The 2017 season for the Jacksonville Jaguars has come to a close. The team fell short of their goals, but let’s not forget the success that few anticipated. The journey involved injuries, lineup questions and an opposing player attempting to climb in the stands to fight fans.
The Jaguars were 10 years removed from the playoffs and a winning season when the team took the field in August. After several years of “rebuilding” and the constant feeling of disappointment, even the most dedicated fans were prepared for the worst.
The preseason didn’t calm those nerves when questions continued to surround the quarterback position. During a joint-practice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before their Week Two preseason matchup, wide receiver Allen Robinson had a not-so-fond critique of quarterback Blake Bortles’ throwing ability.
Bortles found himself on the bench the following week, losing the starting gig to backup Chad Henne. Bortles came out to play in the second half but in his fourth year in the NFL, fans were hoping for either an improvement in him or a new QB taking snaps.
The Jaguars began the season in Houston against the Texans — and possibly the country. Hurricane Harvey had recently ravaged Houston and the nation appeared to stand behind the city’s team.
But the Jaguars were there to ruin the homecoming.
Rookie Leonard Fournette put up over 100 yards in his first NFL start, the defense forced four turnovers, Texans’ quarterbacks were sacked 10 times and the Jaguars walked away with a 29-7 win.
However, their top wide receiver, Robinson, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the first quarter of the victory.
This began a several week period of not understanding what the Jaguars would become during the season. Following their stomping of the Texans, the team lost its home opener to the rival Tennessee Titans.
Sentiment began to shift for the better by week five when the Jags went to Pittsburgh and humiliated the Steelers, 30-9. The Jaguars defense intercepted Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger five times, two of which were brought back for touchdowns.
“Maybe I don’t have it anymore,” the veteran Roethlisberger told media after the game.
Fournette put up 181 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the victory. The game was also further proof that the defense was developing into an elite unit.
The homecoming game the following week saw the Jags fall short to the Los Angeles Rams (remember when critics joked we would be the team to move to L.A.?). The loss was disappointing at the time, but the Rams became another turnaround story in 2017, going on to win their division.
The Jags answered by going on a four-game win streak, including a thrilling overtime win at EverBank Field over the Los Angeles Chargers (again, weren’t we the ones moving? … guess not).
National media questioned if the Jaguars could come out with a win over a veteran Seahawks team that had gone to the playoffs the previous five years, including two trips to the Super Bowl.
The regular season closed with two disappointing losses to the San Francisco 49ers and the Tennessee Titans — for the second time this season. Along the way, they still managed to clinch a playoff berth and their first divisional championship since 1999.
The home playoff game against the Buffalo Bills brought a feeling to the Bold City it had not experienced in 18 years. While there were understandable critiques to be made after it was over, the point was still that the Jaguars won a home playoff game.
The Jags went into Pittsburgh the following week as underdogs. The Steelers had gone 10-1 since being embarrassed by the Jaguars in Week 5. The national narrative was that the game was a fluke and Pittsburgh media was already planning for their matchup against the New England Patriots.
That matchup never happened.
Once again, the Jaguars went into Pittsburgh and punched the Steelers in the gut — winning a 45-42 shootout.
Unfortunately, it was the end of the road for the Jaguars. The team lost in the AFC Championship game 24-20 to the New England Patriots. Questions surround referee calls and the Jaguars own play calling, leaving fans and players with a wishful, “What if … ?”
While a Super Bowl victory would have been incredible — the 2017 season was one hell of a ride. Fans got to witness six regular and postseason wins at the Bank, the defense established itself as one of the most elite in recent history (with a swagger unlike any other thanks to the likes of Jalen Ramsey), we crushed veteran teams, Bortles improved enough to win games, we signed a new kicker (who went 19/20 on field goals and 22/24 on extra points) and won a pair of playoff games.
Questions linger at the QB position going into the offseason and surely many more questions will be asked as we move through the next eight months. But for now, enjoy the fact the Jags turned around a 3-13 season in 2016, to a 10-6 year that saw them just minutes away from a Super Bowl berth.
Thousands of fans traveled to every away game, went to EverBank to greet their team after a postseason win in Pittsburgh and even after a season-ending loss, we still wore our Jags gear with pride on Monday.
For the first time in years, the whole city embraced Duval, which isn’t just a county, but a state of mind for Jaguars fans everywhere. A state of mind that says, “We might be the underdog, we might not get respect, but we’re Duval ‘til we die.”