JACKSONVILLE --Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned from the Jaguars' 44-33 loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, Sunday
1.The Jaguars are AFC South champions.Put aside the sting of Sunday's loss and allow that resonate. The Jaguars, after a 3-13 season last season and way too many similar seasons before that, are the AFC South Champions for the first time – and they're division champions for the first time since they won the AFC Central in 1999. These days don't happen all the time. This is just the third division title in the 23-season history of the franchise. It matters. It's big. The Jaguars are back. At long last. For real.
2. … and they earned it all season.The Jaguars didn't win Sunday, but make no mistake: They earned winning the South – and there's no such thing as "backing into" a division title. The Jaguars are division champions because they won 10 of their first 14 games and because they won more games than any team in the division. They have been the NFL's best defense this season more often than not. They have had the league's best cornerbacks more often than not. They beat Pittsburgh, Baltimore, the Los Angeles Chargers and Seattle. This team is good. It belongs atop the division. And it belongs in the playoffs.
Images of the Jaguars Week 16 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers.
3.The Jaguars are assured of the AFC's No. 3 seed …The Jaguars can finish no worse than that because the 9-6 AFC West Champion Kansas City Chiefs have four conference losses. The most conference losses the Jaguars can have is three.
4. … and they still have an outside chance at No. 2 seed. This is about as "outside" as possible now. The Jaguars must hope Pittsburgh loses to the 4-10 Houston Texans Monday and to the 0-15 Cleveland Browns next Sunday – and the Jaguars also must beat Tennessee next Sunday. That's the only way the Jaguars can get a first-round bye. Time to focus on the Wild Card round.
5.The Jaguars will host at least one playoff game.This seems likely to be in the Wild Card round January 6 or 7, but make no mistake: it's a big deal. And it hasn't happened at EverBank Field since the postseason following the 1999 season.
6.The Jaguars and Titans will play at 4:25 p.m. Sunday.Sigh.
7.December football can be frustrating football.The Jaguars felt the joy of December victory the last three weeks. Sunday wasn't joyous. Yes, the Jaguars won the division, but the loss hurt.
8.December football can be weird football. Win the division and lose on the same day? Weird. Anticlimactic. A little cool? Sure, but mostly weird.
9.Turnovers kill …The Jaguars entered the game plus-16 in turnover margin for the season. They were minus-2 Sunday. They're still not good enough to win often turning the ball over twice more than they take it away. Few teams are.
10. … and penalties do, too.The Jaguars committed a season-high 12 penalties Sunday for 99 yards. Twelve penalties? Three turnovers? A formula for a frustrating loss.
11.Composure is needed.The Jaguars' defense committed three key penalties – two after the whistle – on a drive that started in the third quarter and ended in the fourth quarter. The penalties gave the 49ers 34 yards on three first downs on a series that ended with a touchdown pass from 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to wide receiver Trent Taylor that pushed San Francisco's lead to 11 early in the fourth quarter. You can't give away yards, first downs and points in the NFL. The Jaguars did it in a big way on that drive and the game changed because of it.
12.Bortles is still the right guy.No, Bortles' play Sunday didn't match his play of the last three weeks. He completed 32 of 50 passes for 382 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions. But he showed resolve after his first interception and again after his second. This was far from Bortles' best game, but this wasn't a case of him melting down after errors. Far from it.
13.Keelan Cole has big-time skill …The rookie wide receiver caught six passes for 106 yards to become the first rookie wide receiver in franchise history with back-to-back 100-yard games. His speed is real – and so is his ability to make plays.
14. … and he still has improving to do.Cole appeared to stop on a route that caused an interception in the first half, and he was the intended receiver on a fourth-quarter interception caused by what Head Coach Doug Marrone called a miscommunication. It has been easy to forget in recent weeks that Cole, Dede Westbrook and Jaydon Mickens are young players. They are.
15.The defense isn't perfect. That doesn't mean it's not the best in the NFL. One tough game doesn't erase an entire season, but this game didn't match the Jaguars' defensive standards. Not even close.
16.The Jaguars still can't win out West.The Jaguars have swept some myths from the closet this season – most notably that they had trouble winning at EverBank Field. The EverBank thing is no more; the Jaguars have won five consecutive games there. But the idea that the Jaguars can't win out West? Well, the Jaguars still haven't won there in more than a decade.
17.Division titles are cool. Even if they feel a little weird and anticlimactic.