INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' 24-20 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday
1. Jaguars interim head coach Doug Marrone's assessment was spot on – and his post-game message to the team and media Sunday afternoon delivered a perfect wrap-up to the 2016 regular season. The Jaguars this season were a team that could have and should have won a lot more games. Marrone's message: to become a winning team, they need to learn to stop beating themselves. The Jaguars led by 17 points in the first half Sunday, but squandered multiple opportunities to increase the lead. Kicker Carson Tinker twice missed field goals and quarterback Blake Bortles lost two fumbles. A defense that dominated much of the first half allowed three second-half touchdown drives of 70 or more yards. The offense, given possession at the Colts 30 with the score tied 17-17 after a blocked punt with 1:54 remaining, failed to pick up a first down and settled for a field goal. The defense then allowed the Colts to drive 70 yards for the winning touchdown. So many chances, so many chances squandered … the story of the 2016 season.
- The Blake Bortles Question wasn't answered Sunday, but he continued to show signs that the ultimate answer could be positive. The Jaguars' quarterback struggled through much of the first 14 games of the 2016 season, but he has been much better in the last two weeks – first throwing for 325 yards and a touchdown in a victory over Tennessee last week, then throwing for 301 yards and a touchdowns on Sunday. Bortles wasn't great Sunday – and as has too often been the case, the Jaguars' offense stalled in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. Bortles has an important offseason ahead and he must hone his mechanics and fundamentals. His future and potential undoubtedly will be a major point of discussion during the upcoming head-coaching search. Still, in the past two weeks he has played well enough to show why there remains a belief within the organization he can be a winning NFL quarterback. Considering where he was three weeks ago, that's significant.
- Don't rule out Marrone for the Jaguars' permanent head-coaching position – and yes, that's true even with Sunday's blown second-half lead. Marrone, the interim head coach for the last two weeks of the regular season, handled a difficult situation professionally over the past two weeks. The 38-17 Christmas Eve victory over Tennessee was as impressive a victory as the Jaguars have had in five seasons, and the team remained motivated and focused during the season's final two weeks despite being well out of contention. That's not always the norm in the NFL. Does that make Marrone the leading candidate for the full-time position? Time will tell, but Marrone – the Bills' head coach in 2013 and 2014 – is a proven, experienced head coach. The Jaguars reportedly interviewed former Head Coach Tom Coughlin this week, and the search's intensity will heighten in the coming days. Marrone reportedly could be a strong candidate for other potential head-coaching vacancies around the league. It's far from unreasonable to think he could be a very strong candidate for the job he has held on a temporary basis the last two weeks.
- It's over. Finally. Mercifully. The season that went 180 degrees opposite the direction we thought it should go is thankfully finished. Now, once again, we wait and see who comes in to rebuild from the ashes of the Gus Bradley era. It's not a total loss but there is a lot of clean-up to do for a team that had a lead in the fourth quarter and lost eight times in 2016. You can easily talk about learning how to win, but you might need electro-shock therapy to get this team out of it's find a way to lose mentality. That last drive by Andrew Luck was either masterful or unexplainable depending on your point of view. From my position on the sideline it was simply a microcosm of the entire season.
- Congratulations to Yannick Ngakoue on setting the new mark for sacks by a rookie pass rusher. The Jags really have something up front to work with. Ngakoue, Dante Fowler and Malik Jackson were very disruptive in the first half and late in the game after Jason Myers missed field goal. Sadly there wasn't much rush or coverage when they really needed it but they have young guys like Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, Sheldon Day and Abry Jones to build upon. The defense is very talented and very youthful. Now they need to get really focused on getting really good.
- I am still not sure what to make of Blake Bortles, but he has shown enough the last two weeks to merit the chance to be the starter in 2017. For all of his troubles in 2016, he looked poised and threw the ball much better the last two games. He needs a strong coach who will demand more and hold him accountable for starters. The entire roster needs that. But it's also clear that he needs lots of work on his footwork. Forget the release point, Bortles footwork is a mess and that might be too nice. Everything with a quarterback begins with the footwork, especially the rhythm and timing with his receivers. It will take a lot of his off-season and he'll need to demand time with his receivers but it's the most critical and crucial step towards a rebirthing of his career next fall. From what I know of Blake and more importantly from what I hear from those much closer to him than I....That's exactly where his focus will turn after a short respite this winter. Stay tuned...It will be the most talked about issue and the most watched whenever he is on the field before next season. It's not an overstatement to suggest the Jaguars are counting on you Blake, it's simply a fact.