So where do the Jacksonville Jaguars go from here?
Despite the heartbreaking defeat in New England, they had a magical season that energized the fan base, will sell a lot of tickets and sent a message that they should be a contender the next three or four years.
But that same frustrating loss to the Patriots also revealed a hard truth about this team.
Namely that while Blake Bortles probably played well enough to convince the Jaguars to bring him back at $19 million, the odds are against them winning a Super Bowl with him at quarterback.
The top priority for the franchise has to be to find their long term answer at quarterback if they want to bring the Lombardi Trophy to Jacksonville. Bortles improved this year, but remains too inconsistent to reach elite status.
The Patriots told you all you need to know about Bortles when they were content to run three plays and punt at the end of the game because, as Tony Romo said, they didn’t think Bortles could drive them 75 yards for a touchdown to win the game.
It turned out to be a moot point when Dion Lewis ran for a first down to clinch the game. But think about the fact that the Patriots have Tom Brady and they’d rather run three plays to force the Jaguars to burn their timeouts and punt the ball than having Brady try to throw for a first down to clinch the game.
Bortles played well enough to get them to a 14-3 lead, but then he committed a major mistake late in the first half when he failed to get a play off in time — after a timeout, no less. That wiped out a first-down pass that could have set up a field goal and a 17-3 halftime lead. Instead, they wound up punting, and Brady drove for the Patriots’ first touchdown to cut the deficit to 14-10.
And then with 55 seconds and two timeouts left in the first half, Jacksonville coach Doug Marrone decided to let clock run out instead of trying to drive for a least a field goal. No team with 50 seconds left and two timeouts had taken a knee all year.
Marrone said he wanted to make some halftime adjustments and the Jaguars were getting the ball first to start the second half. On Monday, he admitted he was worried about something negative happening. As it turned out, they were held to two field goals in the second half, so the adjustments didn’t make that much of a difference.
By giving up a drive, it almost looked as Marrone didn’t trust Bortles to avoid making a mistake.
If you play not to lose against the Patriots instead of taking chances to win, you are likely to lose. Remember the team’s football czar, Tom Coughlin, said when he joined the team he wanted to win lunch.
The Jaguars did add two field goals in the second half to boost their lead to 20-10, and they probably lost a touchdown on a quick whistle when Myles Jack recovered a fumble.
That call and a questionable pass interference penalty on A.J. Bouye that helped set up the first Patriots touchdown along with the lack of calls on the Patriots caused many Jaguars fans to grumble about the officiating.
But the Jaguars still held a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter and couldn’t hold it. The defense didn’t come up big, although Brady has a history of doing that to opposing teams. Jalen Ramsey and Bouye also complained the defense played too much zone in the second half, even though Rob Gronkowski was out with a concussion. Marrone brushed their comments off as frustration.
Another problem was that their play-calling was too predictable with that 10-point lead.
As analyst Warren Sharp pointed out in much detail on Twitter, they ran the ball on first down four times with a 20-10 lead and got no more than two yards on any of them. Then on second down and long, Bortles threw deep four times on passes 20, 20, 35 and 17 yards and didn’t complete any of them, setting up third-and-long with predictable results.
They should have changed things up by having Bortles throw short on second down, because long passes are risky and aren’t his forte. Short passes to try to set up third-and-short probably made more sense.
Sharp also said they didn’t milk the clock, but that was the least of their problems. They needed points because a 10-point lead against Brady didn’t figure to hold up.
Sure enough, Brady put two touchdowns on the board to win it. The first one was set up by a 21-yard pass on third-and-18. A Super Bowl defense doesn’t give up a first down on third-and-18, and that helps explain why the Jaguars aren’t in the Super Bowl. The Patriots were 0-for-25 on third-and-15 or more before the Jaguars defense was burned on that play.
The Jaguars now have a long, long offseason to think about what might have been. They still have a bright future with a solid defense a punishing runner in Leonard Fournette.
But they don’t have the right quarterback.
Bortles showed he can take them to the division title, but the schedule will be tougher next year (they play both Super Bowl teams), and Houston gets DeShaun Watson back. There’s no guarantee they’ll stay as injury-free as they did this year.
It will be interesting to see what they are going to do after Coughlin decided not to bring in a quarterback last year.
It makes sense for them to scour the free agent market for a quarterback and take one on the first round. They have the 29th pick, but they could trade up if one they like falls. Otherwise, they should take the best one they can find at 29.
So we will wait to see what they will do.
If Coughlin wants to win another ring along with lunch, he has to realize Bortles isn’t the long-term answer.