JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned during – and immediately after – the Jaguars' run to the AFC Championship Game …
1.The season was a historical success.The Jaguars wanted more from the 2017 season – and they without question believed they had the ability to get more. But the season was in a very real sense the best in franchise history. Never before had they led the AFC Championship Game in the fourth quarter. They never led the New England Patriots in the title game following the 1996 season and the Tennessee Titans had pulled away by the fourth quarter of the title game following the '99 season. Sunday hurt, but it doesn't mean the Jaguars didn't reach unprecedented heights.
2.But losing is hard.It's easy to say the Jaguars had a phenomenal season – and they indeed achieved remarkable things compared to preseason expectations. But when you're minutes from the Super Bowl and you don't make it … well, the hurt in coaches and players was real – and will take a long time to heal. If it ever really does.
3.The NFL has a whistle issue.Make no mistake: the Jaguars had chances throughout the fourth quarter Sunday to clinch. But the premature whistle that negated a possible touchdown by outside linebacker Myles Jack early in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 24-20 loss to the Patriots in the title game will linger in this team's memory. Jack made what could have been the biggest play in franchise history when he stripped the ball from running back Dion Lewis with just over 13 minutes remaining. Replays showed the play was a fumble and that Jack was not down by contact when he gained possession. Jack got up and was running for a touchdown, but the play was over – and a play whistled dead can't be reversed. The Jaguars had similar defensive touchdowns negated this season, but none with near the ramifications of Sunday. This is something that needs to be addressed. It happens too often and it's the same sort of high-profile error that originally caused replay to be implemented.
4.Yannick Ngakoue is going to the Pro Bowl …The second-year defensive end was named to the game Monday when Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell opted out of the game. Ngakoue's honor was well-deserved. He finished with 13 sacks in 18 games, and his seven forced fumbles led the NFL.
5…. and so is Telvin Smith.The fourth-year weak-side linebacker was named to the game when Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney opted out. The selection righted a wrong; Smith was named second team to the prestigious Associated Press All-Pro team and is clearly among the elite 4-3 outside linebackers in the NFL.
6.The Jaguars' defense will be well-represented in Orlando.In addition to Smith and Ngakoue, defensive tackle Malik Jackson and cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey will represent the Jaguars at the Pro Bowl in Orlando. With Campbell already opting out that brought to six the total of Pro Bowl players from the NFL's No. 2-ranked defense. The Jaguars had two Pro Bowl selections – middle linebacker Paul Posluszny in 2013 and wide receiver Allen Robinson in 2015 – in the previous five seasons.
7.The swagger will remain.The best quote from Monday's Getaway Day may have come from Smith when discussing what traits players joining the team will need: "It's obvious you have to have a different breed about yourself to walk around in this locker room. The swagger will literally get you out of here if you're not ready to be a part of this." Sunday's loss hurt, but it won't mean a lack of confidence.
8.Quarterback Blake Bortles' future will be an offseason topic.Speculation about Bortles' future began immediately after Sunday's loss. To review: the Jaguars can have Bortles play the final year of his contract at $19.1 million, release him before March 14 or re-sign him to a restructured contract. Clarity on this will come at some point this offseason, but not immediately.
9.Bortles wants to be with the Jaguars.Bortles: "I'd be thrilled to stay here and play here – and hopefully that can happen."
10.Marcell Dareus is a force.The midseason trade that brought the defensive tackle to Jacksonville from Buffalo looked better and better as the season continued. He's more than a midseason addition. He could be a major piece of this defense moving forward.
11. … and Jack is, too.Jack made two mammoth plays in the postseason – the aforementioned strip-fumble and an early interception in a Divisional Playoff victory at Pittsburgh. That's no coincidence. The second-year veteran gained confidence as he grew more comfortable making defensive calls, and he had the look of a future star by season's end.
*12.The offensive line must get more consistent … *The AFC Championship Game was a microcosm of the season: a very good first-half followed by a second half in which the Jaguars struggled to run and protect. Will the Jaguars address guard? Right tackle? These are areas to watch.
13. … and the receiving corps must, too.The line likely was part of the reason the Jaguars opted for a conservative approach in the second half, but the receivers struggled to separate against the Patriots' secondary. With Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee scheduled to become unrestricted free agents and with wide receiver Allen Hurns having a $7 million salary, this position will be a major offseason storyline along with the future of the tight-end position.
14.The Jaguars will select 29th in the NFL Draft. That became official Sunday – and that's a long way from their Top 5 status of the previous six offseasons.
15.The Jaguars are back.That's the biggest takeaway from the postseason and indeed the entire season. Yes, the loss Sunday stings – and will for a while. An opportunity was lost and the future isn't guaranteed. But the Jaguars are out of their double-digit-loss abyss – and the city and the team reconnected. Yes, the Jaguars are back – and that made 2017 one of the most important, most-successful seasons in franchise history.