FOXBORO, Mass. – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton both offer three quick thoughts on the Jaguars' game against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.
1.This one hurt – and will linger a long time.That was clear moments after the Jaguars' 24-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game Sunday. The post-game press conference of Head Coach Doug Marrone and quarterback Blake Bortles was no place for talking about the positives of the Jaguars coming-oh-so close to their first Super Bowl – and the post-game locker room wasn't, either. This was an opportunity lost, and the pain dripped from every player who spoke to the media after the game. The Jaguars needed to hold a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to go to the Super Bowl and instead players had to answer questions about putting the loss behind them, focusing on the positives of a season and how to respond next season. Players weren't ready for that. Yes, the team eventually will recover and move forward, but the process is going to take a long, long time.
2.The Patriots did what the Patriots do.The Jaguars had every chance to win Sunday – holding an 11-point first-half lead and a 10-point fourth-quarter lead. They outgained the Patriots and outplayed them much of the game. But the Jaguars were called for six penalties for 98 yards, and allowed Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to convert a 3rd-and-18 with a 21-yard pass to wide receiver Danny Amendola. That was a killer, killer play – and the Jaguars never seemed to regain their footing after that. A play or two here and there – particularly that play – will haunt the Jaguars for a long time, as will three consecutive fourth-quarter offensive possessions that yielded just one first down while the Jaguars needed to drain clock. That's how the Patriots win championships – by taking advantage of their own big plays and their opponents' costly mistakes, and it's why the Jaguars will have to spend a long time dealing with the pain and knowledge that Sunday's post-game mood could have been so much different.
3.Don't get lost in the sorrow.Yes, it's too early to point this out, but it's still important to remember this – that this Jaguars 2017 season shouldn't be seen as a failure, and indeed should be remembered as a remarkably important success. One reason is the record and what the team did on the field. Advancing to an AFC Championship game is phenomenally difficult, and division-title seasons with 12 victories should be savored and acknowledged. Equally important for the Jaguars is that this team and its fan base reconnected in a significant, lasting way this season. Fans and players won't soon forget the emotions of the celebration at EverBank Field that followed last week's Divisional Playoff victory over Pittsburgh. They won't forget a lot about this season. The Jaguars are back. The fans and team are as one again. That will linger long after the hurt from Sunday's disappointment fades.
- The game turned on 3rd-and-18 with just under 11 minutes to play. Tom Brady had all kinds of time and the Jaguars, who were playing zone defense to keep everyone in front of them, lost track of Danny Amendola. Amendola made seven catches for 84 yards and scored both fourth-quarter touchdowns, but no catch was bigger than that one.
- A word on penalties: the Jags were hit with six for 98 yards while the Patriots had one for ten yards. The discrepancies are a topic for another day but the one that hurt the most was a five-yard delay of game with just over two minutes to play in the first half. With the Jaguars up 14-3, Blake Bortles found Marcedes Lewis for a 12-yard gain and a first down, until that penalty. Instead, Bortles was sacked on 3rd-and-12, the Jags punted and the Patriots scored. That one five-yard penalty was as big if not bigger than any of the pass interference flags.
- There were a lot of red, watery eyes in the locker room and on the long, lonely walk out of Gillette Stadium on Sunday evening. This loss hurts and no one would talk about a season that ended short of the Super Bowl but way, way beyond expectations. That as much as anything tells you how far the franchise has come under Tom Coughlin, Dave Caldwell and Doug Marrone.