Jacksonville Jaguars dream season falls short in the final hour

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For three quarters on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, the Jacksonville Jaguars executed the perfect gameplan and utilized their strengths to dominate the New England Patriots. A dream season nearly took the next step, into the Super Bowl. 

Blake Bortles – maligned all season in a year the Jaguars mostly won in spite of their quarterback – was dialed in and taking advantage of the opportunities the Patriots single coverage. Leonard Fournette and TJ Yeldon were their dangerous selves in the backfield to keep the Patriots committed to the run and the defense held Tom Brady in check to tick all the boxes needed for the upset.

When Myles Jack stripped the ball to give the Jaguars possession with a 20-10 lead and 13:43 left on the clock it appeared the upset may have been secured. If the refs controversially hadn’t blown the play dead as Jack turned downfield for a sure defensive touchdown, the Patriots most definitely would have been left for dead on a play that appeared for the moment to be the nail in Tom Brady’s coffin.

Instead of the sure Jack touchdown, the Jaguars had to settle for field position at close to midfield and the opportunity to take time off the clock. If Bortles could continue his stellar form from the previous three quarters and guide a drive with enough first downs, the Jaguars would score and kill off the game.

The worst case scenario would instead occur for Bortles and the Jaguars would give the ball directly back to Brady while taking an insignificant amount of time off the clock in the process. It would be the signal of a change in the tide in Foxboro and the beginning of a nightmare fourth quarter for the Jaguars offense.

With the ball back, Brady guided an eight-play drive that included a miraculous 3rd and 18 completion to Danny Amendola to breathe life back into the Patriots. Amendola’s touchdown catch to finish the drive off would put the Patriots within a field goal and the score at 20-17 with 8:44 on the clock. More than enough time for Brady to engineer a cruel comeback.

Tasked with restoring momentum on offense and putting together a sustained drive to take the final minutes off the clock, Bortles crumbled under the pressure of the moment. Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia sold out on the run and challenged Bortles to make the passes he made in the early passages of the game in the big moments in a gamble that paid off.

Bortles hot start turned into a meltdown in the fourth quarter and his accurate passing gave way to costly inaccurate incompletions that allowed the Patriots back into the game. With the lead, the Jaguars had just one first down in the fourth quarter and only were able to burn just under five minutes of clock.

The incompletions from Bortles proved to be costly and allowed Brady to add yet another comeback to his list of playoff moments. Brady’s second touchdown pass to Danny Amendola secured the Super Bowl trip and the heartbreak of a Jaguars team that fell 15:00 away from making history after a highly enjoyable playoff run.

Amendola arguably was the biggest hero of the day for the Patriots in their fourth quarter comeback. Two touchdown catches – and the crucial 3rd and 18 grab that proved the turning point to spark the offense – helped Amendola finish with seven catches for 84 yards in the biggest game of his career.

In the background of a great comeback from the Patriots dynasty to keep the dream of a repeat alive is the heartbreak of a great Jaguars team. Expected to struggle in the preseason in the midst of a benching of Blake Bortles for journeyman veteran Chad Henne, the Jaguars grew from a laughing stock to one of the most respected teams in the AFC by the time they were crowned AFC South champs.

In the playoffs, the Jaguars went from a team on the rise into genuine Super Bowl contenders. Blessed with the NFL’s best defense and young stars in Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye and Myles Jack playing behind a loaded defensive front of pass rushers, the Jaguars were a joy to watch in 2017.

The joy of watching the young Jaguars emerge and knock off the AFC’s traditional powers is what makes their loss so tough to stomach. Needing just one more quarter of high octane football to put the Patriots to bed, the Jaguars ran out of fuel in the tank to shock the world and make history.

The blame can go to a variety of scapegoats. Most notably the officiating that aided the Patriots in key moments that allowed them to hang around while the Jaguars were in control of the game.

Late in the first half, an unnecessary roughness penalty on Barry Church combined with a pass interference penalty put the Patriots into the scoring position necessary to enter halftime with the score at a much more manageable 14-10 scoreline.

In the fourth quarter, the aforementioned early whistle to negate a potential defensive touchdown from Jack set off the chain of events that sealed the Jaguars demise. To make matters worse, the Patriots were called for just a single penalty in a game to boost claims of favorable officiating against small market Jacksonville.

History will remember the 2018 AFC Championship as a game where greatness outlasted the will of a talented underdog. Hopefully, in the distant future, history will remember the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars as a great and significant team. The contributions of Jalen Ramsey, Leonard Fournette, Myles Jack and even Blake Bortles can’t quickly be forgotten after this magnitude of a year.

Thanks to the Jaguars deep and loaded roster, it is most likely the future will write far greater memories for this group in Jacksonville. After an early brush with glory fell just painfully short in the final seconds to the greatest team of all-time, the future is to be feared for those who are in the way of the new Jaguars.