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O-Zone: Better than losing

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Mark from Archer, FL:
John, I have been a Jags fan for almost 20 years since I moved to Jacksonville in 1998. I had season tickets in 2007. This season has been the most amazing since I have been a fan, probably because no one expected things to go this great. Win or lose Sunday, I have loved this season. But since the Jags have come this far, why not finish this amazing ride and beat the Pats then go win the Super Bowl? #DTWD
John: I thought a bit about your question and here's what's intriguing: I couldn't come up with a great answer. First, I honestly haven't given two seconds thought as to how the Jaguars would match up with either the Minnesota Vikings or Philadelphia Eagles. That's not some don't-look-too-far-ahead mandate from Head Coach Doug Marrone; rather, it's because there are two weeks between the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl, so there is time for such thoughts should the Jaguars beat New England Sunday. But I have given thought as to whether the Jaguars can beat the Patriots and the thought here is they can. They shouldn't be favored; the Patriots were the AFC's top seed and playing at home for a reason. Quarterback Tom Brady is a Rushmore Player at his position, as is tight end Rob Gronkowski. But great players don't make teams unbeatable and the Patriots absolutely aren't unbeatable – and they are beatable by the Jaguars. Great defenses can beat great quarterbacks, and the Jaguars are capable of playing a great defensive game. Remember, too, the Jaguars were a reversed touchdown call against the Steelers from being ahead of the Patriots in the race for playoff positioning with two weeks remaining in the season; if the Steelers had beaten the Patriots in Week 15 rather than the other way around, the Jaguars would have been ahead of the Patriots at that moment. Does that mean the Jaguars are better? Not necessarily, but it does mean the three-game difference in the team's final record might not be reflective of the strengths of the teams. The Patriots are a dynasty, and they're difficult to beat in any situation. They're particularly difficult to beat in Gillette Stadium in January. But it's not impossible and the Jaguars have the defense to do it. They have had the offense at times, too. Why not finish the ride? I have a feeling they just might.
Clay from Gibsonia:
All I ask is to beat New England!!
John: Is that all?
Mike from Atlanta, GA:
The Jaguars have a very real shot at a trophy. This is one of the best defenses I have ever watched. If they can keep most of it intact, they will be in the playoffs a lot more in the future.
John: There's time to worry about the future in the future. Focus for now on the Jaguars' current shot at this trophy. The future is promised to no one – in the NFL, or anywhere else.
David from Jacksonville:
I saw a picture of Jalen Ramsey's locker with his uniform. There is a $20 taped to his lower-back pad. What is that all about?
John: He won't say. Ramsey and video guru Max Hochman have a special relationship, so I assume Max knows, but no one else is privy to such information.
Pete from Jacksonville Beach, FL:
John: I get the love the Blake Bortles is getting right now and he deserves it. I'm just unsure how you can afford that salary cap hit of $19 million next year. I know this question/comment is not about #DTWD and you may think it's a boring question, but I think one worthy of your thoughts on the options the Jags have BEYOND just taking the salary cap hit (rework the contract)?
John: It's not boring, and I've shared thoughts quite often on this topic. It's quite possible the sharing came on a day you weren't reading, so my advice: read often – even if you have to move your lips while reading. As far as Bortles' future, there is ample time for parsing through the details, but the overview is this: I think he's going to be the quarterback here next season – and I think he has played well enough most of this season to justify that being the case. He can either play under the $19 million for which the final season of his rookie contract calls, or he and the Jaguars can negotiate a long-term deal. My guess is he will play at least part of the season under the $19 million because the Jaguars may not want to sign him to a long-term deal yet and because Bortles has little incentive to sign a shorter deal. The sides theoretically could renegotiate during or after the season – or the Jaguars could use the franchise tag on him for 2019. A lot of options work in the Jaguars' favor in the short term. As far as having him play for $19 million next season, you can afford that because he's a quarterback – and in the NFL, there are times and circumstances you must have room for a quarterback cap hit that high. This could be one of those times.
Jefferson from Phoenix, AZ:
So, does Tom Coughlin come into the locker room this week and show off the two rings to remind the Jaguars that even when the Patriots are perfect ... they aren't? DUVAL!!
John: I don't know that Coughlin will bring his rings for the occasion and don't know that the occasion will occur in the locker room, but would be surprised if he doesn't deliver that message this week. I imagine it will be delivered to players, and I imagine a lot of the principles behind the Giants' two Super Bowl victories over New England will be in play for the Jaguars Sunday. The Giants beat the Patriots twice because they pressured quarterback Tom Brady, and because they believed they could win – and because they diligently carried out sound plans they believed would work. The details of the Jaguars approach this week will be built on the fundamentals of such a philosophy. Of that you can be almost sure.
Chris from San Diego, CA:
You alluded to Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson covering Gronk and another reader suggested linebacker Telvin Smith. Wouldn't the most logical be Myles Jack? With his speed and size I think he would create the biggest problems for someone like Gronk.
John: He's a possibility, but the Jaguars' most common approach has been to use Smith and safety Barry Church on tight ends. My guess is much of the pregame talk about who covers Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski will be for naught, because my guess is the Jaguars take the approach of playing base defense as well as possible and trusting that the techniques that allowed it to be the NFL's No. 2 defense will continue to work. We'll see.
Michael from Middleburg, FL:
O, I heard a report that the league takes over training schedules or something like that. Can you explain what this is and why it's done?
John: The league is involved with conference title games because they're the league's conference title games, but the league doesn't take over a team's schedule. They assist in running press conferences, and you'll see NFL Network broadcasting them, but the Jaguars' schedule this week won't change from last week.
Michael from Columbus, OH:
Not exactly a question but more of an observation. To get out of Foxboro with a "W," the Jaguars will have to beat the Patriots AND … the officials!! The calls against the Tennessee Titans were blatant and obvious. It's sickening how biased the league and CBS is in favor of the Patriots!!!
John: You're not the first fan to voice this concern and you won't be the last. I heard the same concern from Jaguars fans before last week's victory over the Steelers, and I didn't sense any weirdness regarding the officiating. (Patriots fans, incidentally, would tell you the league is routinely against them and for everyone else. They hold this opinion because Patriots fans gonna fan just like everyone else).
Robbie from Rock:
Normally, this time of year is reserved for talking about the draft in April. How much fun are you and your colleagues having, this being the third straight week talking playoffs – and now, the AFC Championship Game?
John: We media types tend not to associate work with "fun," but covering a team in the AFC Championship Game is better than covering a losing team – a lot better. There are moments that are very enjoyable and I truly am ecstatic for players, coaches, co-workers and fans. From my end, it's mostly enjoyable to complain about everything on the outside even if you're happy on the inside. This is my approach, though I wouldn't recommend it for everyone. It doesn't make you all that enjoyable to be around. My last good friend was a guy I met at Regency Mall back when I first got out of college. His name was Ted and he worked at Chess King. We lost touch. I miss Ted.

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