T o All the Jags Fans Out There,
You want to know something kinda funny? This season I’ve reflected quite a bit on my time with this franchise. Things are better now than they’ve been since I arrived, but the road to get here was rough. And one of the things I’ve realized while thinking back on all of those years this team was a laughing stock is that I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Truly. Because I think it’s all those rough times that have molded our organization into what we have today. It definitely made me a stronger person. And i think it’s all those bad times that have made this year feel as special as it does.
And in some ways it feels like everything has kind of come full circle. Before this year, our last playoff victory happened 10 years ago. As underdogs. In Pittsburgh. Honestly, it feels like a lifetime ago. But it was actually about five head coaches, two GMs, two owners and somewhere between 15 and 50 quarterbacks ago. But yeah, we pulled it off, and right then it felt like the Jacksonville Jaguars had arrived.
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A year earlier Jacksonville had drafted me in the first round. Then, a couple of hours later, I was driving on the freeway when my phone started blowing up. When I flipped it open (it’s been awhile), I started freaking out. Full-out-Jerry-Maguire-scene-where-he’s-screaming-in-the-damn-car freaked out. I found out my best friend from college, Maurice Jones-Drew, got drafted by the Jags too. Landing your dream job with your best friend? What’s better than that?
That’s definitely one of the happiest days of my life. That was when this became the place that gave me the opportunity to live out my dream. And I knew from then on I would do everything I could for as long as I could to repay this franchise — this city — for giving me that chance.
Now at the time, I maybe didn’t appreciate how long that might take. I never imagined all the plane rides to London, personnel changes and, yes, losses it would take. But I stuck with it — and so did all of you.
So all these years later, I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for your patience and the support.
And I also want to tell you why I think it’ll be worth the wait.
I had a pretty good idea we were onto something right from the start of training camp.
We’ve had a few years recently when we’ve entered camp with some pre-season hype, but this year definitely had a different vibe to it.
When we stepped on that practice field for the first time in late July, we didn’t just think we had a shot at being good. Everybody knew this was a good football team. I mean, it wasn’t hard to figure that out. We had added Leonard to the backfield, and immediately he showed that he could run over you, around you, hurdle you or straight up toss a DB like it was nothing. On defense, our young guys had more confidence and we added veterans like Calais, A.J. and Barry to help guide them. It became clear after a few practices that the best defense we were going to face all year was lined up across from us every day. Up and down the depth chart, everybody was fighting for his spot.
It wasn’t just that the talent level was higher, but the culture was different. That all starts with Tom Coughlin. When he came in there was an immediate trust in what he was trying to do simply because his credentials are unquestionable. He’s a future Hall of Famer who’s two Super Bowls and he’s proven over and over again that he knows how to beat the best. Out of the gate, he didn’t hit us with a bunch of philosophy about winning or anything like that. His message was simple: Be a pro.
I guess that should be obvious, but where we were at, there wasn’t a lot of cohesion. Losing has a way of eroding trust. So many coaches and players would come and go so quickly, it was difficult to form any sort of meaningful relationships. Sometimes I’d look around the huddle and it seemed like I was surrounded by strangers. For years we lost games in every way imaginable and were considered a laughing stock. Eventually that just became our culture.
But with Tom and Coach Marrone, it felt like we were given blank slate. Expectations shifted, and everyone in the building started competing at a level I haven’t seen since I’ve been here. Every play, every meeting — hell, every lunch — we’re pushing each other to be our personal best. By the time Week 1 arrived, we went to Houston — underdogs, of course — and in front of a loud, hostile crowd, we walked out of there with a 29-7 victory.
And like that, expectations changed. We weren’t the team everybody in the league viewed as an easy W. Now we were a team nobody wanted to play.
That was a feeling I could get used to.
It’s impossible to talk about this team without mentioning Blake. Plenty of other people have plenty of things to say about him, but I want to tell you why Blake Bortles is a guy we’ll run through a wall for.
If there’s one truth I know about this game it’s that psychologically it can chew you up and spit you out, especially if you’re a quarterback. And if you’re the type that can get rattled, you won’t last long. Blake is a guy who has faced just about as much criticism as any player in the league, and all he’s done is go out and help this franchise win a division title and two playoff games.
Seeing a teammate absorb all of that then just shake it off and perform is something every guy in our locker room respects. He’s taken all of the hate and people who have underestimated him, and used it to his advantage. I’ll put it this way: There are a whole bunch of Blake Bortles critics who are going to be watching him play in the AFC championship game from their couch. That’s one Blake Bortles fact I really love.
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That attitude is something we’ve all kind of adopted. We all ignored the expectations that the outside world had. We didn’t get hung up on what other people said we were capable of. We just focused on playing our game all season long, and it took us right to the playoffs.
There was definitely a stretch when I thought that maybe I’d never get to participate in a playoff game at home. But when it finally happened this year, it was everything I’d hoped for. I’m always going to remember looking out at the crowd as we came out of the tunnel and seeing everybody standing and cheering. When we played against Buffalo in the wildcard game, the places where I used to see tarps were filled with people. I’ll admit, that felt damn good.
Now we’re facing our toughest challenge of the season, and maybe the biggest game in franchise history. Definitely the biggest game I’ve ever played in. We know there are a lot of doubters, but I don’t think we’d have it any other way. What matters is what we — the players, the staff and all of our fans — know, which is that when we play our best, nothing can stop us. When we play the type of football we’ve prepared to play, we know we can beat anybody. Anybody. And that’s the difference between having a talented team and being a successful franchise.
Some people might be surprised to watch the Jaguars still playing football this late in January, but I hope eventually they’ll get used to it.
This year has felt really special.
The next step is to make it feel routine.