By now, you probably know the routine. It's a New Year's tradition for me. As we turn into the new year, I look back at where we were a year ago to determine what was accomplished in the last 365 days. It's a way of taking stock. It's a way of gaining perspective and appreciation. So let's take a look.
What was the Jaguars' situation on Dec. 30, 2004?
Well, the Jaguars were about to finish their second season under Jack Del Rio and the team needed to win in Oakland to enjoy its first winning season since 1999. Making the playoffs wasn't out of the question but the Jaguars needed to beat the Raiders, and for the Steelers to beat the Bills and the Colts to beat the Broncos. The Jaguars and the Steelers won but the Colts tanked it.
The Jaguars were also completing their second season with Byron Leftwich as their starting quarterback and the kid clearly did nothing to make any rational person believe he wasn't the long-term answer at the position.
There were distinct areas of strength: Marcus Stroud and John Henderson gave the Jaguars the best defensive tackles in the game; Rashean Mathis was one of the league's best young cornerbacks; the defense was young, 11th-ranked and on the rise.
The area of greatest concern was the offense, as the Jaguars finished 29th in the league in scoring. That would result in a change in offensive coordinators.
So where does the situation stand a year later?
Well, the Jaguars head into the final game of the regular season having clinched the franchise's first playoff berth since '99. With a win over the Titans this Sunday, the Jaguars will finish 12-4, the second-best record in franchise history.
The defense is up five places to number six in the league and the offense is up four places from 21st to 17th. The Jaguars are up an astonishing 15 places in points scored, from 29th to 14th.
The franchise's greatest gains in 2005 were fan-based. A year ago at this time, it was concluding a season in which six of its eight regular-season home games were blacked out. This year, none will have been blacked out. Yes, seats were covered and that helped, but it is no less a positive that every home game this season will have been shown on television in Jacksonville.
And there's more.
A year ago at this time, we were just starting to read about the flap between the Jaguars and the city concerning signage. In '05, that problem was solved and the future of the franchise was secured.
Was 2005 a good year? I'd have to say it was a very good year.
Here are 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Titans.
- Achieve the proper perspective—Winning may take on a different meaning this Sunday. The scoreboard may not provide the final verdict. Winning will be defined by playing well and staying healthy.
- Block and tackle—Because that's what you have to do to win in the playoffs.
- Bond with the fans—Barring a middle-of-the-night victory celebration, this will probably be the last time players and fans will get together this season. A warm embrace would be appropriate.
- Solve the quarterback thing—Who's it going to be in the playoffs? This team needs to know who its leader is.
- Get Taylor some yards—Fred could be the man in the playoffs. He's on a one-game roll. Make it two games, in a brief-appearance sort of way.
- Be prepared—The Titans made some strong statements following the last game. Be ready, just in case.
- Play better pass-defense—The secondary has had its troubles in recent weeks. It needs to go into the playoffs with some confidence.
- Kick it between the uprights—The same thing goes for Josh Scobee. He's had a couple of misses lately and he needs a shot of confidence for the playoffs.
- Celebrate—It's been a great season. Toast it with win number 12.
- Get the feeling—There's an unmistakable feeling that accompanies teams that are playing their best football heading into the playoffs. This game will define the Jaguars' momentum.