did a lot of the same, this time Grant catching a pass in the flat and taking it to the four. Fournette bulled it in from there to give the Jaguars a 14-3 lead.

They are the Patriots so you knew they’d get something going. After not targeting Rob Gronkowski for the entire game, Tom Brady threw it to him 4 of the next five plays. A couple of incompletions and nice catch then a vicious hit by Barry Church on a ball up the seam was called for unnecessary roughness. Church probably needed to go lower there but Gronkowski left the game and didn’t return after halftime. Brady threw a ball down the left sideline to Brandin Cooks that was out of bounds but A.J. Bouye was called for pass interference. A really questionable call, the ball was probably uncatchable and Cooks ran himself out of bound as the ball was in the air.

A couple of more completions and James White scored from the one to make it 14-0.

On the Pats scoring drive the Jaguars defense was called for 47 yards of penalties. Seemed rather conspicuous.

Although there were 55 seconds on the clock, Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone chose to kneel on it and go to halftime with a four-point lead.

The pass interference play as well as a delay of game on a critical third down catch that was negated by the penalty were two of the key plays in the half.

Getting the ball to start the second half, the Jaguars moved it; converting some third downs leading to a 54-yard Josh Lambo field goal and a 17-10 Jaguars lead. Marrone showed a lot of confidence in Lambo there. He sure didn’t want to give the Patriots the ball at midfield.

The rest of the third quarter was a lot of give and take but the Jaguars defense found a way to keep the Patriots from crossing midfield.

With the ball inside their own ten a couple of times, the Jaguars did just enough to keep New England at bay before driving the ball to the Patriots 25 yard line and getting another Lambo field goal to make it 20-10.

Just when it looked like New England had found a rhythm, including a trick, throwback play, Myles Jack stole the ball and forced a turnover keeping the Patriots off the board.

But the offense couldn’t do anything with it and punted it back to the Patriots.

That’s when Tom Brady started doing his thing. Without any blitz pressure from the Jaguars, Brady threw it all over the field, including another throwback play and scored on a nine-yard TD Pass to make it 20-17.

In the 4th quarter the Jaguars running game disappeared. It was obvious the Patriots weren’t going to let Fournette get going. They swarmed Bortles on passing downs and the Patriots switched the field. A very mediocre punt by Brad Nortman was returned by Danny Amendola to the Jaguars 30.

From there a methodical Brady led offense moved it to the 5 yard line where Amendola caught a TD pass in the back of the end zone for a 24-20 lead.

With the ball, three timeouts and the 2 minute warning, the Jaguars had a chance to win the game but came up short despite a good effort. Bortles 4th down pass to Dede Westbrook was a little short after a scramble and it was deflected away.

With their three timeouts, the Jaguars were able to keep over a minute and a half on the clock but on third down they lost the edge and James White ran for a first down.

Sitting in the second row of the press box, Jaguars VP of Football Operations said, loudly, “Are you serious,” and packed his stuff, loudly, and stomped out, loudly.

Heartbreaking stuff, but classic Patriots and Tom Brady, doing just enough to send the Jaguars home and return to the Super Bowl as defending champions.

While heartbreaking, not completely discouraging. These opportunities don’t come around all the time, but without much change on the roster, the Jaguars could be good for a while.

Jaguars Come Alive, Upset Steelers, Head To AFC Title Game

It was thirty minutes of the unexpected in the first half between the Jaguars and the Steelers.

Getting the ball first, the Jaguars looked like world-beaters on offense marching right down field in eight plays covering 66 yards and scoring on 4th down to take a 7-0 lead. Leonard Fournette dove in from the one for the TD while Blake Bortles avenged a bit of last week’s criticism going 3 for 4 in the drive.

It wasn’t what the Steelers or their fans expected from a team that only scored 10 points last week against Buffalo. Heinz field was quiet and the Pittsburgh sideline bewildered.

It didn’t get any better for the Steelers as Myles Jack tipped a Ben Roethlisberger pass to himself and tiptoed on the sideline for an interception at the 18. Fournette scored off right tackle to take a 14-0 lead. Crickets in the stadium.

On the Jaguars next possession in the second quarter they marched it right down the field again, this time with T.J. Yeldon scoring from 4 yards out to take a 21-0 lead.

Unexpected, but watching the game it was a legitimately dominating performance. The Jaguars offensive line was gouging the Steelers front four while Bortles was composed and getting the ball to the right guys. It wasn’t perfect, but things were happening all in the plus column for the Jaguars.

Up until the 21-0 lead the defense was stopping the run, playing fast and putting enough pressure on Roethlisberger to keep the Pittsburgh passing game at bay. But then they started playing a bit off the ball, giving up chunks of yardage and the Steelers scored making it 21-7. La’Veon Bell was doing most of the work but the TD was a pass from Ben to Antonio Brown where A.J. Bouye never turned around.

Momentum seemed to shift but Yannick Ngakoue stripped the ball from Roethlisberger and Telvin Smith picked it up and ran 50-yards for a TD to take a 28-7 lead. Smith was called for taunting as he went into the end zone so the 15 yards on the kickoff gave the Steelers the ball at midfield with 2:20 to play in the half. It’s a penalty that really hurt the Jaguars because it put Pittsburgh in great field position and gave them a little momentum.

Still the defense was getting the job done, forcing a 4th and 8 at the 36 with time dwindling and Pittsburgh out of timeouts. That’s when Tashaun Gipson inexplicably let Martavius Bryant get behind him for a TD to put the Steelers right back in it at 28-14. It’s the only thing the Jaguars couldn’t do in that situation to allow Pittsburgh to gain some momentum, but that’s what happened.

As I mentioned, it was a half of “unexpecteds” on both sides. Nobody expected the Jaguars to get things done the way they did in the first half and giving up two long TD throws is about the last thing anybody expected from the Jaguars defense.

It carried over to the second half with Pittsburgh taking the opening possession and driving right down field for a TD. Roethlisberger showed great trust in Bell on a little circle route against Telvin Smith, throwing the ball in the end zone where Bell was going to be. Telvin never saw it coming and Bell made a great catch to make it 28-21. Now it’s a game.

All the momentum remained with the Steelers and their fans came alive as well. A couple of good plays by the Jaguars offense were negated by Brad Nortman’s punt being deflected giving the ball to Pittsburgh at midfield to start the fourth quarter.

That’s when the Jaguars showed some life, the defense stopping Pittsburgh on 4th down to get the ball at midfield. After a couple of runs, Bortles hit Keelan Cole for 45 yards down to the 3 and Leonard Fournette scored his third TD of the game for a 35-21 lead.

But the Steelers came right back, converting their second 4th down touchdown of the game, Roethlisberger to Brown in front of Bouye to bring Pittsburgh within seven. It felt like playoff football. The Jaguars defensive backs said all week that Brown was the best receiver in the league and he proved it on this day. Who thought this would be a 35-28 game at any point?

Again the Jaguars responded, this time with Bortles showing poise, patience and throws that he’s not known for in his time in Jacksonville. A critical 3rd down to TJ Yeldon on his third or 4th read gave the Jaguars the ball in Steeler territory. Then just a beautiful play fake and a small toss to the fullback, Tommy Bohanon gave the Jaguars a 42-28 lead with 4 minutes to play. It might be the “coming of age” drive for Bortles who looked the part of a playoff quarterback.

Again, the Steelers drove down and scored, a sandlot play accounting for the TD. Roethlisberger was scrambling past the line of scrimmage but threw it backwards to Bell who went the final eight yards for the TD. Still a game.

But the onside kick didn’t go ten yards and was hit by a Steelers player, giving the Jaguars good field position. A couple of Fournette runs (he was over 100 for the game) made it 4th and 1 letting Josh Lambo kick a 45-yarder for a 45-35 lead and 1:40 to play.

The Steelers had a desperation drive at the end that burned the clock and scored with no time left for a 45-42 win by the Jaguars. Before the game was over, the Jaguars were already an eight-point underdog to the Patriots next weekend in New England. Of course, they were a touchdown underdog here in Pittsburgh and nobody gave them much of a chance.

That’s what happens.

Jaguars In Pittsburgh, All Business

It should be a little colder than expected for the Jaguars/Steelers game on Sunday. Temperatures in the teens during the game could impact play; with the thought the Jaguars should get the worse of it.

“It’s just a couple hours of sacrifice,” Linebacker Telvin Smith said after the team arrived in the Steel City. “Just understand you gotta do it.”

Departing the busses in downtown Pittsburgh the team was business-like but still loose. A hallmark of the Jaguars this week.

“We ain’t been talkin’ we just been preparin'” Smith said.” “That’s what I love about this team.”

Does it help that they have a playoff game behind them?

“That’s the thing, na, I feel like it’s the next game,” Telvin added. “The next one, on the road. I kind of like it’s on the road. We took care of business (at home) so now it’s time to go on the road.”

“You add the word playoff game to it and people start to get jittery. I can’t say it’s all on the line because that’s what you play for all season.”

As one of the youngest teams in the league and the most unlikely playoff participant, the Jaguars have gotten a lot of accolades for their defense. It’s been compared to the historic Super Bowl winning Bears and Ravens defenses and even the Broncos of two years ago. None of that seems to have gotten to the Jaguars D.

“It’s flattering to hear a lot of this stuff. That’s why I’m happy. Nobody’s bought into this stuff it just, ‘let’s play.'”

Jaguars To Play Eagles In London

They’re not sure if it’ll be week 7 or 8 but the Jaguars will face the Philadelphia Eagles in London this fall. The game will be one of three in London for the NFL in 2018 including two at Wembley and one at the new home of Tottenham Hotspur, White Hart Lane. The exact date will be determined once the Jaguars and the NFL decide which week the team will take it’s bye next season.

Here’s more of the release from the NFL:

The Jaguars are 3-2 in London and have won three consecutive games at Wembley Stadium. It will be their sixth game in the NFL’s International Series. This marks the Jaguars’ third inter-conference game in London and the first since Nov. 9, 2014, when they faced the Dallas Cowboys in Week 10 of the 2014 season (L, 17-31).

On Aug. 21, 2012, the Jaguars made history by becoming the first NFL team to commit to playing four home games at Wembley Stadium. Jaguars Owner Shad Khan, along with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, declared that the Jaguars would play one game each season in the United Kingdom from 2013-16. That deal was later extended through 2020.

On Sept. 24, 2017, the Jaguars defeated the Baltimore Ravens, 44-7, in a Week 3 matchup at Wembley Stadium. The official attendance for the game was 84,592, a then-record for any NFL game played in the United Kingdom. WR Allen Hurns has caught a TD in three consecutive games at Wembley Stadium, and joins Brandon Lloyd and teammate Marcedes Lewis as the only played to catch three or more TD passes at Wembley Stadium. Lewis tied the franchise’s single-game record when he hauled in three TD receptions from QB Blake Bortles in the Jaguars’ Week 3 victory in London.

The Jaguars’ footprint in London continues to grow, as the team has registered over 75,000 fans in the U.K. and rank eighth among NFL teams in European NFL merchandise sales.

Jaguars Beat Buffalo With Defense,”Grit”

You never know how the big stage will affect teams and athletes when they’ve never been there before. Against the Bills, the Jaguars looked like they weren’t sure they belonged in the NFL playoffs in the first half.

On offense they were horrible. Between play calling and execution, they couldn’t get out of their own way. They had 84 yards on 26 plays. Bortles had more yards rushing, 35, than passing. He was 6-of-15 passing for 33 yards but a couple of scrambles at the end of the half enabled Josh Lambo to kick a field goal to tie the game at three. Leonard Fournette had only 16 yards on six carries.

Luckily the defense was stout as usual, even getting a turnover on Aaron Colvin’s first career interception. But the Jaguars couldn’t do anything with it.

Getting the ball to start the second half the offense moved the ball a bit. They actually allowed Bortles to throw it on first down and changed the field position. An exchange of punts gave the Jaguars the ball on the 14 yards line.

And that’s when the offense started to produce. After a 15-play 86-yard drive that took 8:52 off the clock, the Jaguars took a 10-3 lead. On fourth down from the one, after not getting anything done, Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett called for Blake to fake it and hit the tight end over the middle. After all that, they trusted him on 4th down and he delivered. Bortles hit Ben Koyak in the end zone for a seven-point lead.

It wasn’t pretty after that on either side. A few more punts and the Jaguars controlled the game with the ball at their 20 and six minutes to play. But they couldn’t muster enough offense to seal the game and had to punt. Twice. After a pretty good performance through three quarters, Brad Nortman hit two very average punts giving Buffalo the ball just short of their 40 twice.

Both times the defense got the job done, the second time viscously taking Tyrod Taylor to the ground and knocking him out cold. It was a scary scene when they rushed on the field to check him out. Finally they sat him up and Taylor wobbled off the field. That brought in Nathan Peterman who had a couple of completions and a run for a first down. But the pass rush got to him and forced an intentional grounding and on the following play Jalen Ramsey tipped the ball in the air in coverage and grabbed it for an interception before it hit the ground to finally end the game.

In his first playoff game, Blake Bortles had more yards rushing than passing, the first time that’s happened since Steve McNair did it the last time Buffalo was in the playoffs.

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the postseason mantra is win and advance and that’s what the Jaguars did at home. Don’t tell them it wasn’t pretty, they don’t care.

The Steelers are next, 1pm next Sunday in Pittsburg

Jaguars Home, Have Already Moved On

After a New Year’s Eve flight home and a look at the 15-10 loss to the Titans aboard the Jaguars charter, players didn’t see it much differently than when the left the field in Nashville: That’s over, it’s on to the playoffs.

“It’s what you fight so hard for, it’s what camp is all about, grinding those 16, 17 weeks,” said former Super Bowl champ Malik Jackson in front of his locker Monday. “We’re one of 12, we’ll continue to climb the ladder.”

As one of the few Jaguars with any postseason experience, Jackson can give his teammates a few ideas what to expect starting next Sunday against Buffalo.

“The game gets a lot faster, every play counts,” he added. “It’s critical. We can’t give up that screen (from yesterday’s game).”

A veteran of nine playoff games in Arizona, the Jaguars Calais Campbell agrees the postseason is different.

“Doesn’t matter what seed you are,” he said. “At this point, it’s anybody’s game. What you did in the regular season doesn’t matter.”

And in terms of preparing? Campbell said it’s up to each individual player to figure that out. Stay in his routine, and prepare to give more.

“Whatever you have to do to get ready,” he explained. “For some guys, it’s a little more focus. Just a little more. You don’t have anything spectacular, just do you job. Every play is critical. You don’t have to do anything extra.”

For a player like wide receiver Allen Hurns, the playoffs are something new, but he’s taking a cue from his teammates.

“Put the regular season behind us and start the playoffs,” he said, echoing the experienced veterans in the locker room. “We had a couple of rough games here and there but we’re playing in the most important part of the year, January.”

And it’s a special feeling for Hurns and numerous other Jaguars who have been around for a few years. Their seasons were finished with playing out the string games, mounting losses and thinking about some time off. Not this year.

“It feels good,” he said with a smile. “Some guys this time of year are making offseason plans. You have to go forward. They (Buffalo) will look at the film for the past couple of weeks but we have to put that behind us.”

With the game scheduled for Sunday at 1 o’clock, the Jaguars will have their regular home routine for the week. That means today some running and lifting to stay loose, off tomorrow and back to practice Wednesday through Saturday.

Jaguars Limp Into Playoffs

Whether they call it “a game of inches” or “on any given Sunday” or “playing above the x’s and o’s,” there’s an intangible you can feel when a team is playing winning football. It’s an edge, a little hop, a swagger in the body language that’s easily identifiable.

On their run to the playoffs, the Jaguars had that edge on both sides of the football and on special teams as well. Over the last two weeks since winning the AFC South Division title, it hasn’t been there.

With nothing to prove in Tennessee except that they’re a playoff worthy team, the Jaguars didn’t have that edge and now limp into the playoffs with more questions than answers.

Maybe it’s too much to ask of a receiving corps that didn’t expect to see much playing time across the board when the season started to continue to make plays at a high level. Without Marqise Lee but with Allen Hurns back, the Jaguars were still leaning on Dede Westbrook, Keelan Cole and, on occasion, Jaydon Mickens to get the job done. As good as they’ve played, they’re still not Hurns, Allen Robinson and Lee, the starting WR’s the Jaguars expected to have on offense.

With a short-arm and a drop in the end zone, Westbrook showed he’s not the complete professional package as a rookie. It’s a different game in the NFL and as talented as he is and as much flash as he’s shown, he’ll have to make those plays if he wants to be a solid, consistent and eventually great pro.

If there’s one constant, the Jaguars defense is legit. Consistently good, occasionally spectacular. A long screen pass/run by Derrick Henry for 66 yards showed the Jaguars susceptibility to getting overly aggressive, up the field, and out of position. But that’s rare. Pressure on the quarterback, tough against the run and able to score, the defense kept the Jaguars in the game through three quarters.

Then they scored, Yannick Ngakoue picking up a fumble in the backfield and ran 67-yards for a touchdown to bring the Jaguars within 15-10. They had only allowed the one long TD and 3 FG’s through three quarters to keep the game close.

There’s narrative that quarterback Blake Bortles is the problem, but if nobody’s open, there’s not much he can do. Except for the one ill advised throw, Bortles was on the mark, going through his progressions and throwing into tight windows. But without much help from the receivers, the offense sputtered.

They had a couple of chances in the 4th quarter but couldn’t convert. And although the defense had Tennessee on the ropes, Marcus Mariota danced around three defenders for a first down to seal the game for the Titans.

Things can change from week to week and the Jaguars have to hope they can flip the switch to get back to the team they were in November. Opportunistic on defense, confident on offense, the November Jaguars were the best team in the league. Bortles was the top rated quarterback and the lynchpin on offense. They haven’t looked like that team for a couple of weeks now and it’ll take a big transformation to win a playoff game, even at home.

Jaguars Dominate Texans 45-7, Qualify For Post-season

It’s not that the Jaguars beat the Houston Texans easily to qualify for the post-season for the first time since 2007, not even how they dominated all over the field winning 45-7. It might be who’s making plays for the Jaguars that are the biggest surprise.

Midway through the first quarter Marqise Lee left the Jaguars game against the Texans with an injured ankle. He was hurt on a running play of all things. Since the Jaguars only dressed four wide receivers for the game, it forced punt returner Jaydon Mickens into the game.

“Who’d of thought that in week 14 the Jaguars would be playing with a guy off the street, an undrafted free agent and their 4th round pick as their wide receivers?” my colleague Brian Jackson said in the press box. “And getting the job done?”

But that’s exactly what happened against the Texans as Blake Bortles and the Jaguars offense got untracked early and dominated Houston in the first half, 31-0.

Already with the top quarterback rating in the league in December, Bortles was 17 of 25 for 246 yards and 3 TD’s with a 139 rating in the first half. Only Mark Brunell had thrown for three touchdowns in the first half of the game in Jaguars history.

And all of it done with three guys catching it that didn’t figure to get much playing time when the season started.

“He worked and worked and did everything he could to make this team,” Jaguars Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin said of Keelan Cole when the original 53 man roster was announced. Cole was on the team, but pretty far down the depth chart with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Marqise Lee slated as starters.

Cole played at Kentucky Wesleyan in college and said after his first preseason game in New England that it was the largest crowd he’d ever played in front of as a football player. We figured out that the crowd at his first game was bigger than the sum total of fans that had ever seen him play throughout his career. Cole has great speed and made some catches in the preseason but a few drops also showed he was still a rookie. Nonetheless, he was pressed into action when Robinson went out with a torn ACL in the Jaguars opener.

When he was drafted in the 4th round, Dede Westbrook knew he had something to prove. From a Heisman finalist, Westbrook fell out of favor with NFL teams after some off-field, domestic violence issues. The Jaguars drafted him in the 4th round as a “prove it” pick and while he showed promise in the preseason, the Jaguars were deep at receiver and he was somewhat injured so they put him on revocable injured reserve. All he was expected to do was work, stay in shape, learn the offense and be ready. When he was activated, you saw on a couple of plays why he was such a highly regarded college player at Oklahoma. But he was still a rookie.

After being cut by the Raiders, Jaydon Mickens was out of football when the Jaguars signed him to their practice squad. Mickens and fellow rookie Larry Pinkard weren’t sure what their future would bring but they desperately wanted to be football players. So they slept in their cars in the parking lot of the stadium during their practice squad days.

“It wasn’t any big deal,” Mickens told us earlier this week. “We’d hang out at Marqise’s or wherever until it was time to leave at night and just go to our cars and get some sleep. Then we’d get up, go into the stadium, workout, eat, and spend the day there.”

In case you’re wondering, Mickens drives a Nissan Altima, so he folded the back seats down to he could stretch out into the trunk. “I’d use some towels or whatever to make a pillow,” he told us.

So when the Jaguars only had four receivers active for the Houston game, Mickens was pressed into service when Lee left with an ankle injury.

With those three guys on the receiving end, Blake kept his hit streak going, hitting Mickens twice and Cole once for touchdowns. In addition to the TD catches, Mickens caught beautiful corner throws by Bortles and Cole was the recipient of another great throw by Blake down the sideline that turned into a 73 yard reception and a first down at the one.

Add two Tommy Bohannon touchdowns from short yardage and everybody was getting in the act. The two Bohannon TD’s were from a position the Jaguars didn’t even have on the roster the past few years.

While Bortles is playing great and the wide receivers are “playing above the x’s and o’s” as Coughlin likes to say, the defense continues to dominate. If we’ve learned anything from the 2017 Jaguars it’s that defense travels. No matter where, no matter who the opponent is, defense can carry a team to victory. DeAndre Hopkins caught a touchdown pass over Jalen Ramsey in the third quarter to give the Texans their only points in the game. Ramsey was so irritated he wouldn’t let any of his teammates talk to him when he came to the sideline. It’s that kind of swagger and attitude, wanting a shutout, that allows you to win 45-7. (Corey Grant scored a TD in the 4th quarter)

Against an overmatched Texans offensive line, Calais Campbell recorded his franchise record 14.5 sack, helping bring the team’s season total to 50. Telvin Smith returned to the lineup giving defensive coordinator Todd Wash more flexibility.

While Houston is banged up and terrible this year, the Jaguars did what you’re supposed to do this time of the season against an inferior team: Beat them easily and move on.

It brings up some interesting scenarios for the post-season. Next week’s game at San Francisco has the possibility of clinching the division for the Jaguars. They’ve never won the AFC South since it was formed in 2002. Both of their division titles came when they were in the AFC Central.

Winning the division gives the Jaguars a home playoff game but it’s possible, if they win out, they could move up to the #2 seed, have a first round bye and play a home game the following week.

Pretty heady stuff for a team that won three games last year.

Jaguars Make Big Statement Beating Seattle, 30-24

There actually is a strategy to keeping Russell Wilson in check. The problem is Wilson is so good, so smart and such a good athlete that executing the strategy is a problem.

For the Jaguars defense, a combination of straight up field, stay-in-your-lanes rush, backed by the linebackers spreading across the field and man-to-man by the DB’s did just what Doug Marrone was looking for in the first half. “You can only hope to contain him,” the Jaguars Head Coach said earlier in the week, and that’s exactly what they did. Wilson had one scramble carry in the first quarter and another in the second for first downs but nothing that troubled the Jaguars too much.

A missed field goal by Blair Walsh at the end of the half kept the score at 3-0 Jaguars. It was the first time this season Seattle had been shutout through 30 minutes of football.

In the third quarter things were very different. It wasn’t Wilson causing the Jaguars problems but rather shortcomings of their own.

A nice drive gave the Jaguars a 10-0 lead, culminated by a TD pass from Blake Bortles to Dede Westbrook from 18 yards out. Westbrook ran a great corner route and *Bortles throw was even better, softly hitting the Jaguars rookie as he crossed the goal line.

A Seattle field goal made it 10-3 Jaguars but Corey Grant fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Seattle recovered. Wilson hit Doug Baldwin in the end zone to tie the game at ten and it looked like momentum had shifted to the visitors.

But on first down, Blake hit Keelan Cole on a deep corner for a 75-yard TD and a 17-10 lead. Cole had caught a couple of deep balls in the preseason but this was the first big pass play for him in the regular season, showing his speed and pretty good hands. Bortles throw was also spot-on, just like you draw it up.

Give some credit to the Jaguars offensive line for pass protection but also opening some holes for the running game. For the first time in several weeks, the five starters from the beginning of the year were back in the lineup as Patrick Omameh returned to left guard and Jeremy Parnell was at right tackle.

Again the defense stopped Wilson and the Seahawks forcing a punt. Jaydon Mickens broke through at the point of attack and scampered all the way to the one-yard line on the return. Leonard Fournette scored to make it 24-10.

A two-touchdown lead usually allows the Jaguars defense to rush the quarterback and create all kinds of problems for the opposing offense. That was true again as Wilson tried a long pass over the middle that was intercepted by A.J. Bouye at the two. It was Bouye’s second interception and the Jaguars third of the game. Jalen Ramsey had picked off a Wilson heave into the end zone earlier.

From the two, the Jaguars put together an impressive drive, mixing Fournette running and Bortles hitting Cole and Marqise Lee on crossing routes, chewing up time and getting a 51-yard field goal on the other end by Josh Lambo to take a 27-10 lead with ten minutes to play.

But Russell Wilson is Russell Wilson and somehow he escaped the Jaguars pass rush, ducking under two defenders to throw a 61-yard touchdown pass to make it 27-17. Wilson was about to be sacked but escaped, and still paused in the pocket to look down field to find Paul Richardson wide open. Tashaun Gipson either lost track of Richardson or expected Wilson to go down but either way it was an easy TD for Seattle.

Again, the Jaguars offense pounded it out of their own territory and chewed up some clock to get some points. Westbrook’s catch of a Bortles pass down the sideline was the highlight and Josh Lambo made it 30-17.

But Wilson somehow escaped another sack and threw a 74-yard TD pass to Tyler Lockett to keep the Seahawks in the game, 30-24. Wilson kept the play alive and there was a mix up in the Jaguars secondary as Lockett was wide open with Barry Church giving chase. Very unusual for the Jaguars defense to give up two long plays but there was no “give up” in the Seahawks to keep the game close.

A big run by Fournette on 3rd and 11 sealed the win in Seahawks territory but the game quickly turned ugly. In the “Victory” formation, somebody from the Seahawks jumped into the Jaguars line, meaning there was pushing and shoving and a punch thrown by Sheldon Richardson that got him ejected.

The same thing happened on the next play with Quinton Jefferson getting ejected and nearly going into the stands when a fan threw something at him. He was doing plenty of jawing coming off the field, but throwing stuff at players is low rent in itself.

Now 9-4, the Jaguars are in sole possession of first place in the AFC South with three games to play after Tennessee lost to Cardinals in Arizona. A showdown with the Titans is still possible in the last game of the year on New Year’s Eve to determine the division champ but the Jaguars hold the upper hand with games against Houston and San Francisco set before then.

One thing the Jaguars showed in this game was a gritty toughness they hadn’t shown before. They had a two-touchdown lead and nearly lost it but the offense was able to get some things done. When the Seahawks tried to make it a slugfest, the Jaguars responded in kind with ferocity that we haven’t seen in a while.

Looking like a playoff team, the Jaguars certainly made a statement in this one.

Jaguars Sweep Colts, Eye Post-season

In December, playoff teams emerge, playing their best football and beating teams they’re supposed to beat. No upsets, no cliffhangers, just a professional job on the field, getting it done and moving on.

That’s what the Jaguars were doing in the first half against the Colts at home on Sunday. Opening the game on defense, the Jaguars forced a punt and followed that with an 11-play, 80-yard offensive drive capped by a TD pass from Blake Bortles to Marqise Lee for a 7-0 lead. The drive featured a fake-punt pass play at midfield from Brad Nortman to James O’Shaughnessy for 29 yards and a first down.

More solid defense helped the Jaguars win the field position battle and a 10-0 lead followed after a Josh Lambo 30-yard field goal from 30-yards out. The Colts followed with their best drive of the half, featuring good runs by Frank Gore and a silly face mask/horse collar penalty by Myles Jack. That led directly to three points, 10-3 Jaguars.

But again, in a very professional manner, the offense marched right down the field, much of it on Bortles arm to score a TD on their next possession. Very effective use of the three running backs on the drive complimented the play calling and Bortles throws. Leonard Fournette was doing the heavy lifting on the ground. Chris Ivory was called on for some tough yards inside and T.J. Yeldon caught the ball out of the backfield on a screen pass for a first down. Blake’s throw to Keelan Cole for the TD was a pretty pass and catch, for a 16-3 lead. The PAT was muffed because of a bad snap.

It’s become somewhat of a bad habit for the Jaguars defense to give up yards allow the other team to stop some of the momentum after the offense gets a score. That was the case at the end of the first half as the Colts were driving for a score until Jalen Ramsey put a stop to that. On first down from the Jaguars 23, Ramsey laid out across the middle and made one of the best catches you’ll ever see for an interception at the seven and returned it to the twenty-five. Jaguars led 16-3 at the half.

Starting the second half with the same professional approach, the Jaguars marched right down the field and scored again, taking a 24-3 lead after the two-point conversion pass, a jump ball to Marcedes Lewis. The drive culminated with Fournette scoring and lining up the offense afterwards for a “free-throw” celebration. The best part of that was both Jeremy Parnell and Chris Reed stepping in the “lane” to block out on the FT attempt. Good fundamentals across the board.

Again the Colts responded, Jacoby Brissett hitting T.Y. Hilton on a crossing route for 40-yards and a TD. 24-10 Jaguars. The Jaguars defensive secondary was in a zone and Brissett had plenty of time to throw. Barry Church looked like he either missed him or passed him off to somebody else but either way, Hilton scored untouched.

Another drive by the Jaguars ended in a field goal and a 27-10 lead. Bortles was sharp and making smart decisions. He ran for a first down in the middle of the field and threw a beautiful pass to Cole down the sideline over the cornerback and in front of the safety to get the ball inside the ten-yard line. Both Fournette and Cam Robinson were hobbled by ankle injuries on the drive although they both walked off the field. Both returned.

A couple of punts were exchanged, a bad call against Yannick Ngakoue gave the Colts life but Tashaun Gipson picked off Brissett leading to another Lambo field goal and a 30-10 lead and that was the final score of the game.

This was a methodical, efficient win by the Jaguars who got the kind of game out of Bortles they’ll need the rest of the year and into the post-season. Smart an accurate, confident and strong, Blake got the ball to his receivers when they were open and they caught the ball and held onto it. When you have two rookies in the game (Dede Westbrook and Keelan Cole) who start catching the ball and making a contribution in critical situations, it fuels the rest of the offense and keeps drives alive. The return of Allen Hurns will give Bortles more options and a reliable receiver who will get open and catch the ball in traffic. Marcedes Lewis looks rejuvenated. The defense is solid, recording four more sacks against the Colts and hoping for the return of Telvin Smith. (By the way, Smith’s absence was the first time a defensive starter has missed a game all season.)

An 8-4 record with four to play, two at home and two on the road shows the Jaguars to be a legitimate post-season threat if this is the kind of professional performance they can continue to display. If they do, they’ll be a tough out for the rest of the year and into the post-season, no matter who, or where they play.

Jaguars Falter, Lose To AZ, 27-21

Without two starting offensive linemen the Jaguars didn’t have much to offer the Arizona Cardinals on that side of the ball. For the second week, Patrick Omameh and Jeremy Parnell weren’t in the lineup and it showed in pass protection as in the running game.

Against Cleveland last week, they got away with not much offense, getting a strong, points-scoring performance from their defense beating a Browns team that couldn’t muster much offense.

In Arizona, it was a different story as the Blaine Gabbert led Arizona offense was able to not turn the ball over, take advantage of field position and score 13 points in the first half to lead 13-3. There wasn’t anything pretty about it on either said of the ball. Field goals and a blown coverage by the Jaguars when Telvin Smith went out of the game with a concussion led to the only touchdown of the half.

After another Phil Dawson field goal made it 16-3, the Jaguars went seven plays for 75 yards to make it a one score game. Blake Bortles was the leading rusher in the game for the Jaguars with six carries for 62 yards and he scored on a 4th down naked bootleg. But when *Bortles is the leading rusher for the Jaguars it means the running game is not working. Leonard Fournette had 12 carries for 25 yards and never got going as evidenced by his longest run was eight yards.

So that leaves it up to the defense, again. A great rush up field by Yannick Ngakoue forced Gabbert to step up, giving Ngakoue another chance. The Jaguars defensive end took advantage of the situation, sacking Gabbert and hacking the ball out at the ten-yard line. That’s when Calais Campbell scooped it up and scored, giving the Jaguars a 17-`6 lead. As a free-agent acquisition, Campbell has been the biggest boon to the Jaguars, but he’s still a popular player in Arizona and no doubt he was feeling pretty good scoring a touchdown against his former team.

But as good as they played, one mistake by the defensive backfield let a receiver get behind them and score on a 52 yard pass from Gabbert. The two-point conversion was good and the Cardinals had a 7-point, 24-17 lead.

On the ensuing kickoff, Corey Grant brought it back inside the Cards, 40 and four plays later, Bortles scored again, this time from 17-yards out on a QB “read-option” play to tie the game at 24.

It had all the feel of and overtime game when the defense forced a three and out and the Jaguars offense took over deep in their own territory. A run on first down ran some clock and it appeared that Head Coach Doug Marrone was willing to get the game to overtime and take his chances. But a pass on second down was flat-out dropped by Marqise Lee to stop the clock. A run on third down allowed Arizona to call their final time out, making the Jaguars punt the ball.

“That’s my fault, “Marrone said after the game. “I got greedy and threw the ball on second down. Just should have run it and gone to overtime.”

While it’s laudable that Marrone would take responsibility for the call, you’d expect a professional receiver to make a catch of a ball right in his hands. But Lee didn’t do that, and it set up the losing end-game scenario for the Jaguars.

All along we’ve know how talented Gabbert is with quarterback skills and the two throws he made to get Arizona into field goal position were lasers and perfect. He doesn’t do that often, but when he does you see why so many coaches think he can be a big time player because he has a great arm and can really throw the “high hard one” as they say in the league.

That set up a 57-yard field goal attempt by Phil Dawson, which would be the longest of his long career. It was good with one second left on the clock and left the Jaguars on the wrong end of a 27-24 final.

At 7-4 the Jaguars are now tied for first again with the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South. Three consecutive home games start with the Colts in Jacksonville next Sunday at 1 o’clock.

Is there anything good that comes out of this loss? I don’t think any reasonable person thought the Jaguars would win out and go 13-3 so perhaps a loss like this will re-focus the team on what got them winning games. Their margin for error is small with the injuries up front and how the offense is performing. It’s not all on Bortles who’s playing without his top two receivers in Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. He can play better, but the receivers, Lee, Cole and Westbrook are going to have to make some plays to help him out and get the offense untracked.

As Coughlin says, some of these guys will have to play “above the x’s and o’s.”

Boselli’s Chances For The Hall? Pretty Good

Out of a list of 108 former players and coaches who were eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year, the Selection Committee, by mail vote, cut that number down to twenty-five “semi-finalists.” The Selection Committee has 48 members, one representative for each of the 32 teams and sixteen “at-large” members including two Hall of Fame players, James Lofton and Dan Fouts. This year there are 27 “semifinalists” because of ties. Twenty-five players and two coaches. From there, the committee will vote for the final fifteen. The fifteen, called “finalists” are then discussed, one by one, during our annual meeting on Saturday of Super Bowl weekend in Minnesota. A “contributor” and two senior candidates will also be discussed, and voted on, individually.

Jacksonville natives Safeties Brian Dawkins and LeRoy Butler and former Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli are finalists on this year’s ballot. Dawkins played at Raines and at Clemson before spending 13 years in the NFL with the Eagles and Denver Broncos. If he makes the final fifteen, the Philadelphia and Denver representatives again will present the case for Dawkins. He’s a semifinalist for the second straight year and it’ll be a surprise if he’s not a finalist in 2018. Butler spent his entire career with the Packers after starring at Lee and Florida State. He’s a semifinalist for the first time and if he makes the list of finalists, something that’s tough to do the first time you’ve made the semi-final list, it’ll be the Green Bay selector making his case.

As the Jacksonville representative, I’ll be asked to make the case again for Tony if he’s a finalist this year, outlining his career statistics and presenting testimonial evidence from his teammates, opponents and coaches. Boselli was a finalist last year, made the final 10 in the cut-down vote and gained plenty of momentum for the Hall.

“My career hasn’t changed,” Tony joked when he came by Channel 4 Tuesday night. “I’m not going to get any better, the hays in the barn.”

With that, Boselli summed up what many finalists face when they get to the last fifteen year after year but aren’t selected for induction. Of the fifteen, only five can be elected. Their career doesn’t change, only the circumstances of the other nominees. Sometimes it seems like a slotting process but statistically, if a nominee makes it to the finals, they have about an 88.5% chance of eventually being elected to the Hall.

What’s changed this year for Boselli and Dawkins is what happened in 2017. Safety wasn’t a position that the Selection Committee seemed to have a lot of faith in over the past 30 years. But Easley’s induction has broken the ice and along with Dawkins and Butler, John Lynch and Steve Atwater are on this year’s semifinal ballot.

For Tony, the general thought was that his career was too short. But the committee’s inclusion of Easley last year (95 games including playoffs) and Terrell Davis (86 games) show that the Selection Committee doesn’t consider that an impediment for entrance into the Hall.

With the change in the length of the season over the history of the NFL (NFL regular season had 12 games until 1960, 14 games from 1961-1977 and16 games 1978-present) and the expansion of the playoff format, the best comparison of length of career comes from games played rather than years in the league.

Tony Boselli played 91 regular season games and six playoff contests for 97 games played.

Players who played about a year more than Boselli who are in the Hall of Fame include:

Lynn Swann 116
Earl Campbell 115
Dwight Stephenson 114
Kellen Winslow 109
Paul Hornung 109 games
There are 30 players with less than 100 games already in the Hall including:

Gale Sayers, Dick Stanfel, Doak Walker, and Cliff Battles.

So the Selection Committee has recognized “greatness” as perhaps the only criteria that matters to be selected for induction to the Hall.

In what can be called the “Golden Age of Tackles” in the NFL, Boselli compares favorably with those of his era. On the All Decade team of the 1990’s Boselli is one of four tackles named along with Willie Roaf, Gary Zimmerman and Richmond Webb. Roaf and Zimmerman are already in the Hall. Roaf said he modeled his game after Boselli’s. Anthony Munoz, a Hall of Famer and considered the best ever at the position says Tony is one of the best tackles ever. Gil Brandt, the super scout, says Boselli is equal to Roaf and Munoz along with Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones, also Hall of Fame inductees.

It’ll be very interesting this year to see what happens in “the room” on that Saturday in Minnesota. It’s Joe Jacoby’s last year of eligibility as a modern era candidate and as a tackle. He’s been a finalist as well, but he didn’t make the final ten last year and Tony did.

If greatness is the only criteria, Boselli was that on every level as an NFL player. So don’t be surprised if they’re fitting him for a Gold Jacket in 2018.

Boselli, Dawkins, Butler Among Hall Of Fame Semifinalists

For the third consecutive year, former Jaguars left tackle Tony Boselli is among the 27 semi-finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

From an original list of 108 eligible players, Boselli joins Jacksonville natives Leroy Butler and Brian Dawkins along with Georgia’s Hines Ward among those the HOF’s selection committee will consider on the next ballot. Generally the semifinal list has 25 names but because of ties, this year’s list has 27. Fifteen players and coaches will be considered for selection to the Hall during the Super Bowl weekend in Minnesota on February 3rd.

“I’m not going to get any better than I was,” Boselli said with a laugh Tuesday night about his candidacy for the Hall. “They hay’s in the barn, my play’s on tape. It’s up to people like you (I’m on the PFHOF Selection Committee representing Jacksonville) to make a decision. There are 25 other really good football players on that list.”

Last year the Committee elected both Kenny Easley and Terrell Davis to the Hall despite the brevity of their careers. Both played less than 70 games in the NFL. Boselli’s career was considered short but he played in 97 NFL games. By comparison, iconic NFL legend Paul Hornung played in 105.

“There’s times I feel like, not that that I got cheated, but I’d have like to have played more,” Boselli added. “Don’t get me wrong, if God had come down and said ‘You’ll play in 97 games, take it or leave it’ I’d have taken it and run with it. But you fell like, ‘man I wish I could have done it a little bit longer.”

In his third year as a semi-finalist, Boselli will get serious consideration from the Selection Committee. Last year he was among the final 10 chosen. His quality of play is unquestioned and even Tony admits, at this point of the process, it can be a numbers game.

“They’re all great players,” he said. “When you get to the final 15, every one of those guys can make an argument that they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.”

Among the 108 original, eligible players, only five can be selected for induction into the Hall of Fame in Canton, OH.

After his high school career at Raines, Brian Dawkins played his college football at Clemson. He was a second round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles and spent most of his career there. He finished with three years in Denver. Dawkins made nine Pro Bowl’s in his career finishing with 37 forced fumbles, 16 fumble recoveries and 37 interceptions. He made his one Super Bowl appearance for the Eagles here in his hometown of Jacksonville, a 24-21 loss to the New England Patriots. It’s Dawkins second appearance on the HOF ballot as a semifinalist.

In his first appearance as a semifinalist, Leroy Butler gives Jacksonville three players among the final 27. Butler played for Corky Rogers at Lee before going to Florida State. He’s famous for the “puntrooskie” against Clemson where he ran 78 yards to set up the winning field goal. He was selected in the second round of the 1990 draft by the Packers and was a member of the winning Super Bowl XXXI team. He was four times an All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection as well as a member of the 1990’s NFL All-Decade team. He’s also remembered in Green Bay as the inventor of the “Lambeau Leap.” Butler finished his career with 38 interceptions.

First time eligibles Ray Lewis, Randy Moss, Richard Seymour, Brian Urlacher, Rhonde Barber and Steve Hutchinson are included in this year’s semi-finalists. As mentioned, it’s the first semi-finalist appearance for Butler as well as Leslie O’Neal, Simeon Rice and Everson Walls.

Making multiple appearances, as semifinalists are, Isaac Bruce, Don Coryell, Roger Craig, Alan Faneca, Torry Holt, Joe Jacoby, Edgerrin James, Jimmy Johnson, Ty Law, John Lynch, Kevin Mawae, Karl Mecklenburg, Terrell Owens, and Hines Ward.

Former Jaguars Jimmy Smith and Fred Taylor were among the 108 eligible players but did not make the semifinal list.

The Class of 2018 semifinalists includes 25 players — 12 on offense (RB=2; WR=5; OL=5); 13 on defense (DL=3; LB=3; DB=7), and two coaches.

To be considered for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a nominated player or coach must not have participated as an active player or coach for five consecutive seasons. The next step in the selection process comes in January when the semifinalists are trimmed to 15 Modern-Era Finalists. That list increases to 18 finalists with the inclusion of the recommended nominees of the Hall of Fame’s Contributors and Seniors Committees. The 2018 Contributor Finalist is former General Manager/Personnel Administrator Bobby Beathard (1966-67 Kansas City Chiefs, 1968-1971 Atlanta Falcons, 1972-77 Miami Dolphins, 1978-1988 Washington Redskins, 1990-99 San Diego Chargers). The two Senior Finalists are Robert Brazile (LB – 1975-1984 Houston Oilers) and Jerry Kramer (G – 1958-1968 Green Bay Packers).

Jaguars Do Just Enough, Beat Browns 19-7

With a makeshift offensive line, cool weather and a little bit of snow in the forecast the Jaguars knew going into the game they’d have to just grind it out if they wanted to come home from Cleveland with a win. They did just that with 139 yards rushing, 111 from Leonard Fournette and beat the Browns 19-7.

“We want to be tough,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said after the game. “But I think it is how we finish. That will be the point where people look back and say that this is a tough team. We’ve done some things that have helped us along that line, but if you start playing in November and December, you have to have both mental and physical toughness to win games.”

More importantly, the Jaguars defense again rose to the occasion, creating turnovers, scoring points and keeping the Browns in check for most of the game. A mix-up between Telvin Smith and Tashaun Gipson allowed Cleveland their only TD, a 27 yard pass in the second quarter. Outside of that, they were pretty flawless. The Browns had four yards of offense in the first quarter. DeShone Kizer was 15 of 32 passing for 179 yards but threw two interceptions. He was Cleveland’s leading rusher as well with 22 yards on five carries. They never really threatened as the Jaguars defense kept the score at 10-7, 13-7 and then scored on a sack/fumble for the final score at 19-7.

“We were able to just go down there and when we put it on our backs,” said Jaguars Safety Barry Church. “We’ve responded so far this season. We just need to keep doing that – put the team on our backs and when stuff gets sticky for the offense, like it did this game, we have got to be able to pull through on the defense side of the ball.”

It’s been a different player each week for the Jaguars defense and instead of the inside guys like Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson, it was the outside pressure of Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler that kept the Browns offense off balance. Ngakoue had 2½ sacks and caused a fumble. Fowler was in the backfield and picked up a Kiser fumble that should have been ruled a touchdown. Instead, the Jaguars got the ball, punted it after a three and out, and the defense scored anyway.

“The defensive line is just so good, you never know ” Jaguars Safety Tashaun Gipson said after predicting that the Jaguars could shut out his former team this week. “t could be one of five different guys, (DT) Dareus (Marcell), (DL) Malik (Jackson), (DL) Calais (Campbell), (DE) Yannick (Ngakoue), or (DE Dante) Fowlers Jr., so the last play I did not get a chance to see. We have one of the better pass runners in the NFL (Ngakoue) and he took advantage and took his opportunities.”

It’s not the kind of game they’ll showcase on their resume but again they came away with a win. Their 7-3 record is the best after ten games in ten years. With a one game lead in the division, it’s the first time the Jaguars have led the division since 1999. And that’s when they were in the AFC Central.

We keep saying they’ll have to play better but they’re doing just enough to win. Last week against the Chargers at home and this week on the road in Cleveland they looked sloppy, out of sync on offense, had very little passing game but figured out a way to win. Neither LA nor the Browns are world-beaters but the rest of the Jaguars schedule isn’t full of winning teams either.

With the best defense in the league, they still look like playoff contenders. A little offense would get them plenty of attention as a legitimate post-season team.

“The season is still rolling,” said Quarterback Blake Bortles. “We’re in first place right now, but we have a while to go and our goal is to win the AFC South. We’re in a good position and we control our own destiny, but we need to keep rolling, getting things fixed and finding ways to win.”

Next week they’ll travel to Arizona to take on the Blaine Gabbert-led Cardinals before three straight home games in December against the Colts, Seahawks and Texans. With seven wins, it’s possible the Jaguars could wrap up a playoff spot before their final two road games at San Francisco and Tennessee. They’re hoping their trip to Nashville on New Year’s Even doesn’t mean much.

Hard to believe in just one year, that’s a real possibility.

Unlike Previous Years, Jaguars Find A Way To Win 20-17 In OT

In his career against the Jaguars, Phillip Rivers has Hall of Fame numbers. He’ll get Hall consideration for his entire body of work in the NFL but against the Jaguars he’s been stellar. His almost-perfect quarterback rating only surpasses his 74.4% completion average along with his 15 touchdowns and no interceptions.

Even Doug Marrone said, “You’re talking about a player that has probably played as well against our team as any player that has ever played.”

So to even slow him down a bit in the first half was a victory for the Jaguars. Despite a variety of mistakes, missed tackles, drops and penalties, the Jaguars led 6-0 on the back of a fake punt TD run by Corey Grant. The extra point was blocked, the first of Josh Lambo’s career in Jacksonville.

Regardless of how different the Jaguars defense is as well as their mindset, Rivers is an elite quarterback so it was no surprise when he moved the Chargers on a 7-play, 87 yard TD drive in just under three minutes inside the two-minute warning to give LA a 7-6 lead. Bad tackling by the Jaguars defensive backfield allowed the Chargers to covert a third down and gave up the touchdown. Plus a zone defense call on third and long allowed Rivers to convert around midfield. If you’re going to play zone and not get to the quarterback, you’re going to get beat.

Neither team played great in the first half, willing to play field position trying to overcome average performance and a bunch of penalties. There wasn’t much to like about the game for the Jaguars fans. No offense and average defense. As if the team was getting another wakeup call about consistent play that’s a necessity for winning in the NFL.

Toward the end of the 3rd quarter Bortles really came alive. Starting from their own 16 yard line, Blake was 7 of 11 driving for a TD. Even his incompletions were smart, or a result of pass interference (not called). The noticeable trust he has in his receivers, especially Marqise Lee, Marcedes Lewis and Leonard Fournette is allowing Blake to throw on time and letting guys run themselves open. Both the TD throw and the subsequent two-point conversion were thrown on time, with Lee making great catches on both and Bortles showing great patience.

Riding the momentum, the Jaguars defense stopped the Chargers pretty consistently holding LA to only a FG and a 17-14 lead.

That’s when the weirdness started. From bad decisions by Bortles that produced interceptions to a forced turnover by the Jaguars defense, the last two minutes of the game were full of miscues and surprises. With the ball for the third time at the end of the game, the Jaguars finally kicked a field goal to tie it at 17 and send the game into OT. For as great as he played all game, Blake threw two inexcusable interceptions to cost the Jaguars chances to win the game. But on the final drive he hit a couple of crossing routes and scrambled for a few yards to get out of bounds and give Lambo a chance to tie it.

I say a chance because the regular long-snapper Matt Overton was out of the game with a shoulder injury so Tyler Shatley was in for the FG snap. Tommy Bohannon did the snapping on punts.

The weirdness continued into the overtime period. After getting the ball to open the OT the Jaguars moved to about midfield but had to punt. That gave the Chargers a chance to win the game with a FG but AJ Boyue stole the ball on a long pass down the sidelines. It counts as an interception but he basically took the ball from Travis Benjamin and returned it to the 2-yard line. Phillip Rivers made a touchdown saving tackle, blasting Bouye out of bounds. Back downfield, Aaron Colvin was called for taunting, the second taunting call of the game against the Jaguars. That moved the ball back to the 17-yard line. Three plays later, one putting it on the left hash, Lambo’s kick was blocked but had enough juice on it to get through the uprights and a 20-17 win for the Jaguars.

For fans in the last five years who were convinced this team was finding ways to lose, the Jaguars actually found a way to win this game. It wasn’t a good game, it wasn’t pretty, the Jaguars got some breaks but luckily they don’t ask to draw any pictures. Just numbers when time runs out. And the numbers after this win are 6-3; the first time the Jaguars have been three games over .500 since 2010.

Now they go on the road for back-to-back weeks at Cleveland and at Arizona before coming back to Jacksonville for three consecutive home games starting on December 3rd against the Colts. The schedule favors the Jaguars still, with a playoff spot there for the taking.

Back To Back And At Home, The Jaguars Look Legit

It was a disjointed game from the beginning. Anticipating a return to the field with a home game after the bye week, the Jaguars got a jolt Sunday morning when Doug Marrone announced that Leonard Fournette wouldn’t play against the Bengals for an infraction of a team rule. It’s been reported that Fournette missed the team picture, a workout and a treatment session for his ankle during the bye week but the Jaguars have said they’ll have no further comment on the situation.

That put Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon in the backfield. Ivory started strong but Yeldon fumbled the first time he touched the ball, killing a drive and giving Cincinnati the ball at their 25. But the Jaguars defense forced a punt and the offense went back to work. That drive ended with a field goal but featured the best catch of the year over the middle by Keelan Cole to set up the score.

Without Fournette available, Ivory stepped up and carried the load and most pleasantly for Jaguars fans Blake Bortles had a strong first half. Bortles was 18-27 for 195 yards, a TD and no turnovers in the first half as the Jaguars led 13-7.

“IA lot of things get overlooked with me, which is fine,” Ivory said in the post-game locker room. “I’ve been dealing with this since I first got in the league, so it’s nothing new for me. I’ve been doing these things, it’s just being more noticed when you pick up big chunks of yards on passes. All in all, I’m going to continue doing what I’ve been doing. There’s a reason why I’ve been in the league for eight years, and I’m looking to get more, so all I’ve got to do is stay focused and continue to grow.”

As the half wore down, Josh Lambo kicked a 56-yard field goal to gain some momentum headed to the locker room. The second to last play of the half had both Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Green kicked out of the game after a fight broke out between the two at midfield.

Ramsey had been chirping in Green’s ear all day long and when the Jaguars cornerback tapped him to the ground at the end of the play, Green came up with a headlock and a choke hold from behind, dragging Ramsey to the ground and trying to repeatedly punch him in the head. A melee ensued between both teams with the officials and the coaching staffs trying to get between the players in several groups. Hard to say why Ramsey was DQ’d but the referee confirmed after the game that he and Green as well as both sidelines had been warned earlier to tone it down. It was obvious Ramsey was yacking Green’s ear off all game the fact that he had been warned made his ejection easier. Green’s ejection will probably cost him a suspension and both of them will be lighter in the pocket after this week thanks to the league.

There were unconfirmed reports that Ramsey had to be removed from the visitors’ locker room area at halftime after getting kicked out allegedly looking for Green. If that’s true somebody needs to tell him it’s football and not a street fight.

While Ramsey wasn’t available after the game, Green spoke to the media and explained himself.

“As a player, as a man, and a father, that’s a reflection of me. I should have walked off in that whole situation. I definitely learned from this experience. It’s never going to happen again. I regret my actions. Whatever the punishment, I accept it. I put myself in that situation. I have to handle my stuff better and I can’t put myself in a situation like that to hurt my team and not be able to play.”

Early in the week Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict said “Leonard Fournette can beat us. Blake Bortles can’t.” It looked like the Jaguars were out to prove they were more than a one-man team, hammering the line of scrimmage with Ivory and Yeldon while Bortles was efficiently working the offense for field position and another field goal for a 16-7 lead.

“I thought he was outstanding today,” Head Coach Doug Marrone said of Bortles play. “I thought he was accurate. I thought he did an outstanding job, he really did. He played within his means, in other words. During the week obviously they said that he can’t beat them. Hey listen, don’t get crazy, just go out and play the game. You owe it to all your teammates. Your teammates got to pick it up. We’ve all got to play this game together as a team. I thought he did a good job of that. I was a little bit concerned, just like if someone says something about me. You know what I’m saying? ”

Even without Ramsey in the game, the Jaguars defense was still stout, rushing Andy Dalton relentlessly and shutting down Cincinnati’s run game. They gave up just 118 yards in the 1st half.

Newly signed wide receiver Jayden Mickens showed off speed and moves returning a punt in the third quarter 63-yards for a touchdown and a 23-7 lead.

More of the same in the 4th quarter with Calais Campbell recording his 11th sack of the year, one short of the team record of 12 held by Tony Brackens. As a team, the Jaguars lead the league with 35 sacks this season.

If they wanted to be considered legitimate post-season contenders the Jaguars had to start winning at home and win back to back games at some point. Beating the Bengals coming out of the bye leaves the Jaguars at 5-3 and “winning” the “second quarter” of the season at 3-1. It also sets them up next week against the Chargers, also at home, to take control of their own destiny and compete for the division title. Without Deshaun Watson for the rest of the year in Houston, Andrew Luck out in Indy and Marcus Mariotta nursing a leg injury in Tennessee, the AFC South is there for the taking.

Could the Jaguars actually be part of the conversation to “flex” one of their home games into primetime? The Seattle game on December 10th at home looks like a candidate. It’s one of the four home games remaining and the middle of three straight at the stadium in December.

NFL, Khan, Players and Protest

When Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand for the National Anthem in 2016 he did so to protest what he perceived as racial inequities America. In his only comment about his action, Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

At the time of his initial sitting and then kneeling, Barak Obama was President of the United States and the political season was just heating up.

While Kaepernick had his supporters and his detractors, protesting during the Anthem didn’t become part of the national discourse, outside of sports, until President Trump said in front of a partisan rally in Alabama on September 23rd that an NFL owner should said of a kneeling player, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired.”

That sparked a firestorm of reaction, both in sports and across the country, some in support of the President, others, including NFL players, strongly disagreeing.

In London the Jaguars players gathered the night before the game to organize a team action, including Owner Shad Khan, VP of Football Operations Tom Coughlin and Head Coach Doug Marrone in their discussion.

“Whatever we were going to do,” Marrone said after the game at Wembley, “We wanted to do as a team.

Being the first game of the day, a 9:30 AM EDT start in the US, the Jaguars actions and reactions to the President’s remarks set the tone for the rest of the day.

Some players knelt in protest during the National Anthem, others, including Khan and Marrone, locked arms in what they called “solidarity.”

At the moment it was shown in Jacksonville, my phone started buzzing in London with the same general theme from those watching who knew I was at the game, ” . . on foreign soil . . .”

Talking to the players in the locker room after the Jaguars victory over Baltimore, they weren’t any more in favor of Kaepernick’s original statement, but rather were mad at the President. “He shouldn’t be telling us what to do,” said one player who knelt during the Anthem.

“God bless them,” Khan said in his suite at Wembley when asked by Sports Illustrated of what he thought about his players protest. It’s clear the Jaguars owner saw it as a First Amendment issue while some of his fellow NFL owners believe it’s a workplace issue between management and employees. Dallas owner Jerry Jones said last week that Cowboys players who protest during the Anthem won’t play in the game. His team, his rules. The First Amendment protects us against prosecution regarding free speech but joining an organization (i.e. a football team) means abiding by their rules. You can’t be arrested for kneeling during the Anthem but you can be fired.

In retrospect, it was a strategic mistake by the organization, outlined by Jaguars President Mark Lamping in a letter to the City of Jacksonville Director of Military Affairs Bill Spann. Lamping, Khan and Coughlin met with Spann and members of the local military community on October 5th to discuss the implications of the Jaguars kneeling in London, and then standing for “God Save the Queen.”

“We were remiss in not fully comprehending the effect of the national anthem demonstration occurring on foreign soil has had on the men and women who have or continue to serve our country.” Lamping wrote on October 6th. “Similarly, we today can better appreciate how standing for God Save the Queen may have been viewed negatively by our armed forces in Jacksonville and beyond.”

“The notion never entered the minds of our players or anyone affiliated with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but today we can understand how the events in London on September 24 could have been viewed or misinterpreted. We owe you an apology and hope you will accept it.”

Perhaps there is no other NFL town with a stronger military connection than Jacksonville. A city originally designed around it’s military bases, it’s not just the families of those who serve who are part of the community but civilian contractors, veterans and friends are a part of it as well.

While the players said they meant no disrespect to the flag or to our military, it was perceived as unpatriotic to many who are part of the military community. If the players want to be respected for their perception of inequality and form of protest, they must also respect the perception of those who believe their form of protest was a slap at the military and those who have served.

Feeling the effects of part of their fan base that was unhappy, the Jaguars offered refunds to season ticket holders who requested them. The team didn’t offer any specific numbers on how many requests they received but clearly the lowest attendance figure last Sunday since Khan bought the team is an indicator that some fans are still angry.

A confluence of a night game in Gainesville for Florida, a traditional dislike for 4 o’clock games by Jaguars fans and those who stayed home over the anthem protest contributed to that smaller number.

A group of 13 NFL owners, including Khan met with former and current league players this morning in New York to discuss what the next step might be. Last week, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all 32 teams expressing the league’s desire to “move past” the Anthem controversy.

“Like many of our fans, we believe that everyone should stand for the National Anthem,” Goodell wrote. “It is an important moment in our game. We want to honor our flag and our country, and our fans expect that of us. We also care deeply about our players and respect their opinions and concerns about critical social issues. The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”

After today’s meeting, the NFL and the NFL Players Association issued a joint statement saying they met “to review and discuss plans to utilize our platform to promote equality and effectuate positive change. Everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military. In the best American tradition, we are coming together to find common ground and commit to the hard work required for positive change.”

It’s a step in the process, opening a dialog to allow the league to avoid the Anthem controversy and allow the players a platform to speak their minds.

As a high profile organization in town, the Jaguars are at the forefront of charitable giving when it comes to hurricane relief and the military. They should use this platform to open this dialogue. Former Jaguar Rashean Mathis has had this idea for a while, starting an initiative called “Bridging the Gap” bringing together people from different parts of town to talk. “Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to talk about these things,” Rashean said last week. “But that’s OK. Better to talk than not talk.”

He’s right. That’s the first call the Jaguars should make.

Inconsistent Again, Jaguars Lose To Rams

It’s never good when you win the coin toss and defer to the second half, but the opponent returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown. That’s exactly what happened when the Jaguars kicked off against the Rams for the first time in Jacksonville since the second week of the season. Jason Myer’s kick was fielded 3-yards deep in the end zone by Pharoh Cooper who brought it out to the right and seemed to be bottled up by the Jaguars special teams. But Cooper spun out of a tackle attempt by Jarrod Wilson and ran straight down the sideline for a TD for a 7-0 lead.

It’s always good when you score on your first play from scrimmage and that’s exactly what happened with the Jaguars touched the ball. A simple handoff to Leonard Fournette saw him break through the like and outrun everybody for a 75-yard TD to tie the game at seven. Fournette is only the second rookie in NFL history to score a TD in his first six games. It’s also the first time in history that two touchdowns have been scored inside the first 25 seconds of the game. 7-7 and starting over.

A 16-yard punt by Brad Nortman gave the Rams the ball at the Jaguars 45 and after three plays and eight yards the Rams kicked a 56-yard field goal to make it 10-7.

After taking the kickoff, the Jaguars gained chunks of yardage on the ground and through the air, scoring in just four plays on a 22-yard screen to Chris Ivory, taking a 14-10 lead. Gains of 18, 17 and 22 preceded the TD.

This game was nothing if not fun to watch early.

In another unusual twist, the Rams were pushing the Jaguars defensive line around, gaining big yardage with Todd Gurley running the football. That resulted in a LA TD at the end of the first quarter to regain the lead at 17-14.

Neither team was playing inspired football but the Rams were winning the field position battle. Nortman wasn’t having his best game and LA scored their second special teams touchdown of the game near the end of the second quarter, blocking a punt and stepping into the end zone for a 24-14 lead.

A 52-yard field goal attempt by Myers at the end of the half was hooked wide left to leave the Jaguars with a 10-point deficit at halftime.

A recap of the special teams effort in the first half gave the Rams a 17-point advantage, something very few teams in the NFL overcome.

A bunch of punts in the 3rd quarter didn’t amount to much as the Rams were stacking the box and making sure the Jaguars and Fournette didn’t get the running game going. At some point, Blake Bortles will have to be the center of the offensive improvement if the Jaguars are going to win games and be a legitimate contender for the post-season. He did lead the offense with his legs and a couple of nice throws that led to a field goal that brought them within seven at 24-17.

In the 4th quarter, you could call it crunch time, and the Jaguars aren’t a team in 2017 that has been good in this situation in close games. A decent offensive drive was derailed by a Bortles interception thrown in front of Marcedes Lewis who got a hand on it and tipped it to a waiting defender. Lewis was the wrong guy to throw it to in that situation as Bortles had Marqise Lee streaking down the field and the ball was just too far in front of Lewis to make that kind of crossing-the-field catch.

More Gurley right, Gurley left and Gurley up the middle put the Rams in a position to grind the clock and kick a field goal for a two possession, 10-point lead, 27-17.

There was a scare at the four-minute mark as Fournette tweaked his knee and his right ankle making a cut against a Rams defender. It looked serious but the Jaguars said he could return to the game if necessary. But he didn’t return.

It’s somewhat maddening to watch Bortles in the current Jaguars offense. Sometimes he’s solid, taking what the defense gives him and behind the running game, making enough throws to keep the defense honest and the offense moving. Other times he’s tentative in the pocket and just inaccurate enough to not make the play that are there downfield. If the Jaguars are going to be a contender at some point in the season, Blake is going to have to take a quantum leap forward with his decision-making, his mechanics and his accuracy.

Otherwise, the Jaguars will be the up-and-down team they’ve been for the first six games of the year. Put this one on the special teams without question but Bortles’ reputation and his confidence could have gone a long way with a come from behind win that did he couldn’t make happen.

Jaguars Real Selves? Dominate Steelers 30-9

No matter what side of the line of scrimmage they were on, both the Jaguars and the Steelers were looking in the mirror. Sometimes the Jaguars were looking at a Steelers team they’d like to be like, and other times the Steelers were looking at a Jaguars team that was beating them at their own game.

When the Jaguars joined the NFL, then Head Coach Tom Coughlin pointed to the Steelers and said that’s whom we need to beat to be the best. They did just that in the AFC Central, winning division titles and going through Pittsburgh to do it.

So it was no surprise that both defenses got the job done in the first half.

Twice the Steelers moved the ball into the red zone and both times the Jaguars defense stiffened and held them to field goals. The offense took advantage of a great play by Jalen Ramsey who extended in front of the tight end for an interception. Using Leonard Fournette effectively inside the 15-yard line, the rookie scored for the fifth straight game to take a 7-3 lead.

As the second half unfolded, it was apparent the Steelers wanted to ran an up tempo offense and it was working. Bubble screens, quick slants and the occasional run had Pittsburgh knocking on the door in their opening drive but the Jaguars defense stiffened again and forced a FG, 9-7 Steelers.

Speed and anticipation have been what the Jaguars defense has used to evolve in 2017, plus better players and the development of Jalen Ramsey. A tipped ball at the line of scrimmage by Abry Jones was redirected to Telvin Smith who sure-handedly pulled it in and ran the other way for a TD. Jason Myers missed the PAT and the Jaguars lead 13-9.

Just two plays later, Ramsey made a nice leaping recovery from behind Antonio Brown, tapping the ball loose where Barry Church picked it off. Church has shown to be a consummate pro, calmly gathering the ball in and going the other way for a TD. This time the PAT was good and the Jaguars led 20-9. The Jaguars offense was on the field for three plays in the 3rd quarter.

When they did get on the field in the 4th quarter it was from their own 4 yard line and it was textbook Doug Marrone/Coughlin: Run it until they stop it.

And since the Steelers weren’t stopping the run, Leonard Fournette and Chris Ivory were making them pay. Run, run, run and the Jaguars finished the drive with a FG to take a 23-9 lead with just under 7 minutes to play. They did not attempt one pass on the drive. The Jaguars ran the ball 18 straight times from the middle of the third quarter.

Again the Steelers tried some up-tempo on offense but Tashaun Gipson picked off Roethlisberger to give the Jaguars offense the ball near midfield. It was the fourth interception thrown by the Steelers quarterback, something he hasn’t done since 2008. It was the kind of play the Jaguars were looking for when they signed Gipson as a free agent last year.

A 90-yard TD run by Fournette capped the Jaguars scoring. Nice kick-out block by A.J. Cann and Fournette outran everybody. He’s tough, he’s shifty, but he is also plenty fast. 30-9 Jaguars.

Again a dominating defensive performance by the Jaguars, not the result of lucky bounces. Pressure on the quarterback, coverage by the corners and speed from the linebackers eliminated a lot of the things the Steelers wanted to do. The bubble screen was there early but the Jaguars, especially Aaron Colvin, figured it out. Marrone has said the Jaguars are a gap defense and they controlled their gaps, stopping the run.

At 3-2, the Jaguars are on top of the AFC South, the latest they’ve led their division since they were in the AFC Central in 1998. The resurgent LA Rams are in town at the stadium next week for the only 4:05 start of the year.

Jaguars Models Of Inconsistency, Fall To Jets In OT

For the sixth straight game, the Jaguars’ offense scored on their first possession. That’s a franchise record. It’s also the 4th straight game that Leonard Fournette had scored a TD. He’s the first Jaguars player to score in his first four games as a professional. In their opening drive, Blake Bortles was efficient and accurate, converting a long third down along the way and hitting Fournette quickly on a roll out for the touchdown. It’s just what the Jaguars were looking for. A continuation of the way they played in London.

But this was a different week, different game, and a different opponent.

On a weird play on their second possession, the Jets Bilal Powell tripped at the line of scrimmage and fell down. The Jaguars thought he’d been tackled but there was no whistle. So Powell jumped up and ran 75-yards for a touchdown to tie the game at seven.

After a brilliant series of play calls blending the run and the pass, Offensive Coordinator Nathaniel Hackett got away from that sequence and started asking Bortles to drop back and throw it downfield. They had some success with that last week but the Jets had those routes covered and the offensive line wasn’t up to the challenge New York was presenting with a pass rush. So from an accurate, efficient quarterback early on, Blake looked like the Blake of old. Rushed, off-target and a bit skittish in the pocket, Bortles production dropped dramatically. A bunch of scrums on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and a fair share of mistakes toward the end of the 2nd quarter made it 10-10 at halftime.

It continued in the second half until another blown “fit” on defense allowed the Jets to break their third long run of the day. This time a 68-yard TD and a 17-10 lead. “This isn’t the ‘same old Jaguars'” is what Bortles has been telling us all year long. But he looked the part when his pass inside the 20 was tipped at the line of scrimmage and returned to the seven. Holding New York to just three points there was big as the Jets kicked a FG to make it 20-10.

It didn’t look like the Jaguars offense had enough firepower to come back from ten points down, but the defense had other ideas. A pass by the Jets was ruled a lateral and Myles Jack picked it up and ran 81-yards the other way for a TD. After review the call stood and the Jaguars were back in the game in the 4th quarter. Jack is the only player on the front 7 on the defense who could have outrun the Jets for a touchdown. 20-17, NY.

One thing the Jaguars didn’t have in the last 5 years is a defense that created opportunities. That’s changed this year with pressure on the quarterback and players who are looking for the ball. Free-agent acquisition A.J. Bouye intercepted a Josh McCown pass when the receiver fell down giving the Jaguars a chance to win the game.

Although Leonard Fournette scored on a screen pass, Aurileus Benn was called for a holding at the seven and the Jaguars did nothing on three downs. They kicked a FG to tie it at 20 and send the game into overtime. The Jets did get the ball and there was good pressure from the defensive line, McCown recovered a strip sack from Dante Fowler.

In overtime, the Jaguars defense did their job, backing the Jets defense up and giving the offense the ball at the 50 yard line where a FG would win it. But Marqise Lee dropped a perfectly thrown ball by Bortles on third down and the Jets got the ball back. Those kinds of drops are the plays that separate a consistent, solid football team with one that’s hanging on looking for a win.

As things usually happen in the NFL, when a mistake like that happens, the other team is good enough to take advantage of it. Except the Jets were held to a three and out and the Jaguars forced a punt.

That’s when another miscue by Marqis Lee let the punt go 70 yards. Add to that a block in the back by Benn, and you have a bad day for both of them. The Jaguars had the ball at the 3 but couldn’t move it. Brad Nortman with a decent kick but in Jaguars form for this game, Paul Posluszny was called for unsportsmanlike conduct at the end of the play putting the Jets in FG position. Three plays later they kicked the game-winning FG to gain a 23-20 victory.

This game was all over the place for the Jaguars. We still don’t know what kind of team they are. We do know when they run the football, as they did early, it allows Bortles a little breathing room and keeps the opponents defense off balance. But after the first drive, they tried something different. And it didn’t work.

They looked great in their first drive; they looked great on defense in the 4th quarter. But for all the talk of consistency by Doug Marrone and the players this week, they were anything but throughout the rest of the game. Much like the game against the Titans, the plays were there, they just didn’t make them. “Winning” the 1st quarter of the season fell to a 2-2 start with another road game next week at Pittsburgh.

Jaguars To Use “Home” Field Advantage vs. Ravens

It’ll be the question that Jaguars fans will ask up until kickoff of the game at Wembley Stadium against the Baltimore Ravens: Which team will show up? The one that thrashed the Texans or the one that was bullied by the Titans at home?

Ask the players and they think they’re closer to the team that played the first week in Houston.

“I think so,” said Jaguars defensive lineman Malik Jackson. “Being with this team, we’re that first team, and the team that played in the first half last week. That’s just what we have to work on, make sure we’re consistent.”

When comparing the two games, the Jaguars said it was pretty obvious what the difference was: When the plays were there against Houston, they made them. When they were there against the Titans, they didn’t.

“It was the case,” said linebacker Telvin Smith. “That’s the part we have to get right. Part of executing those plays, don’t let the game get away from us in the first 15 minutes or in the third period.”

Digging deeper into what happens when they don’t execute, Smith explained that one play in one drive can change the game.

“I don’t think people realize that one play on a drive can effect so many things down the line. The play calls, everything.”

“That’s pretty much football,” Jackson added. “I gotta do better on double-teams and pressure on the quarterback.” Breaking the game down on the field, the Ravens are considered the favorite based on 10 takeaways in their two season-opening wins. But it is their first trip to London, and the Jaguars familiarity with the trip and the routine should give them some edge.

“It’s my fourth year,” Smith explained. “It’s the routine, going to the same spot, seeing the same scenery, going to the same hotel those are things that help you prepare and get more locked in.”

Even the fans who show up at practice and at the team hotel give the trip a familiar feeling. Telvin said he looks forward to seeing some of the same faces in the crowd.

“The fans are more familiar. I’ve signed for some of the same fans I’ve seen for four years. I’m familiar with the area, the hotel it all helps.”

“People get excited when we come over here,” Jackson agreed. “It’s something special. Everything’s fun when you win.”

Against the Ravens the Jaguars will have to play well. There’s no backing into a win over Baltimore. And Smith, a vocal team leader, quickly put any thoughts that there’s some grumbling from one side of the ball or the other to rest.

“We all need each other,” he said. “Either side has to step up. You have to realize that you rely on the offense and the special teams as much as you do yourself. Everybody’s trying to get to a win and get to winning. It’s not hard to do with this group of guys, I’ll say that.”

Jaguars 2017 Look Like Jaguars 2016 vs. Titans

After a week where they didn’t commit a single turnover, the Jaguars gave up two in the first half and one at the start of the third quarter against Tennessee in the home opener on Sunday. After playing only his second game as a professional without turning the ball over last week, Blake Bortles was sacked and fumbled the ball and a pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage and picked off. Bortles threw it behind Marqis Lee to start the second half and the batted ball was easily grabbed by Tennessee. The first two could be considered not his fault, but turnovers are turnovers. And the third was just a bad throw.

When you turn it over on three consecutive possessions in the NFL, bad things start to happen. Your defense is on the field too much. The opponent starts to run through their playbook because they are staying on the field. And eventually, they score, which is what Tennessee did after a long punt return, Derek Henry running through some Jaguars and around others inside the 20 to give the Titans a 16-3 lead.

After another series where the offense didn’t get the job done, the Titans scored again taking advantage of a long throw from Marcus Mariota to Taywan Taylor to make it 23-3. And to add insult to injury, Jalen Ramsey hit Delaney Walker out of bounds after the TD for a 15-yard penalty. And it’s not just the penalty; it’s that kind of undisciplined play that has earned the Jaguars a reputation as a sloppy team.

It would be easy to dump it all on Bortles after he appeared to revert to the Blake of 2016. Perhaps that’s the case, but the Jaguars wide receivers didn’t get much separation against the Titans DB’s and had a couple of drops as well. The offensive line did a decent job and was at least serviceable, but falling behind and relying on the passing game to keep you in it is not how the Jaguars are built nor is it how they want to play.

With ten carries for 33 yards in the first half, Leonard Fournette wasn’t a factor once the Titans took the lead. And without the fear of the running game, Tennessee was able to sit back and manage the game on defense.

It was pretty clear the Jaguars defense was out of gas, giving up a screen pass touchdown mid-third quarter to make it 30-3, Don’t you know Mike Mularkey had a sly smile on his face when all this was happening.

A couple of other touchdowns were scored, but they just padded the stats of both Titans and Jaguars players. Fantasy owners were happier, but the rest of the game was played in front of a virtually empty stadium, and rightfully so. Kind of a shame after the week we had that the Jaguars would put up this kind of performance in the only game in Jacksonville before October 15. They’ll play in London next week, then at the Jets and Pittsburgh before coming home.

And perhaps regrettably, outside of the opening couple of drives on offense and defense, they looked like the same team as last year.

Jaguars Notes From Houston

Staying in Houston another night, Doug Marrone said he was keeping tabs on what’s going on in Jacksonville. He also noted that September 11th was a particularly personal remembrance for him. One of his teammates was in one of the towers and a close friend was a firefighter in New York, killed during the rescue.

On Allen Robinson, Marrone said,

“We all understand next man up but what I think about is how hard ARob has worked and what kind of year he wanted to have. He was set up for a great year but to sustain an injury is really a blow.” Surgery hasn’t been set for Robinson’s torn ACL.

On the offensive line:

“I was happy with the physicality and how they played. The level of expectation will be higher going forward.”

On Arrelious Benn:

“He’s done an excellent job on special teams. He’s somebody who we can put in the game and play. He’s a smart player. He can play multiple positions, slot, outside.” Benn will get more playing time at wide receiver now that Robinson is out for the year.

On Jason Myer’s missed kicks:

“I thought Matt Overton (the long snapper) had his best game. (Marrone played that position) “He did an excellent job. It’s always concerning when somebody doesn’t do what they’ve done what they’ve done in practice.” No word or whether they’ll look at kickers again this week.

Paul Posluszny played only 8 snaps on defense in the game but Marrone said it was because of what the Texans brought to the line of scrimmage on offense.

“Poz played 8 snaps but he’s giving quality plays on special teams. They went to 11 personnel so we had to match that. His role will be week-to-week depending on how other teams play us.”

And despite his production in his first NFL game, Marrone wasn’t ready to anoint Leonard Fournette as the starter or up his workload.

“I think you’re always concerned when you haven’t been around a player in the NFL and obviously that’s a concern for all the rookies that play. You really don’t know the anxiety of the game or what’s going to get to them or how they’re going to react. There’s just so many factors that go into it. Obviously you feel more comfortable as you see them play, so for me going forward, I just think it’s a matter of the production. As long as he has production there, as any player on our team, you continue to play and if you can keep that production level up, you can play more and more and I see that out of Leonard. But obviously, if someone is having results like that, you’d like to build upon that, but we know we have a 15-game season. We feel like we have two guys with Leonard and Chris [Ivory], they’ve given us a good solid, powerful backfield.”

Jaguars Don’t Just Win, They Dominate Texans

All through the preseason veteran Jaguars defensive players said they were going to be all right. Between resting veterans and nagging injuries, the expected starting eleven on defense didn’t have one play together. Signing Calais Campbell and A.J. Boyue in the off-season, plus with the development of Myles Jack, Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue, the expectations were that the Jaguars defense would control the tempo of the game and field position.

And create turnovers.

All of that was true in the first half and more against Houston. Coverage down field helped the pass rush. Campbell had 2.5 sacks, Ngakoue stripped the ball from Tom Savage and Abry Jones recovered. It was exactly what the Jaguars were looking for out of their defense. The Texans had 25 total yards on offense midway through the second quarter. Two Jason Myers FG’s made it 6-0 Jaguars.

Meanwhile, the offense looked exactly like what was drawn up when they drafted Leonard Fournette. The Jaguars first round pick had 17 carries for 56 yards in the first half and scored a TD on a 1-yard fourth down run. Questionable play calling limited the Jaguars offensive production, especially giving it to the fullback on third down at the goal line. Too cute, give it to 27. Tom Coughlin’s first words to Fournette when they drafted him were “We’re brining you here to score touchdowns so get ready.” And he did just that.

After much consternation about the quarterback, Blake Bortles was serviceable, going 7 of 13 for 91 yards. A couple of good throws, a couple off the mark but no turnovers. The Jaguars out-produced the Texans in yards, 178-46.

Again late in the first half, Ngakoue was dominating whichever offensive lineman was put in front of him. Another strip of the ball from Savage created a turnover that Fowler picked up and ran for a TD giving the Jaguars a 19-0 halftime lead.

To no one’s surprise, Houston replaced Savage at QB in the second half with their first round pick Deshaun Watson. He provided a spark for the Texans, driving them down the field and throwing a 4-yard TD pass to Andre Hopkins to make it 19-7. The drive was helped by two questionable defensive penalties. Ngakoue was called for roughing the passer on third down near midfield when he barely touched Watson. Fowler was called for hands to the face when his left hand was under the blockers chin during a pass rush. Ngakoue’s was bogus. Fowler’s was the right call but just at the wrong time.

In a turnaround, the Jaguars answered right back, driving the length of the field thanks to solid running by Chris Ivory and Fournette and a nice throw and catch by Bortles and Allen Hurns. The TD pass to Tommy Bohanon was part of the Fournette Factor as Bortles faked it to 27 over the left side and rolled to his right. Every defender went after Fournette and Bohanon was wide open for the TD. 26-7 Jaguars in the third quarter.

Although Watson had the elusiveness to get out of the pocket on a couple of occasions, the Jaguars were bringing the heat on the rookie forcing a couple of short throws. Fowler and Ngakoue were both still dominating, this time Fowler kicking the ball out of Watson’s hand with Ngakoue recovering. Whether it’s a timing thing or a confidence thing, Jason Myers is quickly playing himself out of a job as the Jaguars kicker. A missed PAT early in the game was followed by a 39-yard missed field goal in the 4th quarter that would have given the Jaguars a 22-point lead. Bad time for a really bad miss when it comes to changing the momentum. Even head coach Doug Marrone said it could be a timing thing since the injury to long snapper Carson Tinker but whatever it is, it needs to be fixed.

With a few carries forcing the Texans to use their timeouts, Fournette got 100 yards on 26 carries. Bortles didn’t turn the ball over and the defense set the record for sacks, getting 10 against the Texans, four from Campbell.

A late interception by Tashaun Gipson gave the Jaguars a chance at a FG. Myers converted this one making the final score, 29-7.

It’s the first time the Jaguars have started the season with a road win since 2000. They haven’t won an opener since 2011 against Tennessee, which also happens to be the last time they were over .500. It’s also their first win in Houston since 2014.

The takeaway?

Money spent on defense with the addition of Boyue and Campbell seems to be money well spent. The veteran players doing what they’re supposed to do enhanced the development of the players they’ve been counting on. Getting 10 sacks, a franchise record, had to do with pressure and coverage, just how it’s supposed to work.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was how well the offensive line played. Maybe the Texans are terrible but no matter, winning the battle up front is where it all starts on offense. And the Fournette Factor made everybody better on that side of the ball, including Blake Bortles. It all worked just as they drew it up. This is the kind of team the Jaguars want to be under Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone. They have the personnel to be just that.

But for now, they’re 1-0. And that’s good.

Jaguars Step Backwards vs. Bucs

When you’re searching for good things to talk about and the only things that come to mind are the punter and a free-agent wide receiver/punt returner who also dropped a sure TD pass, it’s not good. In a game where the Jaguars needed to take a big step forward, they did just the opposite. Instead of building on what they were able to do last week in New England, their inconsistency was on full display against the Bucs.

Looking for more leadership and production from Blake Bortles, they didn’t get it from their starting quarterback. Bortles was 8-of-13 passing for 65 yards with no TDs or INTs. A 74.2 QB rating. But none of it was meaningful. A couple of bad throws, staring down receivers from the snap and bad decisions were more of the same on a muggy night at the stadium. But it wasn’t all Bortles.

After all of the talk of how the defense was going to carry the Jaguars this year the Bucs did whatever they pleased against the hometown’s first teamers. Jameis Winston showed off his arm strength and accuracy as well as his decision-making and coordination with his receivers throughout the first half. The Bucs scored 12 points and it easily could have been more. No pass rush and no run stuffing is a bad combination for a defense that has tried to make that a priority.

Granted A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey didn’t play. Calais Campbell only played the first series. But it didn’t look like the quick, coordinated kind of defense that gets things done. Moving Paul Posluszny back to middle linebacker is the right move as he was making tackles from his natural spot. Problem was he had to do that 5 yards down the field.

Earlier in the week, Head Coach Doug Marrone said he was surprised with how many roster spots remained open at this point in training camp. Wide Receiver Keelan Cole stepped in as a punt returner and brought one back 31- yards, the lone highlight of the first half. But of course on the first play of the drive, Chad Henne hit him right in the hands on a simple slant in the end zone, and he dropped it. Henne did the same with Allen Robinson on 3rd down, and he dropped it. So a 12-0 halftime score was about right for the preseason.

Why?

Coaches always say you play like you practice and the Jaguars didn’t have a very good week of practice. You could say all of these hard workouts in a row, in pads, against other teams took their toll. No question the Jaguars looked like a slow, plodding team. Tampa Bay looked like they were playing at a different speed.

So if I’m Doug Marrone, and Tom Coughlin for that matter, I don’t make much of it. If it was the second week of the regular season, I’d have a lot to say. But the second week of the preseason doesn’t mean much. When they look at the video of this game, there will be a lot of “teachable moments.” And to paraphrase Marrone, you couldn’t make this team tonight, but you could get cut from it.

Jaguars Need A Big Step Forward vs. Bucs

Again this week Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone isn’t telling anybody how long different players will see action against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Marrone says he isn’t “a secretive guy” but rather wants the players to be ready to play instead of ready to come out.

After giving quarterback Blake Bortles a rest on Sunday, Marrone thought his quarterback performed better in the two practices against the Bucs. Blake says the whole offense is still learning, but it needs to be quicker.

“Not everybody is young anymore,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. ” That’s not a crutch to use anymore, so I think guys are definitely more football-smart and able to pick up the scheme and system a little quicker. I think when you take a step back and look at it, it still is our first camp in the system with Coach Hackett and I think guys have done a good job. Definitely still a lot to improve on.”

Are they getting better? It appears they have more talent and they are more “football smart” but while the good isn’t great, the bad is really bad.

“Yeah, I think so,” Blake explained regarding the peaks and valleys so far in camp. “Because I think we’ve shown day in and day out how good we can be and then we’ve shown day in and day out how stupid some of the stuff we do is.”

Which is almost exactly how Marrone described watching his offense operate. Sometimes pretty good, sometimes pretty bad.

“I’m always trying to get more, so for me I’m one of those guys that it’s hard for me to say,” Doug said about his reticence to say they’re improving on offense. “There are some throws that I’ll think, ‘Hey, that’s a good throw,’ and then I’ll be like, ‘That’s a horse s^@$ throw.’ “I thought he came back and really had no issues for these two days. I think he’s gotten good work, and I think that him along with the rest of the guys on offense, I want those guys to get better.”

Last week against the Patriots you could see the Jaguars getting better and more competitive everyday. This week didn’t have that marked improvement and Bortles noticed.

“There hasn’t been a whole lot of negative or positive,” he said. “I think we need to be more crisp in the situational stuff. We can make the plays. We can do all the stuff we need to do, you’ve just got to do it every time it’s called.”

So it’s back to the consistency and the focus Marrone has talked about since day one. Don’t just do it the first or the last time, do it every time. And Doug thinks it’s his job to make sure they stay focused on that goal.

“My job is to coach them and get them better. They screw up; they are going to hear it. If it’s a good play, there’s a chance they’ll hear it. I’m going to continue to push them through every single play.”

Bortles Better But Not Close To Brady

Maybe it’s unfair to compare Blake Bortles to Tom Brady. Bortles in his fourth year in the league and Brady just turning forty are two different animals. But seeing the contrast of what Brady does on the practice field and what Bortles does is stunning. Whether it’s the footwork and arm motion, reading defenses, command of the offense or body language, Brady is in a whole other universe.

That might be the case with any other quarterback on the field at the same time that Brady is taking snaps but in this case both #12 and #5 are starters for their NFL teams. You’d think that Bortles would want to gain from that comparison, but he toed the company line when asked about practicing against New England.

“I think this whole thing was about us,” Blake said after practice. “The Patriots just happened to be the team we were going against and where we were going. It’s cool to go practice against the defending World Champions. It was about what can we do, how do we react in this situation, how can we continue to get better.”

You can’t help but notice the tight spiral and velocity Brady has on every pass. As you watch, it’s a product of the footwork, the core strength and the hip and shoulder rotation. He’s spot on every time with the ball position and ability get rid of it when he needs to. And it’s on target. Bortles on the other hand, is flat-footed often with his shoulders aligned with the line of scrimmage instead of perpendicular. That might sound like a technical thing, but two days of side-by-side comparison revealed where the best quarterback in the game is getting his power and accuracy and where a guy who’s struggling can improve.

No question Blake is better mechanically than he’s been and not everybody can be Tom Brady. In fact, nobody can be Tom Brady. But there are things that Bortles can fix almost immediately. No matter the pass, Brady brings it with a crispness of purpose that’s missing from the Jaguars’ starters throws.

Nonetheless, Blake talked about how New England was posing a new challenge this week reading defenses and disguising coverages.

“Up front, they single everybody up,” he explained. “That’s kind of just making everything one-on-one as far as the blocking schemes and then they do a lot of different things in coverage with their safeties, whether they’re sprinting their guys down or staying too high and doing different stuff.”

There was a lot of publicity about *Bortles five interceptions in the third practice of training camp. He’s been better since then and says he’s learning when he throws a pick, even here in New England.

“I think any time you throw an interception, I think you learn from it,” he said. “It’s practice, not downplaying practice or justifying that it’s okay to throw five interceptions, it’s not. But if there’s a time to do it, that’s then.”

Are they better? Is the question asked constantly about the offense. There are stars on defense and money spent on that side of the ball. On offense, the addidition of Leonard Fournette has signaled a new emphasis on running the football. Better is going to depend on *Bortles and the offense live. Neither has been great, but have shown flashes of improvement over last season.

“There is no doubt there has been some bad stuff that has happened and we have to fix and continue to work on,” Blake said when asked about the offense getting better. “I think if you watched seven on sevens today or one on ones and there wasn’t a whole lot times we got stopped. We obviously didn’t have the team period we wanted to. We messed up some things there, but I thought from a receiver, passing-game standpoint, the one on ones and the seven on sevens were extremely good today. We just have to find a way to carry that over into the 11-on-11.”