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O-Zone: Time for prime time

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Rob from Ponte Vedra, FL:
I believe it is a team's responsibility to fight for fair officiating. The team owes its fans the due diligence of writing to the league for clarification and challenging the calls that were made and missed in our most recent – and in all – games. If it does not, then it is complacent in the injustice and is enabling the league to act unjustly toward small-market teams with impunity. What efforts have the Jaguars made to seek clarification and challenge the calls made and missed in the championship game? If the answer is "little to none," then they are not fighting for their players or their fans as they should. I have been expecting an article articulating the efforts made and the league's response – and have seen nothing. Please shed some light on the efforts the organization is making to ensure this does not happen in the future.
John: NFL teams absolutely fight for fair officiating. They do so during games, and they do so after nearly every game by corresponding with the league office. The fact that you and the rest of the general public aren't privy to the inner workings of this correspondence in no way means the team is being complacent. It also doesn't mean the team isn't concerned about your feelings as a fan. Though not to discount the importance of fans, but their feelings on the matter probably aren't the No. 1 concerns to a head coach arguing with the league over a call. Either way, a team's recourse for what it considers incorrect calls changes little from regular season to postseason. Teams turn in calls to the league office for clarification, and they usually hear something back or one way or the other within a few days. Because there was no media availability following Head Coach Doug Marrone's next-day press conference, the Jaguars haven't publicly addressed what they heard from the league office about the officiating in the AFC Championship Game – but, as mentioned, they likely wouldn't discuss it much publicly in any case. Media reports regarding these issues typically read something along the lines of, "The league acknowledge that they missed Call X or Call Y" in a certain game. The team's head coach typically is quoted as saying something along the lines of, 'Yeah, the league said they missed it." The coach is then asked, "Is that all the league said?" The coach typically says something like, "Yeah, pretty much." The coach is then asked, "Does that help you feel any better?" The coach says, "Not really." I'm not trying to be snide here; that truly is how this works. I have little doubt Jaguars officials voiced their displeasure to the league office over certain calls against the Patriots; however loud those voices may have been behind closed doors, it's not a fight they're going to make public.
Aaron from Nashville, TN:
So, when do the Jaguars have to make a decision on Blake Bortles? Does his contract become guaranteed once the new league year starts? If so, I'm just wondering how they could pursue a quarterback in free agency if he's still on the roster. I for one want him back to see how he does the second year in the same system since he made strides this year compared to someone like a Kirk Cousins.
John: The Jaguars probably will decide whether or not Blake Bortles is their likely starter next season by March 14. If Bortles is on the roster as of that date, his $19.1 million contract for next season becomes guaranteed, which – as you allude to – would make it highly unlikely they would pursue a "franchise" level quarterback such as Cousins or Alex Smith. The Jaguars theoretically could sign or acquire a lower-profile player for competition with Bortles still on the roster, but how serious that competition would be with Bortles making $19.1 million is a legitimate question.
Dane from Jacksonville:
Why doesn't the NFL require the head referee to attend a five-minute press conference after each game? Right now, the NFL is perceived as rigging games and having biased officiating. Why not introduce some accountability and have them explain some of these insane calls they are making? I'd love to hear them explain how Church should've handled the Gronk tackle "by the book."
John: One reason the NFL doesn't require this is because league doesn't perceive it as necessary – and because the people who truly believe the NFL rigs game and has biased officiating represent a small enough percentage of NFL fans that the league likely doesn't believe it has a perception problem in this area. Another reason is that having an official available to the media doesn't really change much. The league always makes the head referee available to a pool reporter following the game in the event of a controversial call; while the officials' comments often provide clarity, I don't recall seeing the comments dramatically change a fan's opinion if that fan believes his team has been done wrong. As far as an explanation about how Jaguars safety Barry Church should have tackled Rob Gronkowski in the AFC Championship Game, that wouldn't have been provided by an official in such an environment anyway. Referees are tasked with officiating a game according to the rules as provided them by the league office. Any questions about what players perhaps should have done would be for the NFL's Competition Committee, which recommends rules changes to NFL owners each offseason.
Tank from Mechanicsville, VA:
.."..Tom Brady threw a pass in such a way that Gronkowski had to reach high for it, thus leaving himself exposed. I suppose Church's alternatives were to injure Gronkowski's knees or allow the completion and a long gain." I am wondering why tackling straight at the waist was not an option? Is it really just upper body or knees as the only two options on an "outstretched" Gronk?
John: There's no rule against tackling him that way. As far as having any success with the approach …
Richard from Orange Park, FL:
Is it just me or do you feel the AFC title game was the real Super Bowl? I expect a less competitive game for the title.
John: I expect the Patriots to win Sunday - because Patriots - but I expect the game to be very competitive into the final two minutes. The Patriots since 2001 never have played a one-sided Super Bowl and I see nothing to indicate that they will start doing so now. The Eagles made it through a difficult NFC postseason by playing big-time defense, and it strikes me from afar that they match up with the Patriots well for the same reasons the Jaguars matched up well against them.
Daniel from Jersey City, NJ:
O-man, it's but a really tough week. I finally feel like it's time though to man up and move on. Next year is sure to be exciting and for the first time ever, I'll be able to wear my Jags gear until then without anyone giving me crap. How do you like them apples?
John: #DTWD
John from Jacksonville:
Everyone has talked about the referees smiling and congratulating Tom Brady after the game, but if you watch "Inside the NFL" they even show the referee fist bumping with Brady prior to the game. This is outrageous. I guarantee he didn't go to Blake and do that. The NFL needs to make a statement on this. It is ridiculous.
John: I can't say for sure that no official fist-bumped Bortles before during or after the AFC Championship Game, and my instinct and experience tells me a lot of the fervor over the officials smiling with the Patriots that day – "GrinGate," if you will – is more perception than reality. Still, there's little question the whole thing qualifies as a decidedly bad look and I wouldn't be surprised to see the NFL counsel officials to come across as a little less cheery and chummy with players before and after games.
Nathan from St. Augustine, FL:
John, I'm finally starting to think more of the fun of this season and the excitement of next season than the disappointment of the Patriots game (and terrible calls). One thing that I'm excited about is there almost has to be a Sunday night game in Jacksonville and maybe a Monday night game as well. Probably one or two national games on the road wouldn't you agree? The nation is discovering what we knew all along, this team has a great fan base!
John: It's hard to predict the site of prime-time games: remember, there are only 16 (or thereabouts) coveted Sunday night slots, so not every deserving city gets a home game. I think it's fair for the Jaguars to expect to play at least three prime-time games with at least one at home. If that's the case, good for those fans who covet such things – and bad for the senior writer, who is still waiting for his elusive 16-Sunday-one-o'clock-game schedule.

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