The Last Step: Preview for the AFC South Championship Game
By Zoltan Paksa
X-factors that tip the scales in Jacksonville’s favor:
The special teams have picked it back up and showed how much they can contribute to the other phases wit a great game last Sunday. Good field position will be key for the Jaguars and until the last few games, the Colts ST unit has been average at best. UDFA WR Taj Smith has been a critical recent addition, causing 2 fumble recoveries and scoring a TD since joining Indy; Karim and Thomas must be on the lookout for him during the returns. The Colts’ returners are mundane at best and should be no trouble to contain after seeing how the Jaguars’ fared less Sunday against one of the league’s premier return units. If Russ Prunell’s squad dominates their counterparts, that would be a major boost for the Jags in the hostile environment of the dome.
The other factor that favors the Jaguars is the spirit of the TEAM with capital letters. Basically, this is it for them. If Jack Del Rio’s “special young group of men” can win this, that will likely cap off the biggest surprise of the season, by clinching the AFC South, which no one can claim they predicted. I see team first mentality all over the place – if the offense struggles, the defense steps up; if the defense lets the opponent score a couple of TDs, the ST unit comes in with a game changer; but most of all, this offense is ready to roll – even against playoff teams. They know what’s at stake. They’re one game away. And they’re ready.
It doesn’t even need to be said, but winning this game will undoubtedly be the toughest challenge of the season for this young team. More difficult than putting the pieces together after back-to-back blowout losses in Weeks 2 and 3 and the again in Weeks 6 and 7. But this team can do it, because this team is somehow different then those who collapsed in December in 2004, 2006, and 2009. Let me use a quote by Mike Sims-Walker:
“Last year we didn’t finish. We had a lot of young guys who hit the wall. Those guys have returned and matured. We now have a different mind-set and attitude. Everyone is buying into Jack Del Rio and Gene Smith. There is not a better coach in this league than Jack. He’s been so positive, keeping us together after the bad losses early, after the San Diego and Philly games. He’s never shied away from criticism. He is the coach of the year.”
That statement shows me that something really changed this off-season. It’s a new kind mentality for a new team on the rise. On Sunday they can achieve their first great success. But it will be not easy. The Colts and Jaguars always fight until the last seconds in very close, nail-biting fashion. If Jacksonville can dig deep and find the way (which might just be their signature trait this season), then I think we will witness the grand opening of a new, great era of Jaguars football!
Prediction: Jaguars 35 – Colts 31
PS: I want to thank Adam Herczeg (once again) and a true Hungarian Jaguars fan nicknamed ’Husrago” (for the QB statistics) for helping me make this article become a reality!