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What Went Wrong: Jacksonville Jaguars

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Jaguars squandered a fourth-quarter lead in Foxboro. What happened?

The Jacksonville Jaguars entered their matchup against the New England Patriots having eliminated the Buffalo Bills and upsetting the heavily-favored Pittsburgh Steelers (seven-point favorites) in the AFC Divisional playoff. Needless to say, despite being 7.5-point underdogs in Foxboro, Jalen Ramsey’s ego said it all: the Jaguars’ confidence level going into their third AFC Championship game in franchise history (zero victories) was sky-high. However, Jacksonville was unable to advance to their first Super Bowl, as they squandered a 10-point lead with just over 12 minutes remaining in the game. Tom Brady threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, en route to a 24-20 loss.

After a disappointing loss in an otherwise productive and optimistic season, it’s time to review what went wrong in New England, what the biggest problem was for the Jaguars this season, and what moves the front office should make to get ready for next year.

What Happened In Foxboro

Following a Josh Lambo 43-yard field goal that extended the Jaguars’ lead to 10 early in the fourth quarter, it looked as if Jacksonville was in prime position to knock off the GOAT and company. In a game where the Jaguars needed him to deliver, Blake Bortles was nothing short of magnificent, completing 64% of his passes (23-for-36) for 293 yards and a touchdown. Moreover, their second-ranked defense (16.8 points allowed per game) was stellar in limiting Tom Brady to just 152 passing yards through three quarters. But all good things must come to an end at some point, as Bill Belichick and Brady deployed a desperate fourth-quarter comeback to secure the victory.

Playing with a gash that required 10 stitches in his throwing hand, Brady was solid, particularly in the fourth quarter. After struggling for most of the game, Brady dominated the final quarter, throwing for 138 yards and two touchdowns, including the eventual game-winner to Danny Amendola. Brady finished with 290 total yards to lead the Patriots to their ninth Super Bowl berth in franchise history.

Although Jacksonville played a near-flawless three quarters, they were unable to pair it with another shocking upset victory. Sunday’s contest proved just how little margin for error teams possess when they play the Patriots, as stagnant offense, combined with sub-par defense, ultimately led to their fourth-quarter collapse.

The Jaguars amassed just two first downs in the fourth quarter, while their defense didn’t have an answer for the Brady-led Patriots’ offense. Bortles’s lack of ability to generate any offense following Lambo’s field goal was the driving force in a disappointing fourth quarter that resulted in a frustrating loss for Jacksonville. 

Key Play

Down 10, and facing a third down and 18 from their own 25-yard line with just under 11 minutes remaining in the game, the Patriots knew they were running out of opportunities to score. The Jaguars’ overpowering pass rush and shut down secondary had frustrated Brady all afternoon. However, after taking a sack and misfiring on a pass attempt, Brady took the snap, bought himself some time, slid to his left, and delivered a strike to Amendola for 21 yards and a first down. The play extended what would be an eventual touchdown drive and kept New England’s Super Bowl hopes alive.

Had Brady and company been unable to convert on this third down, they would have been forced to punt. And although the Jaguars’ offense was inconsistent for much of the second half, they would have had decent field position following the punt, and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett could have elected to run the ball and chew up some clock. The play proved to be a key momentum-builder that ignited the Patriots’ comeback effort.

Key Stat

Danny Amendola: 7 catches, 94 yards, 2 touchdowns

After star tight end Rob Gronkowski was forced out of the game with a concussion just before the half, Amendola was thrust into the role of Tom Brady’s go-to target. Amendola was a matchup nightmare for the Jaguars’ secondary, as he constantly found holes in the zone, while also consistently beating his defenders off the line-of-scrimmage.

More importantly, Amendola was on the receiving end of both of Brady’s touchdown passes (both in the fourth quarter), including the game-winner. Even at 5’11 and 32 years old, Jacksonville didn’t have an answer for the injury-prone slot receiver. Amendola’s ability to run crisp routes while hauling in difficult catches was vital for New England in their fourth-quarter resurgence.

The Biggest Issue of the Season:

Simply, Blake Bortles

While it’s ironic that perhaps a team’s most-valued position can be their biggest question mark, it’s evident that Bortles is holding this Jaguars team back. And yet, they still reached the AFC Championship game! Outside of one pass-heavy season (2015), in which he threw for 4,428 yards and 35 touchdowns, the former third-overall pick has not lived up to his high expectations, failing to surpass 4,000 yards again, while constantly making poor decisions with the football. 

After Jacksonville picked up Bortles’s fifth-year option in advance of this season, it was believed that he would improve his play in his fourth year since being drafted out of Central Florida. And although he showed glimpses of hope in games against the Ravens, Seahawks, and Steelers (in playoffs), his performances against the Jets, Cardinals, and Titans (twice) question his ability to remain a starting quarterback in this league.

Plans for the Offseason

1. Replace Blake Bortles

It’s clear that Bortles isn’t the guy, nor a fit in Jacksonville. In three seasons as Jacksonville’s full-time starter, he’s averaged 4,007 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions, while only completing 59.2% of his passes. Even though the yards and touchdown passes are encouraging, they are dramatically inflated by the Jaguars’ need to pass in many losing situations (2015 and 2016). With intriguing options such as Kirk Cousins, Teddy Bridgewater, Case Keenum, and Alex Smith available in free agency, the Jaguars need to capitalize on one and let Bortles go.

2. Re-sign Allen Robinson

Unfortunately, Robinson saw his 2017-18 campaign come to an abrupt end, following a torn ACL on just the third play from scrimmage in Week 1. Robinson showcased his ability to be a bigtime receiver in the NFL in 2014, finishing with 80 catches for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. And although he had a down year in 2015 (73 catches, 883 yards, six touchdowns), Robinson was expected to return to his Pro Bowl-caliber play this season. The Jaguars struggled to find a consistent replacement all season and desperately need Robinson back in their offense.

3. Replace Paul Posluszny at MLB

Jacksonville’s defense is loaded with young, talented players, that some would say “carried” them to the playoffs this season. However, they still have the 33-year old Posluszny playing inside linebacker for them. Known as a fan-favorite for always giving his all, the Jaguars saw a dramatic decrease in production from Posluszny, as he recorded just 42 tackles (down from 97 a season ago). If the Jaguars can sign a quality replacement such as Zach Brown, Demario Davis, Navorro Bowman, or Preston Brown in free agency, their already-scary defense could take another step forward next season.

—-

The Jaguars reached the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and though a loss in the AFC Championship is not an ideal ending, this team has a lot to look forward to in the coming years. If they can resolve the three issues listed above, they could be early favorites to take home the Super Bowl LIII trophy.

Edited by Jeremy Losak.

SQuiz
What year did the Jaguars join the NFL?
Created 1/26/18
  1. 1986
  2. 1990
  3. 1995
  4. 1996

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