The Jacksonville Jaguars had the New England Patriots on the ropes in last season’s AFC Championship Game, but they let Tom Brady and Co. off the hook.
And they can’t forget about it.
Jacksonville walked into Gillette Stadium last January as heavy underdogs against the vaunted Pats, but the Jags took a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter before Brady hit Danny Amendola for a crucial third-and-18 conversion to spark a furious rally that boosted New England to Super Bowl LII.
The up-and-coming Jags are expected to contend for years to come, led by their ferocious defense. But despite the instruction of their coaches to leave the past in the past, Jacksonville’s defense can’t forget that fourth quarter in Foxboro, Mass.
Sports Illustrated’s Jacob Feldman recently penned a story on Tom Coughlin and the Jaguars, but he tweeted out a snippet that was cut from the piece which sheds light on the state of the Jags’ defensive core and how the loss is driving them.
Linebacker Telvin Smith says the final three minutes of the game, when Tom Brady led the second of two touchdown drives, plays in his head “all the time — anytime you think about football.” At the end of last season, the message from coaches to players was, Remember this feeling. Let it motivate you. When players got back for OTAs, though, guys were told, Last year doesn’t matter. It’s time to build from scratch. The directive might have been, Forget last year, if only anyone believed that was possible.
Smith and the linebackers decided to start holding player-only film sessions every day after lunch this year. In a dark conference room, with some of the younger guys still finishing their salads and shakes, Jack operates the computer while Smith takes hold of the laser pointer and narrates. He curses under his breath after every completion from that mornings 11-on-11 session. After a successful run stuff, he rewinds to say, “Look out for the RPO on this one. If he’d thrown, they woulda had y’all.” Watching an A.J. Bouye interception, Smith puts the red dot on himself. “I was saying, ‘Come this way! Come this way!’ We coulda had a touchdown!” The room laughs.
Then comes a long completion over the middle. Smith inhales through gritted teeth. “I’m telling you,” he says to the room, “We got hit on one just like this, I’m telling you.” The Patriots got us on the same play, he says, referring to a third-and-18 conversion that precipitated a fourth-quarter TD. “Tom had the ball for a minute,” Jack chimes in. Oh my god, Smith replies, finally letting himself breath again. The room falls silent.
The Jags once again are loaded with defensive talent, but they won’t sneak up on anyone in 2018. They also will play a first-place schedule which could hamper their pursuit of a second straight AFC South crown.
But should they meet Brady and the Pats again in the playoffs (the two sides play in Jacksonville Week 2), the Jags certainly will have last January at the forefront of their minds.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images