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O-Zone: Win... win

JACKSONVILLE – Let's get to it … Rob from Westside:
Zone, I must be crazy because I'm not hurting from last weekend. Sure, it's a disappointment, but the past decade has been nothing but disappointing. Mediocrity was the high-water mark and that ended before Jack Del Rio did. We won our first AFC South title this season, swept the AFC North, the Texans and the Colts. The players certainly should not rest on their laurels, but as a fan I am quite content. I will go with the theory the Steelers, Manning-led Colts, and Patriots have gone with: Win your division/compete for the playoffs every year and one of them will see you go all the way. If the team going forward can keep the games meaningful into December, I will be happy – as I am now. I'm good with this year and the team can keep on doing it every year.
John: This email makes a couple of good points, the first being that what the Jaguars accomplished this past season very obviously was significant psychologically and in terms of perception. I wrote and said last offseason that the Jaguars needed to get out of the "abyss" – i.e., the six consecutive double-digit loss seasons and the accompanying irrelevance. That seemed to be the first goal entering the Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin/Head Coach Doug Marrone era, and Marrone during his introductory press conference in January spoke of giving the fans a team they could be proud of. That felt like the first step for this franchise, and the Jaguars accomplished that and more this past season. The second point is pertinent going forward, and that's the best way to achieve long-term relevance indeed is the one you cite – get to the postseason every season, be as healthy as possible and give yourself a chance every offseason. That's easier said than done, but if you do it you have a healthy franchise that drafts and develops players – and that eventually establishes itself as a perennial contender.
Jaginator from (formerly of) Section 124:
If anyone still wants to cling to their sad NFL conspiracy theories, chew on this: Green Bay plays in the 68th-largest television market. Do you think they would ever sniff the playoffs if the league wanted to rig it so only the big-market teams succeeded? NFL fans may view Pittsburgh as a "big" city due to their winning reputation, but it's only the 23rd-largest market. Peyton Manning got the Colts to two Super Bowls, winning one. But Indy is the 27th-largest market. Drew Brees has a Super Bowl ring – but New Orleans is only the 50th-largest market. So please, just stahp with all the tinfoil-hat nonsense.
John: All true.
John from Ramsey, NJ:
Unless I was watching the game through rose-colored glasses, I do not feel the hit on Gronk by Barry Church was incidental at best. He was leading with his shoulder and grazed Gronk's helmet. I had to wonder at the time of impact who was hitting who. I believe the fine is totally unjustified. I wish Barry continued success. GO JAGUARS!
John: Agreed. The NFL perhaps – by necessity – has created a real issue in that it must prevent helmet-to-helmet contact while the rules preventing such contact have made it impossible to defend certain plays. Church on the play on which he knocked Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski out of the AFC Championship Game was trying to tackle Gronkowski high. His alternative would have been to hit him low and possibly injure his knees. Patriots quarterback 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. Neither seems like a good alternative to what occurred. The fine was ridiculous. Unfortunately for Church, me thinking that won't change the fine.
The Real G.O.A.T.:
Federer just keeps on winning.
John: And he indeed just keeps on being the real G.O.A.T. #Fed20
Robert from Fernandina Beach, FL:
Critics never acknowledge that Blake Bortles is at least tied with the league lead in the past four years in the most boring statistic of all; availability. Think of all the quarterbacks who have missed lots of time in the past four years (Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota, Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Andrew Luck to name a few) while I don't think I've ever seen Blake miss a play. That's huge.
John: It's true that observers typically give Bortles little credit for this, but it's one of the many reasons teammates and Jaguars coaches respect Bortles so much. Marrone this past offseason talked often of Bortles' toughness – and while much of that was about Bortles' mental toughness dealing with criticism and adversity, it also was about the ability to take hits and play through pain and minor injuries. Not only does Bortles play through these things, he also rarely shows aftereffects of a hard hit or minor injury. To never have missed a start in four NFL seasons? Considering how many sacks and hits Bortles has taken, and how many he has avoided, that's truly a strength. And indeed one that shouldn't be overlooked.
Greg from Carlsbad, CA:
Hi, John: The Jags at the Pro Bowl are all pretty young. Even Malik Jackson just finished his sixth season. I've read what a couple said about being among a group elite at this level. What does your crystal ball say about this experience and their futures?
John: The fact that the five Jaguars players in the Pro Bowl this week are relatively young collectively is a positive that should bode well for the Jaguars' future. None of the five – weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey and defensive tackle Malik Jackson – have shown signs of being players who rest on their laurels. There are no guarantees that all maintain a Pro Bowl level, but considering the presence of a slew of other near Pro Bowl young players on the roster – running back Leonard Fournette, linebacker Myles Jack, etc. – the future appears bright.
DUVAL DOOM from Section 217:
When does it stop hurting? I can't imagine dealing with this all summer. Ugh.
John: Give it time, Doom. As far as the answer to your next question – how much time, Zone? – that I cannot answer.
Mike from St. Mary's, GA:
John, we could have won all 18 games before this one and it still would have hurt just as much. I still don't think we deserved the ending we got, but what a ride this year has been. Thanks, Jags. See you next year for more of the same.
John: Playoff losses are crushing, and they tend to hurt worse and linger longer the deeper they occur – and no, in a very real sense it doesn't matter how many games a team wins before the final loss. The hurt is what makes the winning great, and the feeling when you win is why the losses hurt so much. Or something like that. I think.
Dwyane from Jacksonville:
If – big if, but if – the Jaguars had won the Conference Championship, would Telvin Smith and Yannick Ngakoue not have been named to the Pro Bowl? I am sure they would have rather been Super Bowlers than Pro Bowlers, but laurels are laurels.
John: No. If the Jaguars had made the Super Bowl, Smith and Ngakoue as alternates would not have been extended invitations when players on the AFC team opted out. They therefore wouldn't have been designated as Pro Bowl players for the 2017 season whereas now they have received that designation. It is one of the quirks in the Pro Bowl system.
Keith from Jacksonville:
What are your thoughts on the XFL reboot? Do you think it could really capitalize from the NFL's issues like bad officiating, stupid rules and other problems?
John: Not unless the quality of play is much, much better than it was in its first incarnation. I liked the XFL, and liked some of its concepts. I never thought it was a threat to the NFL, but I wondered if it might be a long-term thing for the spring. The problem was that the games quickly became difficult to watch – and over time, particularly because of the offensive line play, the games were pretty close to unwatchable.
Greg from Section 122 and Jacksonville:
Wow O-man, it finally hit me: We are Rocky. In the first movie he has this long shot title match against Creed; despite them both giving it their all, Creed wins the match due to judges scoring him more points – despite the fact Rocky fought a better fight. Now we come to the sequel where because Creed gives Rocky a rematch, during which he knocks Creed out in a triumphant return becoming the Champ. No more worries, we got this!!! Next year NFL no one is going to deny us our title. #TITLEORBUST
John: What are we waiting for?

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