In Jacksonville, they’ll replay every mistake, every big play allowed, every opportunity that passed.
The Jacksonville Jaguars had it. They looked like the better team for much of the AFC championship game against the New England Patriots and Tom Brady. They not only had the Patriots on the ropes, the referee was looking close to see if he had to stop the fight.
But it’s Brady and the Patriots. They found a way. The Patriots won 24-20 with a remarkable fourth-quarter comeback. In the end the Jaguars were heartbroken, and the enduring image of a heartbreaking loss will be quarterback Blake Bortles on the sidelines with what looked to be tears coming down his face.
It’s hard to get that far and lose. Bortles has been criticized and mocked relentlessly over the past few seasons, but beating the Patriots and Brady in the AFC championship game would have been the mic drop. And Bortles played well. Brady, the greatest quarterback ever, just played a little better.
Bortles wasn’t the only one who was upset on the sideline as time ran off. Rookie running back Leonard Fournette was forlorn and had to be consoled on the sideline. Later, Fournette was shown by CBS crying as he headed back to the locker room. For a franchise that has never been to the Super Bowl, but came so close on Sunday, the defeat will linger for a long time. For the fans, players and everyone else involved with the organization.
The Jaguars will look back at all of the turning points. A delay of game penalty wiped out what could have been a huge third-down conversion in the first half. An 85-yard drive by the Patriots at the end of the first half gave them life. The Jaguars got only two field goals after halftime. They led 20-10 in the fourth quarter, with the top-ranked passing defense in the NFL, and Brady threw for 138 yards in the fourth quarter. The Jaguars allowed 169.9 passing yards per game this season. A fourth-down pass at the end had a chance, but Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore made a great play to break it up.
It was crushing. The Jaguars are not assured of making it back to this point. Look at how the Indianapolis Colts have fallen apart since losing an AFC championship game at the Patriots a few seasons ago. Bortles isn’t assured of returning to the Jaguars next season, though Jacksonville played well enough this season that it would seem like he’ll be back.
No matter what, what happened in the second half on Sunday will sting for a long time. The Jaguars knew that as it was happening, and couldn’t control their emotions as it ended.
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