SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday
1. This wasn't the Jaguars' day. That was apparent early, and a huge surge during the second and third quarters did little to change it. The Jaguars clinched their first AFC South title during the first quarter when the Los Angeles Rams beat the Tennessee Titans, 27-23, in Nashville. The Jaguars at the time were struggling to get the 49ers' offense – led by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo – off the field. Those struggles continued throughout the game. Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles had a resilient stretch during the second and third quarters, bringing the Jaguars back to a 19-16 lead from a 16-0 deficit – but he also finished with his first three-interception game of the season. The 49ers put the game away with a 21-point second-half surge that featured a lack of composure from the Jaguars' usually dominant defense. All in all, this was a rough way to clinch the division.
2. This must be a lesson learned.If anything good can come from Sunday for the Jaguars, perhaps that's it – and they must learn from this to win in the postseason. This looked little like the Jaguars team that won seven of its previous eight games – and the fourth quarter showed a troubling lack of composure for the defense. With the Jaguars trailing 23-19, the defense committed three major penalties – a 15-yard, after-the-play hit by linebacker Myles Jack; a 15-yard, after-the-play penalty by defensive end Yannick Ngakoue; and a defensive holding penalty on defensive end Dante Fowler that moved the 49ers to the Jaguars 4. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson drew a 15-yarder on the 49ers' final drive with the Jaguars trailing, 37-33 – and the Jaguars for the day had a season-high 12 penalties for 99 yards. This is an emotional team that plays with impressive fire, but on this day that fire hurt at a critical times and helped the 49ers pull away.
3. Division champions.The bottom line on Sunday is the Jaguars won the AFC South for the first time. That shouldn't be forgotten or overlooked – even considering the difficult nature of the loss. That's because you don't win a division in one day – and that's true whether or not you win or lose the game that day. How hard is it to win a division? Consider this: the Jaguars have had some very good teams not win divisions – the 1997 11-5 team, the 2005 12-4 team and the 2007 11-5 team. The coolest thing about winning the division? Even cooler than the T-shirts and hats with AFC South Champions written on it? The fact that there will be a home playoff game at EverBank Field. That has happened only three other times in franchise history – once in 1998 and twice in 1999. So, despite the bad feeling of the loss, take a moment to savor this one. This was cool in that sense.
- Give Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan credit, they had a plan for the best defense in football and executed it to perfection. The fullback, the tight end and multiple running backs were often wide open and the quarterback was rarely under duress. I didn't think a line with Zane Beadles starring at right tackle could handle the pressure...but then again, I didn't think Garoppolo was Tom Brady either. The 49ers earned that win on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
- You'll see, hear and read a lot about a team that lost its composure in San Francisco. It's almost all true. Not a single player or coach argued the point after the game. Penalties will hurt you but the self-inflicted, stupid kind will get you beat every time and with the lose and go home season right around the corner this has to be fixed. I was highly encouraged by the way Jalen Ramsey took hold of his more volatile teammates during the game and how he spoke in the post game locker room. He is this defense's best player, it's his time to assert a stronger, more demanding leadership role and I think you'll see that in the next few days.
- I didn't see the old Blake Bortles on the team plane or in the hotel on Saturday night, so I was more than a little surprised when he took the field in the second half. I'm giving him a pass on the pick-6 because Keelan Cole short-armed that one. The other two were vintage Bortles, and each set up a 49ers touchdown, erasing a three-point lead and turning it into an 11-point deficit. On cue, the defense melted down with a series of penalties that made the 49ers job much, much easier. It's been too easy to just say the defense can carry this team because on Sunday they couldn't and against the games best quarterbacks in the playoffs it's too much to ask. This team's playoff run will go only as far as Blake Bortles can take them.