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O-Zone: Realistic goals

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Robert from Reno, NV:
WOW! Game-day changes on the offensive line, multiple running backs in play, receiver options no one expected (and others waiting), a quarterback that can now stifle some criticism … We don't need to say anything about the defense that we didn't already know, and now the special teams has stepped up. What do you think of the 2017 Jaguars now Mr. O?
John: I wrote on Sunday night that the victory over the Bengals bodes very well for the Jaguars entering the second half of the season. After taking a few hours to reconsider that opinion, I still very much believe it. Why? Many reasons. The Jaguars on Sunday won by 16 or more points for the fifth time this season; that's not something bad or even fluky teams do. They held the Bengals to eight first downs and 148 total yards – on 37 plays. The Bengals had just 16 yards in the second half, and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton on multiple second-half series simply threw deep on third down hoping for a big play or an interference penalty. While the Bengals were struggling offensively entering the game, that's defensive domination on a significant level – even an elite level. The Jaguars also have won two consecutive games without running back Leonard Fournette – and they have run for more than 140 yards in both of those games. That shows that contrary to popular belief this is not a one-man offense. I thought before the season the Jaguars could push for seven or eight victories, but I honestly didn't believe that overly strongly. I certainly didn't consider them a playoff team. I now see them as a team that absolutely has a playoff-caliber defense – and a defense capable of winning if it makes the postseason. It's also a running game that clearly can function at a high level. That leaves quarterback Blake Bortles, who is clearly improving in recent weeks; he's not "winning games by himself," but he's playing more than well enough for this team to be winning. So, what do I think of the Jaguars now? I think they have a very real chance to win the AFC South. If they do that, who knows?
Wil from Corpus Christi, TX:
It is good to know that we finally have a kicker – 56 yards! That's what I'm talking about. I can finally relax when I see the kicking unit out there instead of expecting a missed kick.
John: You seem happy. What's that like?
Nalen from Faith, SD:
Is Blake Bortles turning the corner? Gotta admit he is changing my mind about us needing to find someone new. If the Jags make the postseason, do you think we will pursue a quarterback next offseason?
John: Of the many notable storylines developing around the Jaguars in recent weeks, this is among the most intriguing. I wrote this past week that Bortles had shown signs of improvement in the last five games before the bye; he obviously continued in that vein Sunday. He made good decisions. He for the most part ran at the right times, and he did a good job checking down and throwing to the right receivers when his first reads were covered. The Jaguars converted 12 of 18 on third downs and they finished with 26 first downs and 407 total yards. Bortles also completed 24 of 38 passes for 259 yards with no interceptions. He did get away with a couple of bad passes early, and that helped his cause greatly. But you know what? His three best career games have come in the last six weeks. If that trend continues in the second half of the season, then yeah … I think there's a chance he's the Jaguars' quarterback next season.
Jeremy from Dodge City, KS:
Big one fer Blake! If he keeps playing like this then the Jags won't ... ugh, actually they probably still will draft a quarterback in the first round, but keep playing like this!! One fer Blake!!
John: Absolutely one fer Bortles, and the funny thing about NFL seasons is all games count. The Jaguars and Bortles are eight games into this season. Eight games remain. If you simply look at the last six games, Bortles overall is playing pretty well. Not great, but certainly not bad. Dating to the last 10 games of last season, he has played well under Head Coach Doug Marrone more often than he has played poorly. There's no way to know for sure what the Jaguars will do at quarterback next offseason, but we absolutely don't know for sure.
Dan from Ponte Vera Beach, FL:
Jalen Ramsey did an amazing job Sunday. He did exactly what we needed our No. 1 corner to do. He took A.J. Green out of the game.
John: Well, yeah – but Ramsey shouldn't have been ejected. Penalized? Yes. Ejected? No.
Jeff from Orange, CA:
Yes, Bortles had a very efficient game and is making progress, but let's not ignore that gimme touchdown he missed as well.
John: If we're talking about the would-be touchdown to tight end Marcedes Lewis in the first half, yes … Lewis was wide open on the play. But are we also ignoring the pressure Bortles evaded at the start of the play and the hit he took in the face as he let the ball go, or nah?
Zac from Orange Park, FL:
This team is dangerous. This is a different group than years past and this is a different Blake Bortles. It's fun to watch after years of disappointment.
John: Yes. This is a different Jaguars team than past seasons. The first seven games of the season gave us a lot of signs of that being true. Sunday drove the point home.
Mike from Jacksonville:
Great win by the Jags, although I disagree with the decision to bench your star running back over a photo op! Fine him and move on. But, we are seeing the Jags mold into a team that can outperform other teams in all aspects of the game. One fer Bortles! Great game.
John: I was intrigued and amused by the number of people critical of Marrone's decision to hold running back Leonard Fournette out of Sunday's game. I also was amused that people based that criticism on national reports that the suspension was because Fournette missed a team photo when there are also reports that Fournette missed more than just that event. Perhaps these reports are true, and perhaps they're not. We may never know for sure. Either way, does a head coach not have the right to discipline players as he sees fit? Is it not reasonable that a head coach – who, by the way, might just spend a little more time around players than, say, anyone else – just understand a bit more about what's necessary to run the organization than a fan reading Twitter? I know I'm reaching here, but I wonder if that might be the case.
Daniel from Jersey City, NJ:
O-man, Fournette, the next Blackmon?
John: C'mon, Daniel. Be better than that.
Cade from Orlando, FL:
I just feel like we should take a moment to appreciate how great Barry Church has been. Just sayin. #OneFerChurch
John: It does seem Church is overlooked at times as a major reason for the Jaguars' defensive improvement this season. That's understandable considering the attention paid to Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngaouke, Telvin Smith, Jalen Rasmey, A.J. Bouye and so on. But Church absolutely has been a major addition. Campbell is a defensive leader on and off the field, and has been recognized as such. Church doesn't get as much recognition, but his contribution and importance are very similar.
DW from Venice, CA:
Fine win. Winning is cool, I like it. Just want to say one fer TEAL. This team was once formidable, and it wore teal while doing it. The more recent black-and-white Jags are associated with two decades of incompetence. The black/gold helmets are still questionable, and should at least be black-back/gold-front if the Jaguars are supposedly "emerging from the darkness." Forgive me, it was hard to find something to complain about today... and complaining's been my Sunday ritual for quite a while.
John: I stopped reading at formidable. Was there more?
JT from Rosamond, CA:
Jalen Ramsey's ejection was bogus, but these Jags might be something special John. Very impressive victory.
John: Yes, yes. Yes.
Mike from Atlanta, GA:
This is a pretty good team. They did this without three of their best players, Allen Robinson, Leonard Fournette, and Jalen Ramsey. I don't think 10-6 with the division title doesn't seem all that improbable.
John: The fact that the Jaguars can perform at a high level without Robinson, Fournette or Ramsey is impressive. It also bodes well for the final eight games, because December and January in the NFL are about attrition and playing without injured players. As for 10-6 and the division title … of course they're possible. The Jaguars are 5-3 through eight games and tied for first place. Why shouldn't those things be the objectives now?

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