With the release of Leonard Fournette and the trade of Yannick Ngakoue, the Jacksonville Jaguars close the book on a wildly intriguing era in their history. Yet, no Lombardis adorn the trophy cabinets in the team headquarters. Nary an accomplishment to highlight their alleged ascent to the top of the AFC. Hundreds of millions of dollars left the complex, no championships entered. How can a team, brimming with talent, fall woefully short of the ultimate goal?
The Blake Identity
Whether you follow the Jaguars or not, an most outside of Duval don’t, you remember Blake Bortles. Picked ahead of Mack, Beckham, Evans, and Donald, the Jags expected Bortles to command the team. Yet, what he managed to do was complete less than sixty percent of his passes and throw only twenty-eight more touchdowns than interceptions. Additionally, Bortles hovered under seven-yards-per-attempt. So, he profiled as an inaccurate passer that struggled to stretch the field. Despite possessing physical traits that could pressure defenses, Bortles mightily struggled. The Jaguars assembled a championship defense, but when they needed their quarterback to make a second-half play in the 2017 AFC Championship, the team refused to trust him. Throughout 2017, the Jags relied on their defense to win, and Bortles to emulate 2000 Trent Dilfer. However, even the Ravens allowed Dilfer to push the ball downfield.
Jacksonville’s Infinity Moment
Speaking of that game, January 21, 2018, marks the official end of whatever dynasty Jacksonville envisioned. Pundits swore up and down that the newly-assembled Jaguars would be the franchise to end the Patriots run. If you’re a Marvel movies fan, allow me a bit of latitude. In this scenario, the Jaguars portray the Avengers, the Patriots are Thanos, the widely-reviled despot. After the first half, sitting on a 14-10 lead, the Jags look complacent with small skirmish wins. During their opening drive of the third quarter, the Jags ran Leonard Fournette five times for ten yards, Despite fullback Tommy Bohanon’s 20-yard-catch and run, the offense looked fine with a slow and plodding pace. Conservative gameplans play right into the Patriots’ hands. When have you known New England not to rapidly adjust?
Anyway, back to the parallel. Settling for a 54-yard Josh Lambo field goal, is akin to Thor, plunging Stormbreaker deep into Thanos’ chest, instead of the aggressive headshot needed to slay the giant. Likewise, seven instead of a long three, changes the complexion of this game and maybe the Jacksonville fortune. Instead of going for the jugular, the Jags embraced passivity. In the movie, we know what happens. In this game, something similar occurs. The Patriots, unfazed by the whopping six second-half points, methodically score fourteen. New England prevails 24-20. That passive approach allowed New England to live and expedited the end of this era of Jaguars football. Allowing the Patriots to hang around remains foolish. Belichick and Brady snapped their fingers to end Jacksonville’s hopes. Moreover, to draw another parallel from movies and TV.
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The Offensive Unravel
After the crushing AFC title loss, the Jaguars lost Allen Hurns and continued the unsuccessful 2017 attempt at solely relying defense. Granted, Dede Westbrook and Donte Moncrief provided a semblance of upside, Blake Bortles once again struggled under center. Plus, why did TJ Yeldon merit 78 targets in 2018? The defense remained in the top-5 statistically. Meanwhile, the offense plummeted to the bottom of the rankings in many offensive categories. Leonard Fournette averaged 3.3 yards per attempt. Jacksonville failed to score at least seventeen points in nine of their sixteen games. With the team in shambles, the Jags fell to 5-11 and the rapid decline started.
While other departures hurt the Jaguars, the trading of All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey signaled the need for a total dismantling. Ramsey, never shy about his opinion, played engaged in a lengthy battle with the team via the media. If the walls could talk, they’d scream, at this point, who’d blame them. Most want to point to the sideline confrontation between Ramsey and Marrone over a no-catch versus Houston. Yet, how many players will openly scream at their head coach? From that point, the Jags needed to expedite the housecleaning. Get rid of everyone. No player will respect a coach that enduring a yelling from a player, especially a head coach. Jacksonville shipped Ramsey to Los Angeles for a healthy draft pick package.
The Root Problem
Forget the atrocity of Blake Bortles’ tenure and the lack of respect for Doug Marrone. The man most responsible for the downfall of the Jacksonville Jaguars is the same one that put them on the map. Tom Coughlin returned to the team in 2017. After the Giants forced his resignation, the Khan family believed that the man that legitimized an expansion team could work wonders again. If you follow the sport, seconds acts will occasionally devolve into disaster
To his credit, Coughlin assembled a stellar defense, signing Calais Campbell and AJ Bouye. In contrast, his penchant for iron-fisted management became his undoing. In 2018, former defensive end Dante Fowler filed a grievance with the NFLPA. Apparently, the Jaguars fined him in 700 thousand dollars for allegedly missing rehab assignments. The team fined Fowler on twenty-five separate occasions. Coughlin failed here because fining a playing for missing voluntary assignments in the off-season is a no-no. Shortly after Christmas 2019, the team fired Coughlin, eating the remaining years on his contract. A sad end to a legendary career. Players’ rights mean next to nothing for some coaches.
As Yannick Ngakoue trades in his Florida convertible for a Minnesota SUV, the Jacksonville Jaguars appear within a massive organizational rebuild. From 30 minutes away from the Super Bowl to pondering a new quarterback in their future, this team fell faster than many expected. However, behind a strong 2020 draft and ten picks next season, the Jaguars could reverse their fortunes sooner than later.