The Jacksonville Jaguars have been discounted by the media. It’s time for the Jaguars to show everyone what they are made of.
Everyone here in Jacksonville knows the importance of today’s match-up against the New England Patriots. Coming off a devastating loss in the AFC Championship, the Jacksonville Jaguars are looking to make a statement against the Patriots—that they belong in the conversation of being the NFL’s best team. Undoubtedly, the players and local media know this already. Many in the Patriots and national media have their doubts the Jaguars can win.
No matter what anyone in the Jaguars locker room tells you, this isn’t just another game. The Jaguars are absolutely looking to avenge their AFC Championship loss. However, the notion that this is a revenge game seems ridiculous to others:
“Only one thing more overrated than bulletin board material and that’s the revenge game. How does beating the Pats this week make the Jags feel atonement for blowing the AFC title game?” says Boston Herald writer Jim Lazar.
Myles Jack Wasn’t Down
We know the story. Last season, the Jaguars were robbed on a blown call by the referees that called Jaguars middle linebacker Myles Jack down after a fumble recovery where he instead should have been allowed to return the fumble for a touchdown. This fact was not lost on Jaguars executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin in a recent Sports Illustrated article:
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"“The fourth quarter. Up 10. Myles Jack’s [return of a fumble],” which was blown dead before the Jaguars linebacker could walk in for an easy touchdown. “I called the league office,” says Coughlin, “and went over this for a hundredth time. Let. The. Play. Go.” The coach transports himself back to that conversation, not long after the final whistle of the AFC title game. New York agreed, he says. The referee shouldn’t have called the play dead—he’s remorseful. “Oh really!?” Coughlin replies, then and now. “We’re just a little bit remorseful down here, too.”"
Tom Brady’s Success Against the Jaguars Won’t Last
The game matters because the Jaguars want to make a statement that last year was no fluke and that they deserved to be in the Super Bowl. This will be no easy test, however. According to the Associated Press:
"“Brady now is 8-0 against the Jags, the only AFC team without a win against the five-time Super Bowl champion and three-time league MVP. He has 19 TDs and two interceptions against Jacksonville while completing more than 70 percent of his passes for more than 1,800 yards.”"
Despite these statistics, do not expect Tom Brady to pull out a victory at TIAA Bank tomorrow. More than ever, Brady will be limited by the offensive weapons around him. In last year’s AFC Championship, Brady completed 19/26 of his throws (196/ 290 yards) to players who are no longer with the team. Dion Lewis is gone. Danny Amendola is gone. Brandin Cooks is also gone. And, oh yeah, Julian Edelman is suspended for the first four games of the season.
It is obvious that Brady will look to connect often with tight end Rob Gronkowski but he will have to get something out of his other skilled position players if he wants to win. I have a hard time believing that first-round draft bust wide receivers Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson who has never had more than 500 yards receiving in a season, and wide receiver Corey Coleman who just signed with the Patriots 4 days ago after being cut by the Buffalo Bills can or will do anything against the best secondary in the league.
Running the ball will also be tough. Jeremy Hill is out for the season. Patriots first-round draft pick Sony Michel is questionable this Sunday dealing with a knee injury and Rex Burkhead is also questionable after suffering a concussion last week. If these two players do not suit up, look to the Patriots to rely on James White who according to Pro Football Reference had 3 rushes for 4 yards in the AFC Championship against the Jaguars defense.
The Patriots Won’t Be Able to Pass Rush
On the defensive side of the ball, many Patriots writers believe the Patriots improved pass rush will give the Jaguars offensive line and quarterback Blake Bortles a lot of trouble. As told by SportsTalkLine.com writer Brian Cole:
"“New England’s defensive line was extremely impressive in game one against Houston, keeping Deshaun Watson contained in the pocket for most of the game. They also sacked him three times and had a pressure percentage over 50. They did all of this mostly with a four-man rush, which allowed the Patriots to drop seven into coverage and make it harder for Watson to make throws. If Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, and Adrian Clayborn can get the same amount of pressure on Bortles that they did on Watson, then they should be able to keep the Jaguars passing game in check, and potentially even cause some turnovers.”"
It’s stupid to think the Patriots can generate the same pressure against Jaguars offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus, the Houston Texans had the last ranked offensive line in 2017 and are projected to still be worst unit in the league in 2018. The Jaguars, on the other hand, have one of the best offensive lines in the league. Last year, the Jaguars gave up the 5th fewest sacks in the league and bolstered their offensive line with the addition of guard Andrew Norwell who did not give up a sack last season with the Carolina Panthers. Put it simply, I think Bortles will have plenty of time to navigate the pocket tomorrow.
Fournette is Nice but We Don’t Necessarily Need Him
The biggest question looming over the Jaguars is whether running back Leonard Fournette will play. He is listed as questionable after suffering a hamstring injury against the New York Giants. Pats Pulpit writer Bernd Buchmasser thinks it will be a “huge blow” for the Jaguars if Fournette does not play. While Fournette is certainly a special player, the Jaguars have shown they can win without him. According to NFL.com:
"“Fournette missed three games during his rookie season. The Jaguars went 3-0 without Fournette, averaging 31.7 points and 158.3 rushing yards per game without their bell-cow, per NFL Research. Blake Bortles had five passing touchdowns and no interceptions in those games.”"
A Game for Jaguars History
With or without Fournette, look for the Jaguars to still pound the rock and take care of business. It is the first time in more than a decade that Jacksonville has had a home opener outside the 1:00 P.M. time slot. Half of the country will be watching with Jim Nantz and Tony Romo calling the game.
The game will also be a hot one with temperatures in the 90s for most of the game. According to ESPN, Brady has only started one game in his career when it was at least 90 degrees. The last time that happened, Brady lost 27-17 to the Carolina Panthers in 2005. Even more reason to pick the Jaguars tomorrow. Let’s make Tom Brady look like 1999 playoff Dan Marino.