The Jaguars won five games in 2011. That’s what happened, it’s inscribed in history and it can’t be changed. In the wonderful world of sports analysis however, we have something magical that carries us through the offseason – speculation.
Although the Jaguars only won five games last season, the argument can be made that the Jags should have won more. In close games, there is usually a turning point that swings the momentum and clinches the game for one of the teams. With that in mind, let’s delve into some of the critical moments in the Jags’ 2011 season and how they might have turned out with the 2012 team.
Week 3 – Jacksonville at Carolina
Then: Jaguars mismanage the clock at the end of the game.
Despite limiting Cam Newton to 158 yards and 53 percent passing, the Jaguars somehow relinquished their lead to the Panthers late in the game. The Jaguars still had a chance to drive down the field with a little over one minute left in the game, but the Jaguars weren’t ready to run a play quickly after the officials reviewed a short pass to Marcedes Lewis with 16 seconds left. The Jaguars only ran one more play – an incomplete pass to Jason Hill.
Now: Jaguars give themselves a chance by intelligently handling the clock situation.
Blame for the clock gaffe can be passed around to Blaine Gabbert, Brad Meester, and especially Jack Del Rio. Blaine was in his first NFL start and Meester didn’t have much practice time to get comfortable with him. Jack Del Rio was never known for being a great game manager (“Gamblin’ Jack” isn’t the most flattering nickname).
Despite that lush head of hair, Del Rio too often looked helpless on the sideline.
Fortunately, the Jaguars now have a coaching staff with a much higher attention to detail. Mike Mularkey and company have already established a culture of effort and preparation, something that will lend itself to minimizing mistakes on gameday. Couple that with Gabbert having experience in an offense he’s more comfortable with and you can expect the Jaguars to get more than just one play off with 16 seconds left in a game in 2012.
Week 5: Cincinnati at Jacksonville
Then: Matt Turk punts the ball 22 yards to set up Cincinnati’s game-winning touchdown
The Jaguars found several ways to lose this game, but the most glaring mishap was Matt Turk punting the ball 22 yards. This came after several other terrible punts, which prompted the crowd to boo. In a very classy act, Turk proceeded to goad the crowd after being booed. The Jaguars were hanging on by a thread in that game and after going three-and-out, Turk needed to put the defense in a good position to maintain the lead. He instead gave the Bengals a short field and Andy Dalton capitalized with a touchdown pass to AJ Green.
Now: Bryan Anger punts the ball at least 45 yards and puts the defense in a position to close the game.
If Bryan Anger ever punts the ball 22 yards it will be because he punted it with a broken leg. By all accounts, Anger has a monster leg and is consistently booming punts 50+ yards with a 5 second hangtime in practice. I don’t think we’ll be worrying about a poor, game-killing punt for a very long time in Jacksonville.
Week 11: Jacksonville at Cleveland
Then: Jaguars can’t score with two plays at the one yard line at the end of the game.
With eight seconds left and down 14 to 10, the Jaguars had two plays to try and win the game. On the first play, Jason Hill dropped a catchable pass (Joe Haden was playing good defense on him as well). On the second play, there seemed to be a miscommunication between Mike Thomas and Gabbert as Blaine threw the ball well behind Thomas to end the game.
Let’s take this moment to personally thank Jason Hill for ruining what could have been one of the
greatest moments in Jaguars history.
Now: A Jacksonville receiver catches the game winning touchdown.
Close inspection of Jason Hill’s drop shows that he opted to let the ball into his body instead of snatching the ball out of the air with his hands. This allowed Joe Haden to make a play and break up the completion. On the second play, it appeared that Mike Thomas didn’t know which way to go after he turned around on his route to face the QB. He was indecisive, forcing Blaine to throw it one way while Thomas went the other.
The hope is that the Jaguars revamped receiving corps will eliminate these crippling plays in 2012. Justin Blackmon is known for his strong hands and his ability to make a play on the ball. Additionally, the tutelage of new receivers coach Jerry Sullivan will hopefully prepare his position group to know what to do on every play.
In every game there are plays you can point out that significantly affected the outcome. The three I chose to highlight are specific situations from last year that the team will perform better in because of significant upgrades to personnel and coaching. If these three turning points went the other way, the Jaguars potentially end up at a respectable 8-8 and possibly better with some consistent play at the quarterback position.