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O-Zone: Team with a chance

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Rob from Duuuvalll!!!:
During the games this year they play a video clip of Tom Coughlin talking about keys to victory. Today's was about grit. I don't know exactly what he said, but this team showed grit today. Never giving up. Never surrendering. They grinded and battled and were determined NOT to lose this game. The coaches never gave up, either. Running game not working? Then, let's throw it instead of keeping doing what's not working. This team has come a long way since last year.
John: I'll repeat here what I wrote in O-Zone Late Night Sunday – that while there will be plenty of time later this week to parse through the many concerns raised during Sunday's victory, the most important thing about that game was the Jaguars won. I say that not to ignore the troublesome areas, but to make the point that what the Jaguars didn't do Sunday paled in comparison to what they did. Did quarterback Blake Bortles have a couple of oh-no plays? Were there some bad penalties? Did the running game struggle? Yes, yes and yes. But the Jaguars on Sunday beat a team that was playing well and they beat a team they have had a world of trouble beating in recent seasons. They had every chance to lose that game Sunday – yet they found a way to win. And they weren't given the game. The Jaguars' defense made plays to take that game away from Los Angeles. Yes, the Chargers made some mistakes, but the Jaguars took advantage of the mistakes. And when they got the game into overtime, they kept a stranglehold on the game and never let the Chargers regain momentum. The Jaguars scrapped and clawed and figured a way to get to 6-3. They figured a way to remain in first place. They figured a way to WIN!! – and you know how important that is because of the CAPITAL LETTERS and exclamation points!!!! You need a couple of "how'd-they-do-that?-victories to make the postseason. The Jaguars got one Sunday.
Jon from Trinidad and Tobago:
With all the focus being on the last few throws by Blake Bortles resulting in picks, let's not forget the plays he made to avoid sacks which resulted in positive plays. #teamwin
John: I think it's fair to assume many people indeed will focus just on the last few throws, but you're correct: Bortles did a lot to keep the Jaguars in the game Sunday. The last couple of interceptions were brutal, but the first three quarters were on the whole pretty good.
Jake from Spokane, WA:
What may have been the most impressive thing about the win on Sunday against the Chargers was that by no means were the Jaguars perfect. It seems for the past seven years in order for the Jags to get a win they would have to play an almost completely perfect game. I still don't think this team has a lot of margin for error but to see the way they grinded out a victory in the face of late turnovers and never really getting the running game going speaks volumes to this team's growth and maturity.
John: You're not going to get to the postseason with all your victories in comfortable fashion. "Complete games" in which the offense, defense and special teams "win" are rare because there usually are a bunch of motivated, talented, well-paid players on the other team. Sometimes you need to win games where it takes you a few hours afterward to figure just how it happened. The Jaguars won that sort of game Sunday. That could look very important come December.
Brent from Clearwater, FL:
Allen Hurns deserves the game ball. Like 12 of them.
John: Fair point. Allen Hurns always has been an easy player to like and root for. The image of him crawling off the field in the final two minutes Sunday to prevent the Jaguars from having to use a timeout will and should be a remembered by Jaguars fans for a long time.
Trent from North Dakota:
One fer T.J. Yeldon really showing his value as a pass-blocking and receiving back.
John: Absolutely … one fer Yeldon.
David from Maplewood, NJ:
John, good teams find ways to win ugly: 6-3 and on to Cleveland. Just saying. I know Blake Bortles had three really bad decisions but with very few exceptions any quarterback asked to throw it 51 times is going to have a couple they want back. Marqise Lee gets at least a part of the second pick for putting the team in a third-and-35 hole – teaching moment, I would think. Plus, he dropped what easily could have and maybe should have been the winning touchdown on the first drive of overtime.
John: A few thoughts on your thoughts. One is that you make a very good point on Bortles. If a quarterback throws 51 times with 54 pass plays called, he's going to be in enough difficult situations that some bad things are going to happen. That's particularly true against a pass rush as good as that of the Chargers. His two interceptions appeared to be bad throws – and while the second turned out to have the same effect as a punt you would have liked for him to get the 10 or 15 yards to get the team into field-goal range. And you're right that that second interception was at least in part because of Lee's penalty the play before. But let's not hammer Lee too much for not scoring on the play you mention in overtime. While he indeed got his hands on the deep ball down the right sideline, it would have been a remarkably difficult, athletic catch. It's hard to say he "easily" could have caught that one.
Strnber from Dothan, AL:
Blake said it best after the game: "a couple years ago we would have folded and lost."
John: A couple of years ago they probably wouldn't have been that close, but Bortles' point absolutely is correct: this was a mature, gutsy victory. It's very hard to imagine recent versions of the Jaguars winning that game.
Lee from Orange Park, FL:
Gut-wrenching win. Please, O: help me understand [Jaguars offensive coordinator] Nate Hackett's game plan. It felt as if every first down early was No. 27 for one or two yards. When the defense puts 9-10 in the box you will rarely have success rushing. Blake was on fire early. Let the guy throw.
John: I got many, many emails Sunday criticizing Nathaniel Hackett's play-calling. I'll try to address most of it with this answer: I didn't talk to Hackett afterward, but my assumption is that his approach – particularly in the first half – had far less to do with not trusting Bortles as it did with trying to find a way to counteract a fierce Los Angeles pass rush. The Jaguars, remember, were playing without right tackle Jermey Parnell. Even with Parnell, the matchup of Chargers pass rusher Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram against the Jaguars' offensive line was a dangerous one for Jacksonville. Sometimes being conservative makes sense. It made sense early Sunday considering the matchup. Bortles was under enormous pressure much of the first half – and indeed much of the game. He still threw 51 times. To have geared the play-calling more toward dropping back into the teeth of that rush … well, I just can't sit here and write that Hackett should have taken that approach.
Darren from Jacksonville:
Elite defenses don't let offenses score so easily. This is a good defense, but all that talk about being historic should stop after today.
John: This was sent Sunday around halftime. I include it to point out the folly of trying to analyze a game on one drive. This was sent after the Chargers scored a touchdown late in the first half. The Chargers at the time had scored seven points. It was the second touchdown allowed by the Jaguars' defense in 35 possessions. NFL offenses score points, even on great defenses. The Chargers got another touchdown in the third quarter. The Jaguars' defense after that made two enormous plays to win the game. Is the Jaguars' defense elite? Historic? I suppose we can determine that after the season, but it darned sure has a chance to be special and to take this team a long way.
Julio from Oak Hills, CA:
Was it a good Chargers front or the absence of Parnell that limited the Jags run game?
John: Both. It also was a Chargers defensive approach that featured eight and nine defenders in the box. Even the best running teams in the NFL rarely run efficiently every week for an entire season. There are too many good defenses, and most defenses can stop you if they completely sell out against the run.
Brian from New Hampshire:
This win feels different. This feels like a real turning-point game for this season. Maybe it's all the games like this usually lost, but it finally feels like a different team.
John: Maybe it's being 6-3 and having won three consecutive games, but yeah … the Jaguars are starting to do things postseason teams do. That doesn't mean they're making the postseason, but they sure have the look of a team with a chance.

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