BOOK IT: 5 Things I Think about the Jaguars, Week 14

  • 1. This was perhaps the most important game the Jaguars have played all season. If you turn on ESPN or NFL Network for 5 minutes, it’s obvious that the talking heads out there don’t like letting go of the past. Everyone predicts that Peyton Manning and the Colts will find a way to make the playoffs – because they always seem to do that. Everyone thinks San Diego will play perfect football in December and head into the playoffs red hot – because they always seem to do that. Everyone thinks the Jaguars will fade down the stretch, lose the games they should win, and let another season slip through their fingers – because before 2010, they always seemed to do that. These Jaguars are not going to fade. I tweeted before the game (by the way – follow us on Twitter @BLACKnTEAL) that I believed this would be a statement game for the Jaguars, thinking that they would beat the Raiders handily and announce to the world that they were real contenders this year. They made a statement all right, but a much different one than I expected. I believed that Jacksonville would prove they were ready for the playoffs with a big win, but it was the indomitable resiliency they showed that makes me know they’re ready. Sure, it was an exciting game, but it took me awhile to appreciate just what it meant to the players. Spent from the emotional cocktail of an absolute roller coaster of a game that featured so many twists and turns and had such dire consequences for both teams, the players’ emotion in the post-game interviews was palpable, an excitement bordering on breathlessness in their voices, finally realizing that the battle was over and they had broken through the gauntlet victorious. The candor of the players was beautiful – the youthful, unrestrained exuberance is such a refreshing contrast to the calculated and content-less Brady/Belichick press-speak.  And when the last few seconds of game clock ticked way, they realized there’s a lot this team can overcome and that they’re capable of accomplishing more than any “expert” would ever have believed before the 2010 season started.  I see a lot of men who believe in themselves more than they did on Saturday and who’ve realized that the hard work and attitude embraced in the locker room isn’t just something to make you feel better in spite of defeat, it’s something that’s going to win tough ballgames. Mark my words: something very special happened yesterday in Jacksonville.
  • 2. The Jaguars overcame their second-half woes of the last several weeks (and first-half woes of this one) to put up an explosive final 30 minutes. Sure, things were slow getting off the ground, but David Garrard summed it up well, saying that despite fans’ expectations for their team to be firing on all cylinders all the time, this is the NFL and that’s not always possible. And for as much grief the Jaguars have gotten this year for being a bland, dink-and-dunk type of offense, they sure can pull out the big play when they need it. We’ll always remember the Hail Mary against Houston and the 75 yard screen in the final minutes against Cleveland, but the Jags kept coming up big in Oakland for an amazing 31 second-half points: a 48 yard bomb to newly-acquired WR Jason Hill, a 74 yard tip-toeing sideline run by Rashad Jennings, a strip and recovered fumble by Kassim Osgood and the coverage team on the ensuing kickoff, and of course, the 65 yard return by Deji Karim followed by MJD’s 30 yard touchdown scamper immediately following the tying score by Oakland with less than two minutes on the clock. Don’t let the rankings fool you either – this was a good Raiders’ defense, featuring a stout run-stuffing and pass-rushing front line. The Jaguars found their weaknesses and exploited them heavily.
  • 3. The defense is maturing and capable of holding the fort down. The defensive line has remarkably gone from the Achilles’ heel of the defense to its greatest strength in one season. The problem yesterday appeared to be overpursuit and bad tackling by the linebackers and safeties. McFadden’s big plays could have been contained much earlier with better gap discipline by the linebackers (although his first touchdown was the result of Daryl Smith being absolutely burned in coverage) and stopped short of the endzone had the safeties done what they were supposed to do – provide the last line of defense. The Jaguars desperately missed Courtney Greene, who has been a sure tackler and physical presence in the defense, proving especially valuable playing run coverage down “in the box”. Other than some ugly breakdowns by Carey and Considine, the defense did a good job penetrating the offensive line, pressuring Campbell and taking away the inside runs. Coverage is far from perfect, but let’s face it, it was never going to be this season. Good line play and making opposing offenses one-dimensional by taking away the run (assuming we can find a way to eliminate the mistakes leading to big runs) could be enough to service the Jaguars for their remaining regular season and hopefully, post-season games.
  • 4. Our Special Teams players must be avid Black&Teal readers. So Del Rio is claiming in his press conferences that he called out the special teams and “asked them to be special” again. I think that Deji, Kassim, Montell, and possibly JDR himself have all become loyal followers of Black&Teal and undoubtedly break down Zoltan’s game previews to make last-minute adjustments to the game plan. After reading last weeks’ articles, the Special Teams players were re-energized with confidence, realizing that they had all the talent to make some big plays. Kassim Osgood played like a true professional after being harassed and victimized by the Raiders blockers, taking a no-nonsense approach and silencing his assailants with a huge strip on a kickoff return that was recovered by the Jaguars and provided the biggest momentum shift in the game. And just when you thought Deji Karim was going to be forever held up at the 27 yard line, he broke the biggest return of the year for Jacksonville, setting up the game-winning touchdown run on the following play.
  • 5. Next week is the final test of the 2010 Jaguars in regular season – as if you hadn’t heard, it will all be on the line. The Jaguars have come a long way since the sloppy defense and the toothless offense that reared their ugly head during some disheartening losses in the first weeks of the season. Jacksonville’s running game has become the most dangerous in the league. The defensive line is physical and relentless, making plays and disrupting opponents’ offensive rhythm. David Garrard has been extremely efficient and remained the biggest dual-threat quarterback in the NFL, who hasn’t spent a year in jail. Every week we hear Jack and the players say this is the hungriest, most focused, and hardest-working team they’ve ever been around. Sunday we find out just how much it’s all changed. Sunday the Jaguars will have the chance to sweep the Colts for the first time in team history and in the process, claim the AFC South Division Crown. So are they ready to handle the pressure? To show the world just how far they’ve come? This is a matchup of the old-school, smashmouth team versus the finesse, our-offense-is-our-defense, “where’s my roughing the passer call?” kind of team. Exert your will, Jaguars. They don’t want any part of it.