JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Jaguars sure don’t have stage fright.
The players flew home from Pittsburgh after stunning the Steelers on Sunday, and even before they unpacked their luggage, they were talking as big a game as they had just played. The team showed up to a horde of fans waiting at EverBank Field where cornerback Jalen Ramsey grabbed a microphone. “We goin’ to the Super Bowl!” he declared, “And we gon’ win that bitch!”
On Monday, Ramsey’s teammates weren’t toning it down.
“Hell I called it in April,” defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. “I’m not gonna sit here and tell him to be quiet. We’re closer than ever now. If you’re not confident, you’re wrong.”
Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue chimed in: “I’m gonna back [Ramsey] up 100 percent. That’s my brother. He’s gonna talk but we are going to show up. I just don’t like when people talk all week. You talk reckless. And then you lose.”
That was a shot at the Steelers, and even though Pittsburgh is toast, the Jags still had some butter for that bread.
“They didn’t take the first beating we put on ‘em,” Jackson said. “They took that lightly.”
Across the room, Ngakoue said almost the same thing.
“They took us lightly,” he added. “I don’t know why, cause we whooped ‘em the first time. Gotta respect all your opponents.”
Ngakoue made reference to the social media brashness of Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, who had tweeted a reference to seeing the Pats in “Round 2”, meaning an AFC title game rematch.
“I saw a couple tweets,” he said. “I was laughing. Guys not taking us seriously.”
The disrespect card is played every season by every NFL team. Players will get their extra slice of motivation anywhere they can find it – the New England Patriots rode their dislike of league commissioner Roger Goodell all the way to the championship last season – but the Jags take it extra personally. And even though a win like Sunday’s makes a huge statement, it feels as if the players are more offended now than ever.
“Only four teams left,” Ngakoue said. “Everybody has to write about us. You gotta talk about us on TV. Everybody else is at home on the couch.”
He also wants people to write about him in particular.
“You talk about guys like Von [Miller], guys like Khalil Mack; you gotta put my name in there,” he said. “I want to wake guys up, and people to see that. I feel like it should be known. When you talk about our D, and edge rushers in the league, I should be one of the guys being talked about.”
But here’s one thing they will not talk aggressively about: the Patriots.
As vociferous as the Jags were about the Steelers on Monday, they were church mice when it came to New England. Jackson called the team’s AFC championship opponent “the dads of the NFL.” Ngakoue said Tom Brady is the best that ever played the game.
“I’m not going to be stupid and say I’m going to make him look like just another quarterback,” he said. “I have enough respect for him. Write that down. He’s a great player.”
Perhaps it’s because there’s no edge there. Jacksonville is 1-10 against the Patriots all time, and that lone victory came in 1999, before Brady arrived. The Jags know enough to realize Brady isn’t going to be baited anyway.
“You can hit Brady,” defensive tackle Marcell Dareus said “But hitting him is not what’s gonna get to him. It’s constantly being a gnat in his face. He hates that gnat, always around his feet, or someone in his face. Sacking him is not what gets to him. You sack him, he’s gonna get up and keep rolling. It’s that competitive spirit. ‘OK, you got me, now I’m going to throw this touchdown, 40 yards. You happy about that sack now?’ That’s just his mentality. I love playing against that guy.”
Dareus was then asked by a reporter about Ramsey’s comments; does the whole team feel the same way?
“That’s jumping the gun now,” he grinned.
Is it good to be trash-talking the Steelers on Monday after a game? Is it good to not be trash talking the Patriots on Monday before a game? Bravado has worked all season for the Jaguars, but it’s a different situation when everyone suddenly cares about what you say. The Jags haven’t made headlines for years because they’ve been poor and they’ve been tucked away in this corner of the country, away from major media markets. That’s motivated them, as they’ve felt ignored and overlooked. Sunday, for the first time in recent memory, the NFL world was paying exclusive attention to them. And next Sunday, there will be judgment. The Steelers got smacked twice, but that’s on them. The Pats will be fully prepared.
It’s a new world for the Jags, one they’ve earned. But now that confidence has to be calibrated and that megaphone has to be modulated, as there are some things better left unsaid.
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