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Jaguars fail to finish at worst time
Among the most notable changes in the Jacksonville Jaguars foundation for 2017 was the emphasis the coaches and players put on finishing and winning. Previous Jacksonville teams would play solid football for 50-55 minutes in a game, but then would falter at the end. The result was another loss.
The Jaguars couldn't have picked a worse time to revert back to those ways than what they showed in the final 10 minutes of Sunday's 24-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game in Gillette Stadium.
With 11 minutes left in the game, it appeared the miracle season would extend all the way to Minneapolis where they would play in the franchise's first-ever Super Bowl. Jacksonville held a 10-point lead at 20-10 at that point, had pressured Patriots quarterback Tom Brady enough that the 40-year-old would likely have to wait another year for his next Super Bowl appearance. But then Brady began to look like the Brady that has earned him five Super Bowl wins.
A 21-yard completion to Danny Amendola on a third-and-18 situation was a heart-breaker. A stop on that play would have given the Jaguars some breathing room, to take some time off the clock and nurse their 10-point lead. Four plays later, the Patriots had pushed across a score and had pulled to within three points.
Another possible game-changing play came late in the first half. The Jaguars completed a third-down pass and would have had a first down at the Patriots' 30-yard line. They were marching, had the Patriots' defense on their heels and were headed for a possible 21-3 lead if they pushed across their third touchdown of the half, 17-3 at the worst if they converted on a field-goal attempt. But just before the play got underway, the 25-second play clock ran out, nullifying the first down. Jacksonville couldn't convert following the penalty, enabling the Patriots to put together a late TD drive to cut the lead to 14-10 and gain all the momentum going into the halftime break.
The worst part of the delay of game call was that it followed a New England timeout where quarterback Blake Bortles had been on the sideline talking to the coaches and getting the next play.
"I think it was just a lapse on our part of, it was after a timeout, went in there and we just figured once we called the play and broke the huddle, we were fine," head coach Doug Marrone said. "They started the clock earlier than we anticipated, which they have the right to do. I don't think it was playing later or anything, it was just a lapse of taking something for granted. I really believe that."
So ends the Jaguars unexpected run for a Super Bowl berth. They had become just the third team in NFL history to go from three wins one season to appearing in a championship game the following year. They joined the 2005 New Orleans Saints and the 1966 Houston Oilers, with none of the three teams able to win a conference title and advance to the Super Bowl.
The biggest offseason question for the Jaguars will be what they do with Bortles' contract. Their three options are to bring him back at the $19 million that is the designated pay for the option year of his original contract; they can sign him to a multi-year contract which is saying they want him as their quarterback for the future; or they can release him.
Other big decisions will be whether they sign wide receivers Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee along with cornerback Aaron Colvin to new deals. Robinson missed all but three plays of the 2017 season due to a torn ACL, but was a Pro Bowl pick in 2015 when he had 80 pass receptions for 1,400 yards and a franchise-record 14 touchdowns. Lee has caught 171 passes for 2,166 yards and eight scores in his four seasons with the Jaguars, but he's also missed 11 games with injuries during that time. Colvin has only missed two games in the last three years due to injuries though he was sidelined for four games to start the 2016 season for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing substances policy.