Friday, January 21, 2022

Playing For Something

 BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

When I went to the Jacksonville Jaguars finale vs the Indianapolis Colts finale on Sunday, January 9, 2022, what I thought I was going to see compared to what I saw were totally different things.

During the Sports Exchange on Thursday, January 6, I told my co-hosts, Rick Curti, Greg Fuchs, Steve Balestrieri and Mel Farr Jr. that I was looking forward to seeing Colts stand out running back Jonathan Taylor in action. 

The Colts entered this game at 9-7 and had a chance to cement a playoff berth with a win. All they had to do was win in Jacksonville in a game they were favored by two touchdowns.

Many of us knew that Indianapolis walked into Jacksonville having lost six straight games in Northern Florida. Would this be the time the streak would be snapped?

The answer was a costly no as Jacksonville defeated Indianapolis 26-11 and the Colts road losing skid hit seven games to the Jags. The Colts finished the season 9-8 and missed the playoffs.

The Jaguars snapped an eight-game losing streak and improved to 3-14. Even in the winning effort, because the Detroit Lions defeated the Green Bay Packers 37-30 at Ford Field, the Jaguars still secured the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

You talk about a win-win-situation. This was it.

What were the Jaguars playing for on this 80 degree sunny afternoon?

1. Interim Coach Darrell Bevell was looking to earn his first win as a head coach and get serious consideration for the full-time job or at least an opportunity to stay with the organization.

2. The players were looking to put enough good film on tape and have jobs next season. One guy that stood out was running back Ryquell Armstead. 

He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2019 Draft, 140th overall and the 5-11, 220 pounder out of Temple had nine carries for 52 yards The 25-year old exploded for 26 yards on one play and provided some spark. He also caught two passes for 10 yards.

3. QB Trevor Lawrence wanted to end the season on a high note and go into the off-season thinking of a fresh start in 2022. Lawrence completed 23 of 32 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns, his first game with multiple TD passes since the season opener.

Once again, the Colts were looking for a playoff spot and the loss eliminated them from competing in the tournament.

What went wrong for Indianapolis?

1. NFL rushing champion Taylor was held to 77 yards and QB Carson Wentz was sacked six times and turned the ball over twice leading to 10 points.

The 15 point Jacksonville win should have been much higher had the Jaguars scored touchdowns instead of settling for two chip-shot field goals from inside the 5-yard line.

As for Wentz, he did little to help his cause for being the starting quarterback next season as the Colts were limited to 233 yards in total offense. 

Wentz completed 17 of 29 passes for 185 yards with a garbage time touchdown and an interception. He also fumbled. He had another throw nearly picked off by safety Daniel Thomas, but the officials huddled and ruled the ball touched the ground.

When the game was over word relief was an understatement for what the Jaguars went through in 2021 with the tumultuous year by former Coach Urban Meyer.

I asked Bevell to comment about players having a chance to put film on tape and mentioned that Armstead stood out to me.

Bevell said that he was impressed with Armstead in the short time he’s known him.

“It’s amazing sometimes the stories that these guys go through. The story for him with the COVID and all the stuff like that, how bad it was for him and hit him, obviously he got cut right when we got here, and be able to come back and play like that, it’s exciting. 

“It shows the fortitude that these guys have and how much they love this game, how committed they are to it, to fight back from what he did, and then be able to make those plays out there. I just think it’s really cool.”

As for what Bevell told his players going into the contest, he told them to push hard for 60 minutes and good things will happen.

“I talked all week just about all the many reasons why we should play this game and we should go out and play this game with heart,” he said. “One is that we all love this game, and you think back to all the training you go through in the off-season to be able to get to this point and you get 17 opportunities to play a game.

“That’s one good reason to go out. Everybody, as I have told you many times in here, we’re all being evaluated by what you’re putting on tape. You want to go put your best opportunity and best self on tape. We’re playing a divisional opponent that had a chance to get in the playoffs. We want to be able to knock them out and have a sweet taste for us and a rough taste for them. I thought the guys responded. I told them today just a few minutes ago that I was inspired. It’s an inspiring game to see guys go out and play as hard as they did with so much heart, with as much spirit, with as much passion, and it really showed, and I couldn’t be much happier for all those guys.”

Lawrence was glad this season was behind him but was proud of his teammates for what appeared to be a playoff bound squad.

“The confidence that this builds going forward, that’s a good football team that we just beat and really dominated the game and (I’m) just really proud of our guys,” he said. “Everybody was locked in. This could have gone two different directions, could have gone like today or could have gone really bad, know that tomorrow starts the off-season. We’re not playing in the playoffs. This is our last game. Going to see a lot of different faces. 

“Just knowing all those things and to have a group that comes out ready to go, locked in and dominates the game, especially when you’re playing against a team that is playing for everything. They win this game, they’re in, the stakes don’t get any higher, and just to come out and dominate, it really feels good to finish the season that way.”

After the game, Lawrence talked about momentum and the fact there is a lot to build on during the off-season.

“There is 100% momentum. I think this was a game where, one, you’re playing for pride, to get another win on the season,” he said. (We) only had two wins. Obviously, that wasn’t the plan. To play for that pride to get another one for this group, and just to feel good. Then you look at it from an individual perspective, everybody want to show what they can do.

“You want to show your value and what you can add to an organization, whether that’s here, whether that’s somewhere else, and for everyone to just do that, to play for the team, to play for themselves, you’re playing for everything, and that’s how it should be every week. And just to do that and execute and have success, it feels good. But yeah, that’s definitely some momentum and we want to build on this off-season.”

Unfortunately, after the finale, the Colts had to deal with their critics when they left Jacksonville. They were ridiculed all over the Pro Football World. 

Owner Jim Irsay, GM Chris Ballard and Head Coach Frank Reich felt the sting of this loss. While Ballard and Reich weren’t in danger of losing their jobs, Wentz didn’t get a glowing endorsement of returning as the starter in 2022. 

The Colts traded for Wentz on March 17, 2021 in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional second round pick which later became a 2022 first round pick to be reunited with his former Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Coordinator, Reich.

Unfortunately for Wentz, his former team the Eagles made the playoffs under his his replacement Jalen Hurts.

As things stand with Wentz, the Colts are planning to release or trade him by March 19 as he’s owed $15 Million and could get another $7 Million when the league year starts. 

Things don’t look good for the QB that once played for newly hired Jags Doug Pederson during the team’s Super Bowl Winning Season. 

Due to an injury, Nick Foles guided the Eagles to a 41-33 win in Super Bowl LII over the New England Patriots on February 4, 2018 in Minnesota. 

If a potential departure from Indianapolis does occur, I would highly doubt it that Wentz and Pederson would reunite in Jacksonville since it appears that Carson burned his bridges.

The Jaguars, the hiring of former Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl winning Coach Doug Pederson is essential to Lawrence’s development! 

First of all, Lawrence won’t have to worry about the drama that Meyer created. 

Secondly, playing for a coach that won a Super Bowl adds instant credibility and excitement.

Pederson is walking into a situation where the Jaguars own the No.1 pick in April’s NFL Draft.

On the surface, this looks like a good hire because Pederson was the first coach interviewed in a search that lasted over a month then was subsequently hired. 

Time will tell but this situation isn’t a quick fix. 

But you can rest assure, things will be calmer in the building.

Check out our Inside The Pigskin Podcast “Did Jacksonville Get It Right with the Hiring of Doug Pederson” included in this story.

It’s worth noting that Tom Coughlin is the only coach in Team History that has a winning record with a 68-60 mark with a .531 winning percentage from 1995-2002. The second coach in franchise history, Jack Del Rio amassed a 68-71 mark from 2003-2011 and a .489 winning percentage.

On a Final Note, former Jaguars Executive Dan Edwards was honored with a plaque in the Press Box as he was one of the team’s original employees staying with the club 28 years. 

He oversaw the Media Relations Department and was an unbelievable person to work with but an even better friend of mine! I hope he enjoys his much deserved retirement and I’ll miss him when I go to Jacksonville!

Scott Morganroth can be reached at southfloridatribune@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter @TribuneSouth. Also, Subscribe to The South Florida Tribune You Tube Channel to see his broadcasts.

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