O-Zone: Good times

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … John from Jacksonville:
What a perfect formula with the playoffs around the corner. All phases of the team are strengths that complement each other. I often wonder if fans realize how special this team and season has become. Nothing is guaranteed with how far we make it in the playoffs, but it has been and will be fun to watch. I think Head Coach Doug Marrone's game-by-game, no-nonsense philosophy really has these guys focused ... and I'm not talking a bunch of bologna.
John: You touch on a good point – not just that this team can be special, but how its' coming together. Coaches love to talk about how teams don't stay the same during a season – that they must either get better or worse. They also like to say the best teams improve during a season. Realistically, it's often difficult to see if a team is really improving – but that's not the case with the Jaguars this season. They have improved defensively, which makes sense for a unit with a lot of veterans who just began playing together this season; it stood to reason that side would improve with time. But few predicted the improvement of this offense, particularly quarterback Blake Bortles and the receivers. This looks like a different offense over the last month. It also during that time has felt more and more like a team growing together, with the offense having confidence in the defense – and vice versa. The Jaguars do appear to have the right formula right now. The pieces are in place. And yeah – the coming weeks could be really intriguing. No bologna.
Strnbiker from Dothan, AL:
"By John McClain, Houston Chronicle … Published 5:59 pm, Sunday, December 17, 2017 … OVERALL GRADE: The 38-point loss was an abomination, the worst of Bill O'Brien's four-year career. It was an embarrassment to the coaches, players, owner Bob McNair and general manager Rick Smith. Grade: F-double minus." Your thoughts?
John: I think John thinks the Texans didn't play well Sunday.
Wilfredo from Corpus Christi, TX:
It took me a while to allow myself to feel this way. After all the losses and all the disfunction this team and fans experienced for so long. All the times I watched games with that uneasy feeling I was wasting my time watching yet another inevitable loss. Now, I can finally allow myself to get out of that mode. I'm so proud of this team. I have always been a loyal fan, but now I'm not just loyal to our team, I'm proud of knowing this team can handle its business. That's a great feeling.
John: Indeed it is. #DTWD
Alan from Jacksonville:
Garoppolo-led 49ers...should we be worried? Or does our diamond have too many facets?
John: The Jaguars absolutely must take the Jimmy Garoppolo-led 49ers seriously. This is a team that's 3-0 with Garoppolo starting at quarterback and 4-1 after a 0-9 start. The 49ers are playing at home. They also seem to be ascending. The coaching staff is in its first year, which means it likely will remain intact, which in turn means players wanting to return – i.e., most of them – will have that much more incentive to not only play hard, but continue buying into the culture and approach of the staff. The Jaguars should still win because they're better than the 49ers – and because teams playing for postseason position generally should beat teams that aren't. But is this a week to worry? Absolutely.
Dylan from Denver, CO:
Although I certainly want Jacksonville to win next week, I hope we aren't resting starters against the Titans. I think Jacksonville needs to beat Tennessee in order to feel like they won the division. Hopefully, Tennessee will still have a shot at the playoffs and need a win against Jacksonville to secure their spot. Can Jacksonville say they won the AFC South if the Titans beat them twice in one year?
John: You get in the postseason however you get in and you win division titles however you win them. And you're ecstatic when either happens because both are difficult and don't happen every season – or every decade. As far as the whole resting-the-starters-at-the-end-of-the-season thing, there are a lot of moving parts for the Jaguars on this front. Remember: if the Jaguars do clinch the AFC South with a victory Sunday, and the Steelers and Patriots both win this this weekend, the Jaguars will go into the final week of the season still having a chance to move into the No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Pittsburgh would need to lose to Cleveland and/or New England would need to lose to the Jets in that scenario – but while either of those seems like a long shot, anything can happen and you wouldn't want to miss out on a better seed because you rested players only to have a seed ahead of you get upset. That's a long-winded way of saying the rest issue isn't as clear as one might think. As for your final question about whether or not the Jaguars can say they're division champions if they lose to the Titans twice, you're damn right they can. You know why? Because thems the rules.
Bob from Sumter, SC:
During the preseason when Bortles was abysmal, Dave Caldwell in an interview said he thought Bortles had the talent to take the team to the Super Bowl. I thought "This guy is an idiot." He's not. Bortles does have that talent. I was wrong and I could not be happier for those two guys for staying classy and having great success right now. This is really fun. Very happy they proved a lot of us wrong. With all the young talent this can be really special this year and beyond.
John: Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell indeed deserves a lot of credit because you weren't alone in thinking he was way, way off in his opinion of Bortles. I thought so, and most people with an opinion on the matter certainly didn't share Caldwell's. Yes, Caldwell certainly had a vested interest in defending Bortles the past few seasons; Bortles was, after all, his most high-profile draft selection. But there also was ample opportunity this past offseason for the Jaguars to pursue a different direction at the position. Caldwell easily could have pushed for a change at the time. He did not – and it turns out he is not an idiot.
Jeremy from Wise, VA:
With Marqise Lee injured, do you think the Jags will bring Jaelen Strong onto the active roster? If not, what other options could they look at?
John: Marrone has been pretty up front about wanting to promote from the practice squad to address injuries rather than signing outside players, so in-house probably would be the first option. That probably would be Strong since he already has been active this season. Other options to consider: Allen Hurns and Larry Pinkard. Hurns has been out five weeks with an ankle injury and my sense he's getting close to returning; Pinkard missed last week with a concussion, but he got reps against Seattle, so he probably would be an option ahead of Strong.
Nick from Las Vegas, NV:
Are the pools heated at EverBank Field?
John: Yes.
John from Jacksonville:
I remember there was some grumbling towards the end of training camp about how hard Marrone was pushing the guys. Do you think the players are thankful for that now?
John: Marrone actually was asked late last week if any players had pulled him aside and thanked him for the difficult training camp. He laughed and replied essentially that they had not because they were players and players didn't do such things. Training camp was difficult. Human beings generally don't like difficult things. Players are human beings, so they didn't like training camp. Are they thankful now? Perhaps, though that doesn't mean they'll like training camp all that much next August, either.
Marius from Karlsruhe, Germany:
Hey John, I'm a Jaguars fan since almost 10 years now. I never made it to a Jags game, neither in the States (too far away) nor in London (too expensive). Heck, I don't even have a Jags Jersey since it's pretty tough and expensive to get one here in Germany. I watch all the games through Game Pass, and while I do, I'm pretty enthusiastic and loud – which makes my girlfriend think I'm crazy. A regular fan's way of saying "Thank You" to the players is by being loud in the stadium. Since I am and might not ever be able to make it to a game, I write this letter to say, "Thank you." Thank you for 10 years of Jaguars Football. Thank you for making my Sundays so fun even if I have to stay up late to watch some games. This year they finally made it to the playoffs; that makes me even more excited. In good times and in bad, DTWD. Go Jags.
John: Now, really: how cool is that?

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