JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton look back at the Jaguars' loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game and ahead to the offseason
1.Reviewing the preview.When previewing Jaguars-Patriots, the thought here was the Jaguars needed to pressure Patriots quarterback Tom Brady with four linemen, have the offensive line play at a high level and score red-zone touchdowns. The Jaguars did the first two at times and they took advantage of both of their red-zone opportunities by scoring touchdowns. What happened? The Jaguars didn't pressure Brady consistently enough – particularly with the critically-important interior rush – and while the offensive line played well in the first half, the Patriots took away the Jaguars' running game in the second. With the running game stagnant, the Jaguars were unable to extend the lead past 10 points despite holding the Patriots scoreless in the third quarter. The Jaguars scored field goals on their two deepest second-half penetrations into New England territory – the 25 and 36 – but could get no closer as the Patriots controlled second-half field position.
2.As I saw it. This was a game that got away in the manner that championship games often do: on a few key plays. The first came late in the first half, when delay-of-game penalty negated a 12-yard pass from quarterback Blake Bortles to tight end Marcedes Lewis that would have given the Jaguars first down at the Patriots 32. Instead of the Jaguars perhaps holding a 14-point lead, the Patriots cut the lead to four just before halftime. The second: a would-be fumble return for a touchdown by Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack, a play officials whistled dead believing Jack was down by contact; Jack's touchdown would have given the Jaguars a 27-10 lead with around 13:30 remaining. The third: a 21-yard pass from Brady to wide receiver Danny Amendola that converted third-and-18 with 10:19 remaining. Had any of those plays gone the other way, the game could have played out differently. The Patriots took advantage of the opportunities and the Jaguars didn't do enough to overcome what went against them. It's why the Patriots are still playing. It's also why they win a lot of Super Bowls.
3.Looking ahead, briefly.Up next for the Jaguars: The offseason. The reality for every NFL team is that offseason means change – and even though the Jaguars feature a strong nucleus, this offseason indeed will feature change. Wide receivers Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee are unrestricted free agents, as are cornerback Aaron Colvin and middle linebacker Paul Posluszny. The guess here is Robinson will be re-signed while Lee and Colvin seem likely to test free agency; Posluszny perhaps will return for a short-term contract. Will the Jaguars retain players such as wide receiver Allen Hurns and running back Chris Ivory, whose salary-cap numbers could cause the team to restructure or move in a different direction? Those are key questions. There also will be discussion among observers regarding quarterback Blake Bortles. The guess here is Bortles will be the Jaguars' quarterback next season, likely playing for the $19.1 million for which his current contract calls. Those are the early thoughts, but the offseason barely has begun.
1.Reviewing the preview.The Jaguars had to take advantage of every opportunity they created or were given in New England. They very nearly did. Look at what they did on third down or in the red zone – and coming out of the halftime locker room and adding to a narrow lead was huge. They didn't turn the ball over and they took the ball away – but still lost. They had the Patriots on their heels when Lewis converted third down with just over two minutes to play in the first half. But Bortles didn't get the play off before the clock ran out, and it was called back. If they could have added to their lead there and not given Tom Terrific the chance to do what he does, it could have changed the game. The same is true of allowing the third-and-18 conversion after a sack by defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. Against any other quarterback, what the Jaguars did would have been good enough; against the greatest of all time you must take advantage of every opportunity. They missed those two and it cost them.
2.As I saw it. The Jaguars let a few bad calls get to them. They could have bowed up and kept the Patriots out of the end zone on a couple of key drives, but didn't. A young team, despite its swagger, blinked in the fourth quarter. You could feel Brady's building momentum, the NFL's most-experienced big-game crowd in football and Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick getting to them. Winning in New England – especially on that AFC Championship Game stage – would have been huge for the Jaguars and Jacksonville. Instead it turned out to be too big for them, at least this time.
3.Looking ahead, briefly.The players wanted nothing to do with this question Monday. The pain of coming so close to beating Brady was real. My guess is they won't start looking ahead until the Super Bowl is played … without them. You know the questions that will have to be asked and answered … the futures of Bortles, Allen Robinson, Colvin and a few others. All I can add is this roster is talented and now experienced. The coaching staff proved to be a very smart, thorough and tough group – and the influence of Jaguars Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin and General Manager Dave Caldwell throughout the building and the roster is self-evident. Time is the only thing that will heal these wounds, and gratefully there is time ahead to sort everything out.