JACKSONVILLE – Somewhere along the line, the goal changed.
The young-and-hungry Jaguars will play the mighty, tradition-heavy New England Patriots for the AFC Championship on Sunday afternoon. That in one sense means what the Jaguars have wanted all season – *respect, by any means necessary *– is suddenly and undeniably there for the taking.
Except here's the deal:
All the prove-the-haters-wrong stuff? That's not as important now that the team living the Duval Dream has played its way to within 60 minutes of the Super Bowl.
The ultimate goal is at hand and within reach. Respect is now a sidebar.
"For me, the respect aspect is kind of out the window," cornerback Aaron Colvin said Thursday as the AFC South Champion Jaguars (12-6) prepared to play the defending Super Bowl and AFC East Champion New England Patriots (14-3) in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts, Sunday at 3:05 p.m.
"If we take care of business, if we're holding up a trophy, everyone will respect us."
Now, know this:
This team still very much wants respect. When something drives you like that has driven this team and this fan base, it doesn't go away quietly. But talking about respect suddenly didn't seem all that pertinent this week – and indeed, there hasn't been much talk on that front at all.
"It's funny," cornerback A.J. Bouye said. "Y'all ask us that almost every week. Even if we win, they'll not give us respect again. So, we don't really focus on that. At the end of the day, all we can do is focus on this game against New England."
Indeed, when high-profile, talkative Jaguars players such as defensive tackle Malik Jackson and linebacker Telvin Smith took their turns in front of the bright-red AFC Championship Game backdrops for their press-conference moments Thursday afternoon, more focus was on the trash the Patriots weren't talking this week than anything else.
"Those guys are coached very well and understand that you don't give other teams bulletin-board news," Jackson said. "They understand that they're the giants and that they have the keys to this. They don't have to say anything. We have to go in there and prove something to them.
"We're going to go in there and give them all the respect they deserve."
Here's an intriguing thing about the Jaguars this week.
This team isn't quiet, and it's certainly not coy. These players have made no secret all season they believe themselves as good as any team in the NFL. Spoken or not, they believe it. But while cornerback Jalen Ramsey made headlines by saying the Jaguars were going to the Super Bowl and that they were going to win that [expletive], that was an emotional moment at a fan celebration following last Sunday's playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Since then, the Jaguars' comments have been about giving the Patriots the respect a five-time Super Bowl champion deserves.
The thought here is that bubbling underneath that respect is a quiet confidence. This team said little last week as a rematch with the Steelers approached, and players bit their collective tongues while stewing about Steelers players already looking ahead to the Patriots.
While the Patriots themselves are indeed too well-coached to provide no such motivation, make no mistake: The universally accepted notion that the Patriots will win this game easily is without question motivation for the Jaguars.
And make no mistake about this, either:
The Jaguars absolutely aren't buying that notion. They firmly believe they're going to win. It's not in this team's mindset to believe any other such thing. This team does more than talk the talk – it believes what it says to a staggering degree.
The most intriguing thing about the Jaguars this week is that the more you watch them, the more you get the idea their confidence may not be misguided – that they might indeed go to New England and pull off what observers believe would be an upset but what the Jaguars merely expect from themselves.
The Jaguars are here for a reason. They were the No. 3 seed in the AFC, and until late in the season were challenging for the top seed. They led the NFL in rushing and passing defense. They were second in sacks and second in total defense.
When Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said this week that the Jaguars were the best team the Patriots have played this season, it seemed on the one hand like one of those things teams say during weeks leading to big games. On the other hand, it may be the truth.
Yes, the Jaguars are capable of winning Sunday. If they do, it absolutely would give them the respect they have craved all season.
But in this case, it would give them something so much more important, too.