JACKSONVILLE – It was the result of last season's AFC Championship game – and the fourth-quarter circumstances that led to it – that dominated the early offseason talk around Jacksonville.
How it all unfolded is haunting even still… but, let us get it out of the way so we can move forward.
· The Jaguars lead 20-10 seconds into the fourth quarter over Belichick, Brady and the New England Patriots at Foxborough in January.
· No, Myles Jack wasn't down – replay confirmed it, but rules could not change it. Whistles stopped a potential fumble return for a touchdown that could have opened a 17-point lead with just under 14 minutes to play.
· Two offensive first downs in the quarter.
· Third-and-18, Brady-to-Danny Amendola conversion.
· Brady-to-Amendola touchdown to get the Patriots within four points with 8:53 remaining.
· A Jaguars punt returned by the Patriots deep into Jags territory.
· Brady-to-Amendola touchdown for a Patriots lead with 2:56 remaining.
· A Stephon Gilmore pass breakup of a Blake Bortles fourth-and-15 pass in front of a breaking-open Jaguars receiver Dede Westbrook.
· Tom Brady kneeling down in victory formation.
AFC Championship game final score: New England Patriots 24, Jacksonville Jaguars 20.
The calendar long ago turned to 2018, and that's the hard truth of all this. It is a new season.
Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said it best Monday when asked about that AFC Championship game result and if it is in the mindset of his team this week.
"People always want to take you back, but you can't."
Good luck with that. We just reviewed that fateful fourth quarter, but Marrone is right: the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-0) cannot change the result of that game in today's meeting with the New England Patriots (1-0) at 4:25 p.m. in front of a national television audience on CBS.
They cannot get back to the AFC Championship game with today's result. The Jags cannot come close to securing a playoff berth today, as there are still 14 games left in the regular season.
That game – that horrible, frustrating, "swallow-the-whistle, ref," throw-things-at-the-television game – is not just the story of how last season ended.
It is also how this 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars team was molded, the foundation from which they have been rebuilt and the crux how they are wired, driven and focused to improve.
What the Jaguars can do – and what the organization has done – is utilize everything in their power to ensure something like that does not happen again.
That started in the offseason when the organization improved areas impacted by that loss and other similar losing results a season ago.
All-Pro left guard Andrew Norwell joined the team in free agency to provide added punch in the running game. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins joined in free agency to provide a consistent middle-of-the-field threat in the passing game and help in run blocking. Veteran free agents – tight end Niles Paul and safety Cody Davis – added to the special teams coverage, while the team drafted a new punter, Logan Cooke.
The young receivers from a season ago are a year older and more experienced – Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, Jaydon Mickens – and they are now joined by veteran free agent addition Donte Moncrief and second-round draft pick DJ Chark Jr.
The game-wrecking defense lost only a couple of key pieces and has already shown last week what they can be in 2018. They now have eight players with Pro Bowl experience – cornerback A.J. Bouye, defensive lineman Calais Campbell, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, safety Tashaun Gipson, defensive tackle Malik Jackson, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Telvin Smith. Third-year linebacker Myles Jack is now the every-down middle linebacker and calls the defense.
A strong football team that fell just short a season ago just got better, and the circumstances surrounding the ending of their season drives them to not only get back to that game, but to go beyond and make sure Owner Shad Khan hoists the Lombardi Trophy. Make no mistake, if it was not the standard before, it certainly is now – especially coming minutes away from playing for it.
Even with that goal still hanging out there for this franchise, and with all those additions and remedies to cure what ailed the team late in the season and in the postseason last year, here is all the Jaguars can do today…
They can open TIAA Bank Field for the regular season. They can continue to improve on things from last week's road win over the New York Giants. They can improve to 2-0 with a win over New England. They can solidify themselves as early-season contenders in the American Football Conference for 2018. They can knock off the GOAT head coach Bill Belichick and the GOAT quarterback Tom Brady - finally.
At the same time, even though they might not fully admit it, the Jacksonville Jaguars can exorcise some demons in the process – and then move on to Week 3.
And no, Myles Jack wasn't down. He will never be.
Jaguars Players to Watch
Here are J.P. Shadrick's key players to watch in today's game against the New England Patriots:
· #5 QB Blake Bortles: This is a simple one. His Week 1 performance against the Giants was far from outstanding statistically, outside of the winning result. The Jaguars need Bortles to improve this week, especially if there are questions in the running game with…
· #27 RB Leonard Fournette: He left the Week 1 game against the Giants with a hamstring injury and did not return. If he is healthy enough to be active this week, can he be the hard-running, explosive back that he was in the first two quarters in New York? There is lots of football left this season as well.
· #68 LG Andrew Norwell: In his Jaguars debut last week, Norwell had a key penalty to negate a touchdown and allowed a sack for the first time in a long time. Norwell was a first-team All-Pro guard last year with Carolina and was paid as such in free agency. His attitude and work ethic are as strong as you will find on this team. Another week of this line playing together in a real game will help everyone up front. Look for Norwell to bounce back and play well this week and beyond.
· #44 LB Myles Jack: Obvious reasons here considering the play that has come to define the Jaguars' January loss to the Patriots. Jack played very well a week ago in the opener with a team-high 10 tackles and an interception return for a touchdown. Let the play-making continue for a guy who cannot wait to right the "wrong" done in Foxborough.
· #56 Dante Fowler Jr.: Fowler is coming off his one-game NFL suspension for a violation of the league's personal conduct policy. He watched last week's game on television. Fowler sounds eager to prove he belongs on the field with a defense that showed a week ago it can be strong without him.
· #91 DE Yannick Ngakoue: Ngakoue might not have gotten home on Eli Manning last week for a sack, but his pressure caused Manning to step up in the pocket and rush his throw that was intercepted. He is supremely confident and is primed to break out. Frustrate Tom Brady; a strip-sack – his specialty a year ago – would be helpful.
· #95 Abry Jones/#97 Malik Jackson/#99 DT Marcell Dareus: Same here, but in the middle of the line. All three played well last week in New York. Don't let Tom Brady get comfortable standing back in the pocket, and the easiest way to do that is to find pressure from the middle to either get home or help the edge rushers.