Movie Review: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

“I kind of feel like I’m on drugs when I’m with you. Not that I do drugs. Unless you do drugs. Then I do drugs all the time, every drug.”

Edgar Wright is a vibrant, visual filmmaker and it’s very likely, if you consider yourself a novice film watcher, that you may never see a film like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World again. It’s chapters removed from many creative novella you’re bound to experience during your time on this planet. It’s excessively quirky and nerdy but it’s also like watching a strobe light for two hours. Some may get a headache watching this. That’s a shame because Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is truly splendid.

Wright certainly has a flair for the dramatic and does things aesthetically I’ve never seen in all the years I’ve watched cinema. He takes comic-like to another level. If you’ve ever read a comic book and wondered what that would be like in live-action, this would be it and it’s…pretty damn good.

The moments where a vehicle such as this usually stalls never come up. Wright, in addition to throwing all sorts of colors and angles on the screen, is also a detailed editor. I often talk about my appreciation for screenwriters and directors who let no tape go to waste and Wright, at least in this escapade, demonstrates that same belief. Some dialogue drags but is balanced by something happening aside of the focal point, reminding us of what we’re really here for.

The dialogue is witty and pokey, sometimes tiptoeing across the line into something of deeper meaning before jumping back and returning to its roots. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is unapologetically itself, no matter how much the crowd starts to throw glances. There are some moments that don’t quite hit but a lot of those seemed destined not to, as if we’re all in on this joke falling flat.

It’s optically gratifying, your eyes darting every which way, absorbing all the nutrients this film is feeding you while your ears do your best to catch up. This is a film in overdrive. It is loud and it is fast and it has no break time. It is the friend constantly pushing you through doors you know you should go through but never develop the backbone to do yourself. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is the attitude that gets you to the best points in life, to experience life’s greatest thrills and loves. It turns your weaknesses into a gag and mocks your inability to act. It is the push out the door we all need. It’s a push out the door for 112 minutes.

And despite being a coming of age comedy, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World has some solid stunt choreography. It’s not of the blockbuster variety but it pays homage to the comic books of old and takes that style with it to set, the “pow whams” plastered over the background.

The cast features a deep lineup, all riding a conveyor belt of an assortment of candies and characters. Michael Cera is especially good here, nailing down the so so awkward.

As visually alluring as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is and as clever and inventive as it is, it does suffer at the character position. At times, it feels like people coming from stage left to say their lines before leaving stage right. The writing is great but a film structured this way is bound to suffer in this area.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (TakenCaptain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe Avengers)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The 40-Year-Old VirginThe ConjuringSinisterOlympus Has FallenThe Cable Guy)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Ip Man 2Ip ManKong: Skull IslandThe InvitationHush)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (The RoadDoctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (Death Race, Wind RiverTommy BoyDeath NoteTrue Memoirs of an International Assassin)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsport)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (High-RiseMost Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturion)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe Visit)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: 88.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World is like living inside of a kaleidoscope inside of a comic book for two hours. You can’t help but be awed. It’s a shame this film did so poorly at the box office and wasn’t cherished for the creative wonder that it is.

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Movie Review: Death Race

Image result for death race movie poster free use“Okay, cocksucker. F*** with me and we’ll see who shits on the sidewalk.”

Been waiting to watch this one for a bit. Say hello, 2019.

With this piece comes the return of Winners and Losers, a series I’ve left dormant for far too long. Updates will be put up by end of the week and Round 3 is on its way. Hopefully Statham can get his score in the green again.

I watched Killer Elite the other day. Gonna watch it a third time at some point later this year for the last time. It’s a doozy.

Was hoping Death Race might be a breath of fresh air. It was not.

Death Race comes from the same vein as The Running Man: deadly reality television in a world rife with economic turmoil and anarchy. Nearing close to the apocalypse it seems, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. The end makes people do desperate things and become the darkest versions of themselves. There are no heroes, only victors.

There are quite a couple of motifs that could be exploited here: survival, the life and death of morality, desperation and what any creature does when they’re pushed to the brink.

Paul W.S. Anderson is not the guy to go to if you want real storytelling. If you handed Paul a canvas to paint, he’d probably unload a shotgun on it. On one of his more creative days, maybe he’d be generous enough to use paintballs.

Let’s not mix words. Paul W.S. Anderson is the guy who throws chaos on a camera lens and calls it entertainment. Watching the Resident Evil films (thankfully only watched one though I’ll see them all eventually) is like being injected with epilepsy. It’s very perverse and very direct but also very blunt and uncomplicated. Bashing someone’s head in with a baseball bat doesn’t take a lot of talent. Cutting them 100 times and keeping them alive is far more terrifying and insightful. Paul much prefers option A.

And that’s fine, by the way. This post isn’t about how awful of a director Mr. Anderson is. It is only a comment that Paul W.S. Anderson either doesn’t excel or doesn’t prefer stories that involve high-end character focus or dynamic story arcs. His talents are in the visual arena. While the Resident Evil franchise sometimes does a solid job filming in a video game frame of reference, it also becomes corny and visually glaring at times. He doesn’t have a fine hand, in my opinion. He has a brazen one. That works sometimes. Michael Bay has a brazen hand, too and he’s seen quite a few of his films hit box office gold.

But if you put this story to print, it would be bland. It would not be a fun read. The dialogue isn’t compelling, aside from that line I included at the top. There would be a lot of boring chapters and I can’t imagine doing a reading for this would be that interactive. The idea of Frankenstein is an opportunity waiting to be seized: a man with a mask because of all the wrecks he’s been in but also a man who seems to be incapable of losing or dying. Symbols can be powerful things.

Yet Anderson wouldn’t seize on that potential and neither will the penmanship. It’s just pushing towards the next time Paul gets to unload some bullets and bazookas.

Death Race isn’t a race against time or against tension. It’s a race to the next time Anderson gets to explode some shit.

Which is again fine. If you want braindead entertainment, you’ll love this, but if you’re looking for character, the intangibles that true story offers, look elsewhere. Anderson isn’t going to give it to you. I do think that says something about Anderson’s breadth or lack thereof as a director. Even one obsessed with the visuals knows when an avenue as large as this should be taken. Something other than the equivalent of a mannequin in that car would make those explosions look more visceral and feel more impactful. As it stands, Statham could be blown to Uranus and it wouldn’t matter. It’s the sort of neglectful storytelling that pisses me off. I am not an Anderson fan.

Hollywood’s business structure is also responsible for this waste. This reeks of suits in a board room putting together a storyboard in a half hour, throwing $45 million at a dude known for explosive dunces and watches the green come in from those who are willing to settle for this second-rate entertainment.

I don’t know if you can even call Death Race art. It’s disingenuous and wholly incompetent. Anderson still has a fair touch for visuals but to fully ignore everything else that makes stories what they are is malpractice and he deserves to be criticized for it.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (TakenCaptain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe Avengers)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (The 40-Year-Old VirginThe ConjuringSinisterOlympus Has FallenThe Cable Guy)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Ip Man 2Ip ManKong: Skull IslandThe InvitationHush)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (The RoadDoctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (Wind RiverTommy BoyDeath NoteTrue Memoirs of an International AssassinThe Great Wall)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsport)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (High-RiseMost Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturion)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The SnowmanAvalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe Visit)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for Death Race: 50.

Death Race plays a fiddle of violence and gearheads but does nothing to truly separate itself from the pack. It’s a formula that’s been done before and I simply can’t give it props for that. It’s another loss on Statham’s record. I’m still a fan but man, he has some blots on his rap sheet with me.

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One Team, One Jersey: Miami Dolphins

With the beginning of a new year comes the beginning of a new series. I’ve spent hundreds of hours (not an exaggeration) enthralled in game film sessions, reading player profiles, scrounging through stat sheets and scanning the histories of all the NFL franchises. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Welcome to One Team, One Jersey.

As a jersey collector and connoisseur, I am constantly expanding my repertoire and so I thought I should probably expand my search to all the teams of pro football. Buying every jersey I want would be too expensive though. Picking one for each team is reasonable and so became the idea that is One Team, One Jersey.

If you could only have one jersey from each NFL team, who would it be? There are a few ground rules:

The player you choose must have played for that team more than any other AND must have been on that team’s roster during the 2017 season.

Aside from that, it’s up to you what you prioritize: character, statistical production, championships, a combination of the three. Your call.

Who will you choose?

The trend of sad franchises continues as we transition to the Miami Dolphins. Their fan base is still parading their undefeated 1972 squad whilst forgetting that they wasted the career of one of the greatest players to ever pick up a pigskin, Mr. Dan Marino. The mere concept you had a top-ten quarterback on your squad for 17 seasons and could only get to one Super Bowl is quite a damning statement on your management. Perhaps it is like it was with Peyton or Aaron Rodgers. Perhaps he was just on a choke job team or maybe he never performed well in the playoffs.

*checks records*

Yup, I have come to the conclusion your franchise is a choke job. For God’s sake, the last game you had Marino, you lost 62-7 to the Jaguars. That’s hard to believe actually.

*pulls out film*

My Lord, it happened.

What a perfect summation of the state of your franchise. Since drafting Ryan Tannehill, the first time in almost 30 years you’d taken a quarterback in the first round (guess who), you have been on the cusp of the playoffs only to fail to make the playoffs by faltering against mediocre opponents. I’ll admit I was a Tannehill supporter for a little there because it felt like he was one rung away from success but he never made it over the hill and has in fact fallen down it with Jill.

His best year was 2014 when he broke 4,000 yards and carried a 27/12 TD/INT split with a 66 completion percentage. His numbers in 2016 were actually slightly better but the team overall played its best during that 2014 season. The Dolphins would be smart to move in a different direction at the quarterback position but we know how NFL executives are with basic quarterbacks. They’d rather stay put than take the risk to get better.

We could take Jay Ajayi, who was traded midseason to the eventual champion Eagles. However, I’ve never really seen anything crazy about Ajayi. He’s got top-end speed and his acceleration and cuts are fine but he doesn’t have the explosiveness that I love in my running backs. Other than “I’m faster than you” plays, he isn’t doing much on highlight reels.

Jarvis Landry is a yards after catch monster. His rankings since his rookie year (overall/among WRs): ’14 18th/10th ’15 6th/3rd ’16 4th/1st ’17 12th/4th.

He has big play ability but lacks the size (5’11”) to make plays vertically. Odell Beckham Jr. is also 5’11” but had an insane 38.5 vertical at his combine. Landry’s was 28.5.

Landry is the quintessential slot receiver and the embodiment of a returner and a running back at the receiver position. He’s a crisp enough route runner to create space and then use that space to put defenders in a blender. That playmaking ability makes him a magnet for target shares, which has no doubt helped him reach milestones in receptions.

Still, at his size, you have to wonder if he has a ceiling. There may be inherent bias with me but when I watch AB, Julio or OBJ, I feel like those guys could do anything at any moment. Landry is simply not in that tier. He’s a top-ten receiver and definitely one I wouldn’t look forward to gameplanning against but he’s not a probable HOFer. He doesn’t have that consistent fear factor. Last year, he averaged 8.8 ypc. Most elite pass catchers average 14. Yeah, Landry was getting thrown to by the corpse of Jay Cutler but Landry has never had a season where he averaged more than 12.1 ypc, which tells you Landry runs a lot of short digs and slants and works for every yard on the stat sheet. It also means he isn’t the type of guy to win a 50-50 ball during a two-minute drill in the fourth quarter. He doesn’t have the speed (clocked at 4.77 at the combine) to take the top off defenses.

Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, only 32 NFL players have ever accumulated 100 sacks in a season. With Cameron Wake sitting at 98 after this season, he has a legitimate shot to become #33. Before starting his NFL career, Wake went undrafted and up north, winning Rookie of the Year, two Defensive Player of the Year Awards and became the first player to win TSN’s Gladiator of the Year in the Canadian Football League. To accomplish that, Wake had 39 (!) sacks in two seasons. It seems fair to say Wake would have already hit the century mark if his time in the NFL had started sooner.

And so despite the playmaking ability of Landry, I’ve got to take the game changer in Cameron Wake. Gotta respect a self-made man.

My pick: Cameron Wake. My jersey: Home Green.

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Madden Deuce

It was time, time to bring dominance to a new struggling franchise: The Jacksonville Jaguars.

My best friend, Jon, and I decided to draft a team on Madden 17 and see how we could do, with me running the offense and Jon rolling opponents on defense. When Kyle and I played in The Madden Experiment, we alternated play calls and played on both sides of the ball. This time, I would have total control of the offense, Jon of the defense.

We drafted J.J. Watt with our first pick and Gerald McCoy soon after. Those two would eat quarterbacks for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Jon would aptly name his unit, “The Hungry Man” defense.

As the offensive coordinator, I drafted Julian Edelman as my star receiver and crafted my offensive line (Taylor Lewan, Josh Sitton, Alex Mack, David DeCastro, Sebastian Vollmer). David Johnson was given the keys to the backfield and Justin Forsett served as a more than capable backup. We collected a lot of young talent to serve as the future of our franchise, including Landon Collins and Barkevious Mingo. I chose Ryan Tannehill as the signal caller for his durability and potential. I picked a run blocker at tight end with Scott Chandler and a receiver in Dion Sims, a familiar target for Tannehill. Jon and I agreed to select Derrick Johnson as the star linebacker and build around him, corralling Mingo, Daryl Washington, Jake Ryan and Akeem Ayers. Jimmy Smith was to be our top corner and Jason McCourty as the number two, with Alterraun Verner in the slot. Adrian Clayborn was grabbed to play our other edge rusher and Donte Whitner was the hard hitting safety we just couldn’t pass up on. Justin Tucker and Johnny Hekker, possibly the best at their positions, finished our roster.

Our receiving depth was weak. Anquan Boldin was a competent two but behind him we had Andre Holmes, Nelson Agholor, Eric Weems and Adam Thielen. It would prove to be our weakness all season. Matt Schaub was our backup quarterback, another area that would need to be addressed after the season.

Otherwise, this was the same formula I’ve been running with: star running back, top-five offensive line, star receiver, serviceable tight end, stout front seven and young secondary. It’s a tried and true concept.

The preseason went smoothly, for the most part. Jake Ryan suffered two injuries that all but surrendered his starting spot to Daryl Washington and Justin Forsett burst through for huge gains.

Sadly, the Jaguars would lose their first regular season game to the Green Bay Packers, who not coincidentally grabbed Aaron Rodgers as their quarterback. We’d win our next three, with the defense doing most of the heavy lifting. That third win came at a heavy cost. Julian Edelman dislocated his elbow and was out for the season. It was perhaps the most costly injury our team could have had. I drafted Forsett with the thought of an injured David Johnson. I drafted Matt Schaub with the thought of an injured Tannehill. I never got a solid receiver that could play as a one behind Edelman.

With the Jaguars’ greatest weakness exposed, our team lost its next two games as the offense struggled to adjust without Edelman. In a big game against the Oakland Raiders, led by Drew Brees, Tannehill led the team inside the ten down a touchdown with five seconds remaining. A drag route to Thielen was open, but Thielen needlessly dove for the pass and came short of the goal line, costing us the game. Eric Weems had already been cut after a terrible preseason for Justin Hardy. With Thielen replaced with a promising prospect named Dezmin Lewis, we now were left with three of our receivers who started the season and had dropped to 3-3. How we responded now would make the difference in our season.

As he had thus far, David Johnson continued to carry our offense on his back, with Tannehill squeezing some play action plays in between and going down the field when he needed to. We just needed Tannehill to be a game manager and take better care of the ball and he did, though halfway through the season he still hadn’t completed a touchdown pass, which was a cause for concern.

Jon’s defense, clearly the better-equipped unit, continued to do what it did best: eat quarterbacks, running backs and whoever had the ball. We would go on to win our next three games. Tannehill, beginning in week nine, would begin a streak of touchdown passes.

In our tenth game of the season against the Lions, tied at the beginning of the fourth quarter, I ran a long voyage to waste out most of the clock and kick the game-winning field goal. There were around two minutes left. After the following kickoff, Detroit burst threw the line and secured a long touchdown run. It was now up to an offense with an injured, young receiving core to drive down the field for the winning score and the rushing game would be mostly out, nullifying our best weapon, David Johnson.

What occurred next was coined The Drive. With comebacks on the outsides, a few crossing patterns and an outside seam, we managed to truck our way down to the seven, where Tannehill threaded the ball to Chandler past a diving linebacker for the win with mere seconds left. It was the most intense drive of my life. It was complete silence in the room during it. Pretty sure neither of us were breathing. My nerves were popping for the next few hours. It was incredibly gratifying, both for us as coordinators and for the team. While drops had become and would continue to be an ongoing problem through the course of the season, the team gave it its best at a crucial moment. The pieces we had could get it done.

In week 13, we witnessed a miracle. Julian Edelman was on the field in the following week’s practice. After ten weeks, despite the initial diagnosis, he was ready for game action. That took some pressure off Tannehill’s shoulders. Going 8-2 without our star receiver was certainly an accomplishment.

However, with Edelman’s return came another injury: Derrick Johnson suffered broken ribs and wouldn’t return until the championship round, leaving our youthful linebackers in a pickle. They had carried us this far though. There was no reason they couldn’t do it a little longer.

Following that 3-3 record, we went on a nine-game win streak. We would lose our next game and escape with an overtime win to close the season. A little doubt, questioning if we had peaked too early, began to creep into my mind.

We were 12-4 and had secured home field advantage for the playoffs.

Here were the stat lines for the season:

Tannehill: 232/370 for 2,581, 62%, 76.1 rating, 12 TDs, 16 INTs

Johnson: 323 carries for 1,874, 5.8 avg, 18 TDs

Chandler: 75 receptions for 668, 4 TDs

Collins: 82 tackles led the team, 3 INTs

Watt: 15 TFL, 18.0 sacks. McCoy and Watt combined for 29.5.

Tucker 23/27 for 85%, 35/37 XP, 94%

Hekker 51.5 avg, 44.1 net avg, 11 inside the 20

Team Stats

Offense

Yards: 4384 (32nd), 2435 pass (32nd), 1949 rush (top-five), 21.4 ppg

Defense

Yards: 3276 (1st), 2512 (1st), 764 (1st)

53 sacks, 14 fumbles, 16 INTs, 13.0 pag

 

Our playoff run began against Denver and Cam Newton. We had dismantled Cam and the Broncos earlier in the season, 33-3. We weren’t worried. Despite a 17-7 final score, the game was never close.

In the championship game, we faced Drew Brees and the Raiders, who had one of the best offenses in the league, boasting Dez Bryant and Emmanuel Sanders at wideout. After taking a 13-7 lead, with seconds on the clock, Cordarrelle Patterson returned the kickoff for a touchdown, but early in the play, a flag had been thrown for a block in the back. We had advanced to the Super Bowl. Nonetheless, I made sure to give Jon a few good punches for allowing Patterson into the end zone in the first place.

Our team won its fair share of awards. David Johnson ran away with Offensive Player of the Year, Best RB and finished second in the MVP race to Aaron Rodgers. J.J. Watt finished third in Defensive Player of the Year and Best Defensive Lineman. Justin Tucker earned his contract extension, winning best kicker. Shia LaBeouf (yes, that is who our coach is. Our team motto is Just Do It.) finished third for Coach of the Year in his first season.

Our team had 14 Pro Bowlers: David Johnson and TE Scott Chandler made it on offense along with our entire offensive line (Lewan, Sitton, Mack, DeCastro, Vollmer) and two of our backups (John Urschel, Eric Winston). J.J. Watt and Landon Collins represented the Jaguars on defense. Our entire special teams unit (Tucker, Johnny Hekker, and return man, Nelson Agholor) made it as well.

The Super Bowl was against Green Bay, who ended the regular season with the league’s best record at 14-2. The league MVP was their offense. Their receiving core was weak. We had only lost to them 10-7 in week one.

Tannehill started lights out, completing his first 11 passes and finishing 18/24 for 213 yards and 2 TDs, both to Super Bowl MVP Kyle Juszczyk, who got open on two wheel routes. What Jon and I expected to be a highly-contested Super Bowl was anything but. The Jaguars cruised to their first title, winning 29-7.

Our offseason started rough. We expected some players to retire and they did. Jason Babin, who never played a down, Eric Winston, one of our Pro Bowlers, and Matt Schaub, who I wanted to replace anyway, all called it quits, but I was devastated to read Anquan Boldin had played his final down. I was really hoping he’d stick around, but I also couldn’t blame him for going out on top. Boldin had proven so reliable during Edelman’s injury and his presence would be missed. Nelson Agholor had become a Pro Bowl return man, but now would be the team’s number two receiver.

We signed Justin Tucker to a four-year, $20 million extension in week four during the regular season. Jon and I had agreed we would wait to sign our other players until the season had concluded, but Tucker, arguably the best kicker in the game, was a must-buy.

Our free agency was mostly depth moves. Our top needs going into the offseason were CB, WR and MLB, all of which we hoped to address in the draft.

We grabbed CB Dee Milliner for a comfortable two-year contract for $4.5 and SS Sean Davis, who’s proven himself as a young talent with the Steelers. He signed with us for a bargain two years and $4 million. He could be our future at the strong safety spot with Donte Whitner and Antoine Bethea getting up there in age. We chose Brian Hoyer as our backup quarterback, arguably the league’s best backup, and snagged Arian Foster as a third-string back. Chances are we wouldn’t need him, but we got him for cheap and I felt it was worth having him.

We had put Doran Grant on the practice squad the previous year and decided to promote him into our starting lineup. His coverage abilities had improved and he was certainly an upgrade from a deteriorating Brandon Browner. MLB Mason Foster was a nice depth move and at a young age, affordable: three years for $6.51. Our backup center walked and Jon vouched for C Nick Martin, who he’d used in another franchise. Finally, RE Antonio Smith joined the squad for a year.

There were a lot of promising stars in the draft. The question was if we could snag one. There were two stellar middle linebackers, a top receiver and a dominant tight end. All were gone but the tight end when the 32nd came up.

Scott Chandler was our top receiving threat and a good run blocker, which was a huge thing for my offense. I needed a tight end to seal the edge. Dion Sims was a vertical tight end but his blocking was lacking and this was my fear in drafting this top tight end. Besides, we didn’t really need a star tight end. We did need a left end. Adrian Clayborn had played above his overall, but was aging and slowing down. Jon and I decided to make left end Rafael Cheek our first draft pick, a 79 overall with quick development out of Texas A&M. It wasn’t one of our top needs but Cheek was a high-caliber player. If he turned into a superstar, we’d have J.J. Watt, Gerald McCoy and Cheek on the d-line, a lethal trio.

Everyone we hoped to grab in the second round was gone, so we traded our second round pick for a second and seventh the next year and a fourth rounder that year. Compiling draft picks is never a bad thing. The third round gifted us with Kadron Moye, a right end. He was only a 70 overall but he had speed, which would be useful on the edge. He did well at the combine and he could play end and tackle. (He was actually an 81 at defensive tackle.) That versatility was a big plus.

Our fourth round pick was a disappointment. We needed LB depth and Russell Alexander had decent numbers, but a slow development trait and a 67 overall wasn’t what we were hoping for. Still, there was a chance he could turn out okay.

Our other fourth rounder was a steal. FS Khiry Tandy was a 75 overall and carried with him capable coverage stats. Landon Collins was already entrenched in the starting role, but a switch to the strong side might be in the cards.

It was now the fifth round and we still hadn’t addressed any of our main needs: cornerback, receiver and middle linebacker. So, we were (or at least I was) very grateful when we got WR Antaries Gage, a 6′ 5″ target. We didn’t need a back in the sixth, but Howard Weston’s speed was off the charts and rather than trade the pick, we took Weston. Finally, someone gave us a fourth rounder for the last pick in the draft. We had to take advantage of that.

Our first ever draft class (2017):

1/LE Rafael Cheek (Texas A&M)

3/RE Kadron Moye (Oregon)

4/LB Russell Alexander (USF), FS Khiry Tandy (Louisville)

5/WR Antaries Gage (Tennessee)

6/RB Howard Weston (Texas Tech)

Preseason went alright. Our backup offensive line needed some work but our chicklet receivers showed their feathers. Lewis, who we had grabbed as a project in last year’s free agency, had made some progress and Jakeem Grant, a free agent addition during the preseason with 96 speed, was quite a sight. He would take over for Agholor at the return spots with Weston. We ended up trading most of the players we were going to cut. We traded Foster after a solid preseason performance and a seventh for a 2019 fourth. We traded one of our budding free safeties for a 2019 third. We also got a sixth and four sevenths. We were hungry for young talent.

In the final preseason game, Derrick Johnson tore his pectoral, ending his season. With his second injury in two seasons, middle linebacker was becoming a big need. Mason Foster, who we’d just added in free agency, now had a lot of pressure on his shoulders. TE Dion Sims also dislocated his knee, meaning he’d be out till October.

Week one presented us our first real challenge. No matter the call, the run game could not get going the way it had the previous year. Teams had clearly watched some tape. These first weeks were about adjusting to those changes. David Johnson still had some big games, but not as frequently as last year. Tannehill, who still needed some work, managed to lead the offense down the field in the opening weeks en route to a 6-0 start. Agholor and Andre Holmes, our slot receiver, had gained valuable experience from the previous year. There were few drops to be seen, if any. Agholor had advanced so much that he could be a competent number one if, God forbid, anything were to ever happen to Edelman again.

After a few struggles early, the running game returned to claim its throne. David Johnson continued to lead the offense. On the flip side, Tannehill’s accuracy was becoming a concern. Some clear overthrows had resulted in turnovers and throwing behind his receivers had become a habit. It would appear we would need to grab a quarterback of the future in one of the upcoming drafts.

Week 7 was a fun one, a battle of unbeatens. The Jags vs. the 6-0 Rams, who boasted Joe Flacco, Ezekiel Elliott, A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins and Antonio Gates on offense. The Rams gave our defense fits early and while their defense was just as impressive, struggled to stifle the run. The Jaguars would prevail and go to 7-0.

Our schedule thus far had not been too difficult, although we did face our rivals, the Brees-led Raiders, once again, winning this one handedly and giving us the all-time lead in the series 2-1. With better, experienced talents at the receiver spots, offense got a lot easier and no doubt made our games easier. We were 12-0 with four to go.

And we would stretch it to 16.

Stat lines:

Tannehill 234/357 for 2,918, 65%, 91.6 rating, 21 TDs, 16 INTs

Johnson 315 carries for 2,062, 6.5 avg, 17 TDs

Agholor 53 receptions for 964, 7 TDs

Washington: 89 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 INTs

Watt: 88 tackles, 22 TFL, league-record 26.5 sacks. Watt and McCoy combined for 40 sacks and Cheek added 8.5.

Tucker 25/27, 92%, 46/49 XP, 93%

Hekker 49.1 net avg, 14 inside the 20

Team Stats

Offense: *shrug

It was a lot better than last year! Last year: 4384, 2435, 1949, 21.4

Defense:

Yards: 2311 (1st), 1595 pass (1st), 716 rush (1st), ??? Last year: 3276, 2512, 764, 13.0 pag

65 sacks (1st), 4 fumbles, 11 INTs, Last year: 53, 14, 16, 13.0

 

David Johnson won MVP, OPOY and best running back. Shia LaBeouf won coach of the year and J.J. Watt, after setting the sack record, won DPOY and best defensive lineman. Running back Howard Weston earned a nomination for rookie of the year and Tannehill, who still had room to grow, earned a nod for best quarterback, finishing ninth. Nelson Agholor far exceeded our expectations, nearly broaching the 1,000 yard plateau, and was voted the 10th best receiver.

We were so excited for our team that we forgot to grab some of the team stats from the season.

That excitement quickly unraveled. We were playing the Cincinnati Bengals, with Kelvin Benjamin, Keenan Allen, LeSean McCoy and Blake Bortles. McCoy was injured and they had their second-stringer in the backfield. We felt good about this game.

But it didn’t go that way. We were down most of the game. That backup gouged Jon for two large gains. Bortles completed a crucial third down. The offense stalled. After a late touchdown to close the gap to three, that backup gouged Jon once more, the final dagger. 20-10 Bengals.

It was disappointing. We had a chance at a perfect season and we lost our first playoff game. A new rivalry had brewed. We had beaten the Bengals twice before but now there was tension.

Our first rivals, the Raiders, went to the Super Bowl against the Packers and Green Bay won by two scores.

The entire offensive line once again made the Pro Bowl along with David Johnson and J.J. Watt. Justin Tucker and Johnny Hekker both returned to Hawaii and Jakeem Grant made it as a return specialist, giving us ten Pro Bowlers.

With the offseason came some big moves. We re-signed the MVP of our Super Bowl win, Kyle Juszczyk, to a four-your, $11.7 million deal and kept our backup left tackle, Alejandro Villanueva, for two years and $3.36. John Urschel, our proven backup guard and presumed guard of the future, priced his way out of Jacksonville. Derrick Johnson retired, increasing the pressure on us to draft a proven middle linebacker. Meanwhile, Daryl Washington, who had earned his spot every week with our team, earned a new contract. It was three years and $24.1. We added Dee Ford, a productive young edge rusher, to secure some depth. That and Akeem Ayers was going into the last year of his contract. This would give us some options and leverage when it came time to hit the negotiating table.

WR Dezmin Lewis had made his last run. He wanted to re-up with us for $1.25 million, which was just too much to pay a sixth option with his stat line. We added a more capable Cameron Meredith.

I decided to grab both Austin Hooper and Vernon Davis in the off chance we didn’t draft a tight end. We said goodbye to Dion Sims, who had slowed down in development.

Khiry Tandy was moved to the starting strong safety spot. Donte Whitner was traded.

And then there was the draft. Unfortunately for us, the 2018 class was weak, but there were two intriguing prospects in the first round. We made a trade to move up a few picks and grab Margarito Arenas, a quick developing middle linebacker from Alabama who had finished second in the 40, 3 cone, 20 yd shuttle and bench press. He was an all-around talent and had the tools to slide in next to Washington, leaving Mason Foster, who had a superb year filling in for us, as a depth guy were anything ill to happen.

Our second first-round choice was to be CB Gant Rooks (Stanford). Alterraun Verner had slowed down and Doran Grant hadn’t developed enough just yet to be a nickel corner. The goal was to draft Rooks, who had surprising coverage stats and throw him in the 2 and move McCourty to the slot. Last year, the top receiver I wanted was taken the pick before us. This year, Rooks was taken the pick before ours. We were floored and as the draft progressed, considered trading for him. We traded out of the first round with our new rivals, Cincinnati, earning a first, second and seventh for next year.

We ended up trading out of the second and third round. We weren’t going to use picks on players we weren’t excited about when we could stalk up on players in a strong draft in the coming years. In the fourth, we took another middle linebacker, Walter Claiborne. For the second consecutive year, our least enticing pick came in the fourth. He would provide depth in the middle, but looked to be the bust of year two. Our next fourth rounder was far more interesting. SS Rakkim Hagg had 89 speed, 90 acceleration and 76 zone coverage. He had the tools we were looking for and would have time to learn behind Tandy.

In a draft as weak as this, Jon and I had spent a lot of time looking at picks in the later rounds and this is where we found athletes worthy of our time. With Chandler climbing the age ladder, it was time to look toward the future and Layne Cash was it. He had done well at the combine, finishing first in the bench press. He was the physical player I always want at that tight end spot. We took him with our third and final fourth.

Jon was thrilled to discover Jacob Pimentel, by far the best center in the class. He had finished in the top three in five of the six combine categories and with the departure of C Nick Martin and G John Urschel in free agency, would become our best depth man on the line. We traded our second fifth for a third in next year’s selections. We grabbed LG Kaleb Kirkland, DT Eduardo Mealey and RB Telvin Cobb to finish out our draft class. It was a class of a lot of lower level guys, some that looked like future pieces and others that could become projects for our franchise.

Our draft class (2018):

1/MLB Margarito Arenas (Alabama)

4/MLB Walter Claiborne (Wisconsin), SS Rakkim Hagg (Charleston Southern), TE Layne Cash (USC)

5/C Jacob Pimentel (Oklahoma)

6/LG Kaleb Kirkland (Wake Forest), DT Eduardo Mealey (UCLA)

7/RB Telvin Cobb (Grand Valley State)

After looking at Gant Rooks’ stats, we pulled the trigger on a trade, sending the first we received from the Bengals, a fourth and DT Henry Melton, who we had added in free agency. Rooks was worth it. We had the extra picks we could afford to lose and Rooks was as talented as we had hoped. He contributed additional tenacity and youth to the secondary.

And then the trade offers came flying in for MLB Mason Foster.

I really didn’t want to trade Foster. He’d delivered in a time of need for our team and was one of our leading tacklers. He was insanely affordable at a little over two a year and provided us with a true three-man. We were offered Martellus Bennett and a draft pick, but after consideration, decided we would roll the dice on Chandler and Cash, not to mention Hooper. The Falcons proposed a second, fourth and seventh. We got them to agree to a first plus change. I hated to see him go but his worth to the rest of the league was too great to ignore.

It was also time to begin to let some of the players from our Super Bowl run depart. We traded Justin Forsett, Adrian Clayborn and Donte Whitner and at the end of the preseason, flipped Vernon Davis.

We didn’t get to draft a quarterback and following the draft, there weren’t a lot of good options. I ended up picking up a franchise favorite: Colt McCoy. If you’ve read the Madden Experience, you know Colt McCoy was our starting quarterback and that we eventually traded him to make room for Blake Bortles. I had familiarity with the player and what he could and could not do, though the ratings have obviously been altered in the years since. We had paid Hoyer $5 million the previous year to sit on the bench. We paid McCoy a little over $1.5 to do the same.

And he was good in the preseason. My familiarity paid off and gave me confidence that McCoy could be a long term backup for our team.

We had a bright outlook for the season. We knew we had to execute, fine tune the team and get back to where we should have been last season: the podium.

Tannehill had some struggles early, but I was determined to get him to put up his best season yet. However, as the season progressed, both Jon and I had become more dissatisfied with Tannehill’s performance. In our first season, Edelman missed most of the year and so Tannehill’s shortcomings were reasonable. Last year, Nelson Agholor became an explosive outside threat and one of the league’s top receivers. This year, his failings had broken my patience. When Tannehill went down with a broken wrist in week 8, we were bummed, but also given the opportunity to see how the offense ran through McCoy. Two games in, McCoy was a clear improvement, thrashing the Bengals in a revenge match. A disastrous three-interception half a game later did stand out, but QB Trevone Boykin, who we had added following the release of Tannehill’s injury, came under center in the second half and brought the team back, going 10/14 for 164 yards and two touchdowns, most likely earning him a roster spot for the upcoming season. McCoy bounced back in the next two games, throwing for over 200 yards in both games and five touchdowns, including a demolition of the Raiders. With Tannehill’s contract year coming up, he had simply chosen the wrong time to struggle and with teams offering first rounders for him, McCoy seemed to have made our decision for us.

The decision was made easier than that when the Cowboys showed they were willing to pay a king’s ransom for Doran Grant, our corner of the future. Dallas had struggled mightily and offered their first round pick for the 2020 draft. I would have taken that straight up, but Jon forced Dallas’ hand, receiving a projected sixth overall pick for the 2019 draft in exchange for Grant and a seventh. Grant was going to be a free agent at the end of the season, so Dallas traded us a bucket of gold and then had to pay the man. With a pick that early, drafting a quarterback was an option, as was trading for one ourselves or adding one in free agency. It was just another piece that had fallen into the puzzle against Tannehill.

That pick would turn into a late first rounder, as Dallas would go on a tear following the trade, but a first, no matter the spot, for a juvenile in Grant, was something we wouldn’t regret. Agholor had huge games during another campaign of superiority, including a 10-reception game for 211 yards and two touchdowns. David Johnson, in the final game of the season, unleashed his final form, rushing 30 times for 227 yards and two scores, setting the single season rushing record. We also set the team record for points against the Dolphins, blasting them 51-3. Johnson had five walks into the end zone to pair with 21 carries for 155 yards. We went 16-0 for the second consecutive year.

Stat lines:

McCoy 147/224 for 1,883, 65%, 85.1 rating, 13 TDs, 14 INTs

Tannehill 77/127 for 754, 60%, 65.5 rating, 3 TDs, 6 INTs

Johnson 328 carries for 2,153, 6.6 avg, 22 TDs

Agholor 51 receptions for 903, 7 TDs

Collins 67 tackles, INT

Washington 67 tackles, 13 TFL, 5.5 sacks

Mingo 50 tackles, 6 TFL, 13 sacks

Cheek 44 tackles, 20 TFL, 5 sacks

Rooks 53 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 15 PDs

McCoy 53 tackles, 13 TFL, 18.5 sacks. McCoy and Watt combined for 33 sacks.

Tucker 29/31, 93%, 48/49 XP, 97%

Hekker 49.8 avg, 44.8 net avg, 14 inside the 20

Team Stats

Offense

Yards: 5074 (30th), 2611 pass (32nd), 2463 rush (1st), 27.6 ppg (2nd) Last year: Whoops again.

Defense

Yards: 2175 (1st), 1772 pass (1st), 403 rush (1st) 6.9 pag (1st) Last year: 2311, 1595, 716, ???

71 sacks (2nd), 9 fumbles, 15 INTs Last year: 53, 14, 16

 

As is customary for us, Jon and I prefer to wait for contract extensions until season’s end, but with the team’s undefeated regular season, it was time to pay some people. LE Chris Jones, our top backup on the defensive line, had earned a three-year, $15.5 million contract. It was a lot for Jones, but our depth on the line was weak following the Clayborn trade. Mealey was a project pick and while I was a fan of Kadron Moye, he needed additional reps before we could fully rely on him. Jones was our only real option and so was paid as such.

TE Scott Chandler, who had led our team in receptions during a challenging first campaign, skipped on retirement and came back for a bargain $6.2 million for two years.

For the second consecutive year, David Johnson won MVP, OPOY and best running back and Coach LaBeouf won his second COY. McCoy finished second for best DL and third for DPOY. Watt, despite a down year (to his standards), finished eighth and fifth, respectively. Both CB Gant Rooks and MLB Margarito Arenas finished in the top ten for DROY and Nelson Agholor improved on his standing from last year, reaching number seven on the best receiver list. Tandy scratched the top ten for best DB.

Our first playoff game came against the Chiefs. The worst happened a few snaps in: Colt McCoy suffered a shoulder tear. McCoy had earned a Pro Bowl nod, far exceeding expectations. While I still hoped to draft a quarterback in the upcoming draft, McCoy could start on this team another year if we needed him to and was certainly looking like a long-term backup option. We were high on McCoy. Now, we had a tough decision to make.

We had agreed we were moving on from Tannehill, but now we had to decide, just a few snaps into a playoff game, who was going to be the starting quarterback for our playoff run. Trevone Boykin had played very well in one half earlier in the season, but was virtually untested. It would be a gamble to start him.

That’s what we did. This wasn’t just about this playoff run. This was about looking forward and seeing what we had and in Boykin, we had a future. Boykin played remarkably well, completing 18 of 21 for 158 yards and a score. We won.

The next game brought the Denver Broncos to our doorstep, led by MVP runner-up Cam Newton. The wannabe MVP didn’t show up but Boykin did, going 18 of 20 for 176 and two scores in a 29-0 bombardment. The Broncos ended the game with zero yards of total offense, a mind-blowing achievement for Jon’s squad.

We had finally gotten a quarterback to a Pro Bowl and who would have thought it would have been Colt McCoy. Our Pro Bowlers included Johnson, Lewan, backup left tackle Ty Sambrailo, Sitton, rookie left guard Kaleb Kirkland, C Alex Mack, rookie center Jacob Pimentel, DeCastro, Vollmer, Gerald McCoy, Jakeem Grant, Tucker and Hekker. That’s…14.

And guess who we got to face in the Super Bowl? The Dallas Cowboys. Yes, that top-ten first rounder was now a 31st. It would seem they did it just to spite us.

Matt Ryan, Todd Gurley and Antonio Brown looked threatening on paper but didn’t do much. Boykin ended his playoff run the same way he started it: on a tear, completing 14/20 for 226 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-7 beatdown. Boykin, after his postseason and now championship game performance, deserved the MVP, but it was given to Akeem Ayers, who leveled a receiver and secured a scoop and score.

Jon and I had dominated. Our all-time record three seasons in? 50-5, including 35-1 in the last two seasons. (44-4 in the regular season, 6-1 in the playoffs.) It was time to adjust the sliders. We would do so for season four.

In the offseason, we let a lot of familiar names walk. I re-signed Boykin and McCoy to one-year contracts for $1.5 and $2.5 respectively. I planned to sign them to long-term deals the following offseason after seeing how they improved/depreciated. Akeem Ayers was our first big piece to hit free agency. We simply wouldn’t have the cap room to re-sign Ayers and Mingo, and Mingo was the dominant edge rusher and an impact player. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer retired, leaving us with a hole at right tackle. Dee Milliner, Sean Davis and Jake Ryan went elsewhere. For the third consecutive year, we franchise tagged punter Johnny Hekker, whose contract demands were simply unreasonable.

And while LB Russell Alexander, the least exciting pick of our first draft, had become a competent depth man, last year’s bust apparent, Walter Claiborne, had made no progress. We would put him on the practice squad, giving us zero depth at middle linebacker. Luckily, this year’s draft had many talents at the position, one especially promising one in the first round.

The corner draft class was awful, many of them with projected undrafted talent, so we added an aged Xavier Rhodes at corner. Best of all, Dallas, after trading us a first round pick for Doran Grant, had let him test free agency after ten games, essentially giving us a first for a rental. We snatched Grant back up with a long-term deal: Four years, $24 million. He was to be our new slot corner, with Jason McCourty as the new four.

We also added C Jeremy Zuttah, LT Ryan Clady, WR Rashad Greene and SS D.J. Swearinger as depth moves.

It was time to trade Tannehill and for him and a seventh, we secured the ninth overall pick. We also decided to move on from C Alex Mack. Pimentel, our center that we took in last year’s draft, had the ability to start and with Mack’s contract ending, this was our last chance to get value back. We traded Mack, cornerback Alterraun Verner, who had served us well in the secondary but had started to regress, and a fifth for the 14th overall.

We had a lot of draft picks, far more than we needed. We ended up trading for future years with quite a few of them. We may have reached for our quarterback, but we had the picks and the need that I was willing to reach. Colby Skelton’s accuracy numbers were pretty good for a rookie. The linebacker we wanted was there at 14 but the right tackle, Svondo Brockers (Florida), who was projected to go in the late second round, got snagged by division rival Houston before our next first rounder, the very pick before. Again. It had now happened three consecutive years. With plenty of extra picks at our disposal, we traded our projected 32nd overall pick for next year’s draft for Brockers, a 75 overall tackle that would take Vollmer’s spot on the line.

With Edelman nearing the end of his contract, WR Willis Banks was a nice insurance policy. The plan was to keep Edelman at the one spot to draw attention away from the true number one at this point, Nelson Agholor. Jakeem Grant would stick in the slot and Antaries Gage had earned the four spot, but Banks was also good enough that I could rotate the two of them.

Brody Boselli would be our fourth middle linebacker, finally cementing the position we’d been trying to nail down since we started this thing. With Pimentel starting, we needed backup linemen. LT Ryan Clady was a one-year fix, two at most. LG Kaleb Kirkland looked to be the heir apparent to Josh Sitton, but we now needed help at center, right guard and right tackle. It was a strong center class this year and so we took Trey Thorn and Donald Abraham, both of which looked like capable starters in future years. We could always move one of them farther down the line if the need was there. RG Kendrick Oliver had the talent to be an immediate starter but we had no plans to move David DeCastro. Sitton would likely retire soon, but we planned to keep DeCastro and left tackle Taylor Lewan for the long haul. Instead of moving Kadron Moye to defensive tackle, as we had contemplated numerous times, we selected DT Sheldon Carrie in the fourth and through one preseason game, he was very impressive. We added some safety depth late to round out our draft class.

Our draft class (2019):

1/QB Colby Skelton (Oklahoma), MLB Jordan Bersin (Ohio State), WR Willis Banks (Kentucky)

2/MLB Brody Boselli (Oregon)

3/C Trey Thorn (Vanderbilt), RG Kendrick Oliver (Temple)

4/DT Sheldon Carrie (Arkansas), C Donald Abraham (Kentucky)

5/SS Demarcus Burfict (Georgia), WR Marquise Wilfork (Ohio), TE Emmett Walls (California)

6/SS Ishmael Dawson (Louisiana Monroe)

7/LG T.J. Walter (Cincinnati), RG O.C. Starks (Colorado), FS Phillip Davison (Memphis)

 

Thus far, we hadn’t let any of our draft picks go. That looked likely to change this preseason with the wealth of talent we had just inherited.

The increase in difficulty lead to more competition and unlike The Madden Experience, this franchise would progress past its third season, meaning the added pressure of large contracts would begin to take a number on our team. Many of our key players, including David Johnson, Nelson Agholor, Josh Sitton, David DeCastro, Barkevious Mingo, Landon Collins and Jimmy Smith, were on expiring contracts.

We moved draft bust MLB Walter Claiborne to the 49ers and surprisingly, got a fourth rounder back for him. Jon nor I were in the mood to complain about that. FS DeAndre Houston-Carson, who had moved his way up from a walk-on to a depth safety, was moved for a fourth to Arizona. TE Austin Hooper was traded to Pittsburgh.

With the addition of a large draft class, we were doing all we could to shelter our draft picks. Villanueva, who simply hadn’t made any progress during his time in Jacksonville, was cut, leaving Ryan Clady our number two option at the tackle position. We were forced to put some of our class on the practice squad. In all honesty, some of these players wouldn’t have seen any playing time anyway, so hopefully this move would lead to some extra reps for them. Wide receiver Marquise Wilfork, strong safety Ishmael Dawson and right guard O.C. Starks were given those reps, only to see the Falcons, one of our regular trade partners, immediately sign Starks.

I wasn’t all that upset about it. Dawson, along with our entire seventh round, were busts. I really can’t say enough how proud Jon and I had become of Russell Alexander though, so we didn’t really have a bust in our first draft. Last year, it was Walter Claiborne, a name we wouldn’t soon forget. This year, Dawson, Walter, Starks and Davison all seemed too much of a project, even for us.

The Jaguars struggled in the preseason, going 1-3, but that had been the case in past years. Joey Hilliard, a practice squad linebacker, had been promoted into the active roster. Alexander had come a long way. He had earned a starting spot and would rotate with Dee Ford.

Our opener was against the Denver Broncos, a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game. Skelton threw for only 97 yards in his inaugural debut, but completed his first ever touchdown pass to Kyle Juszczyk. Alexander didn’t make us regret our decision, forcing a crucial fumble on defense, putting us in position for the winning score and a 1-0 start.

Our next few games were tough. With two new additions to the offensive line, the running game wasn’t as strong. After week one, Johnson didn’t breach the 100-yard mark, putting additional pressure on Skelton, who battled through it but also made costly errors. It was his rookie year and he would get better with time. As of now, Skelton was the franchise quarterback. Making this worse, Julian Edelman went down with a broken collarbone and first-round pick wide receiver Willis Banks went down soon after with broken ribs. Antaries Gage, the fifth-rounder from Tennessee, would get added reps in the one spot. We picked Tyreek Hill off of free agency, but despite his speed, his route-running was terrible. We were hurting at the receiver position. These games once again reminded us how important our offensive line was.

We re-signed David Johnson to a four-year, $43 million contract, five under the $12 million per I was expecting. A two-time MVP and three-time rushing leader deserved every penny. Right guard David DeCastro earned a four-year, $42.9 million dollar contract.

After dropping to 2-3, we won a crucial game against division rival Indianapolis and followed that up by getting throttled 24-3 with under two minutes left in the second quarter to New Orleans. The contest looked over, but one player provided a light: wideout Nelson Agholor, who toasted an aged Richard Sherman for a long touchdown. He did it again in the third quarter. Jon tightened his defense and in the final seconds, Justin Tucker kicked the winning field goal, 28-27. It was quite the comeback and one we needed. Agholor ended the day with six receptions for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He walked out of our building that week with a five-year deal for $55.1 million. He had earned his spot.

Skelton also had the best day of his career, completing 16/27 for 326 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions, and a 107.9 passer rating.

That left us with Barkevious Mingo, Landon Collins and Jimmy Smith left without extensions and it was likely one of them would see the door. After one offer, Collins decided he wanted to test free agency. We were pissed.

Landon Collins was the star safety. We both thought Jimmy was the one to go but Collins had made the decision for us.

As has been mentioned before, Jon and I prefer to wait until the end of the season to pay our players but our biggest contributors needed to be taken care of and with Collins leaving the table, we signed LB Barkevious Mingo to a 4 yr, $32.6 million extension. Jimmy Smith wanted 14 million for a year, but we got him to stick around for two years and $27.4. It was a lot of money to shell out for a corner. It was top corner money and with Gant Rooks on the opposite side, we had a hard time justifying it, but after looking at the upcoming draft, which had a very weak corner class, and having McCourty and Rhodes likely hitting free agency, our hand was forced. Jimmy got paid.

Meanwhile, our team struggled. While our play calling got a lot better on both sides of the ball, the games were a lot more competitive. We were 5-4 going into our bye week and lost our following game, meaning we were 5-5 with six to go, four of which would be on the road. In addition, Doran Grant, our slot corner, tore his shoulder in the loss, leaving an elder Jason McCourty in the slot. He had been a contributor all these years. Could he be one again?

We had a lot of pressure on us now. We were in a must-win situation (We didn’t lead our division).

The leaders on our team showed up.

After a narrow win against the Titans, Johnson showed up the next week against Houston. After getting embarrassed at home two weeks prior, the Jaguars had their revenge, pouring 42 points on the Texans in their stadium. Johnson had 17 carries for 208 yards and three touchdowns.

Two weeks later, Johnson had 19 carries for 179 yards and a touchdown and a 60-yard reception touchdown en route to a 21-13 win against Tennessee.

Agholor had a 150-yard receiving game to go with two touchdowns in one of the following weeks.

Edelman returned from injury during this streak.

In our final game of the year, fighting for the two seed, Colby Skelton had his best game, completing 21/22 for 215 yards and two touchdowns, which was enough to edge out Andrew Luck, Le’Veon Bell and the Atlanta Falcons, 27-24. We completed a six-game winning streak and secured the two-seed. We finished 11-5.

It’s important not to forget about the leaders on the offensive line who stepped up, as well as those on the defensive side of the ball. Daryl Washington and Arenas led the team from the middle while Watt, McCoy and Cheek continued to apply pressure. Russell Alexander, the pick no one expected anything from, had become a capable starter. He had 31 tackles, nine tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks over the course of the season.

Stat lines:

Skelton 183/281 for 2,298, 65%, 74.7 rating, 18 TDs, 25 INTs

Johnson 309 carries for 1,610, 5.2 avg, 10 TDs

Cash 47 receptions for 370

Agholor 44 receptions for 820, 7 TDs

Grant 31 receptions for 493, 7 TDs

Washington 83 tackles, 17 TFL, 3 sacks

Arenas 80 tackles, 15 TFL, 3 sacks

McCoy 75 tackles, 31 TFL, 16 sacks

Watt 66 tackles, 21 TFL, 15 sacks

Tucker 19/24, 79%, 31/35 XP, 88%

Hekker 49.4 avg, 43.0 net avg, 13 inside the 20

Team Stats

Offense

Yards: 4277 (32nd), 2549 pass (32nd), 1728 rush (3rd), 19.8 ppg (30th) Last year: 5074, 2611, 2463, 27.6

Defense

Yards: 3352 (1st), 2170 pass (1st), 1182 rush (1st), 16.4 pag (1st) Last year: 2175, 1772, 403, 6.9

66 sacks (2nd), 5 fumbles, 6 interceptions Last year: 71, 9, 15

 

David Johnson finished third in OPOY and was once again crowned the best back in the AFC. Shia LaBeouf finished ninth in COY voting. Gerald McCoy had another elite campaign, finishing as the second-best defensive lineman and earning him the six spot in DPOY. While Skelton did have rookie struggles, he finished fifth in OROY voting. Justin Tucker finished second for best kicker despite his worst year with the Jags.

Our first playoff game was against the Patriots, led by Robert Griffin III. Skelton went 18/23 for 235 yards and a touchdown in his first playoff game, a 24-16 win. Gant Rooks suffered a shoulder tear in that game, ending his season. Doran Grant had just come back and now another corner had gone down to injury. McCourty would need to step up in the slot again. Extending Jimmy was looking like the right move.

The AFC Championship was in Pittsburgh against the 12-4 Steelers, who now had the best offensive line in football (Jared Veldheer, a talented draft pick, Weston Richburg, Zack Martin, Mitchell Schwartz). This was a team built to beat the Jaguars. This was an O-line that could hold its own against the likes of Watt, McCoy and Cheek. Justin Houston on defense was going to be a problem.

Skelton had another promising start, completing 21/26 for 278 and a score. Johnson added 124 on the ground in one of our most difficult contests, a 26-20 win.

This year’s Pro Bowlers included David Johnson, Taylor Lewan, Josh Sitton, David DeCastro, Gerald McCoy, Johnny Hekker and Jakeem Grant, giving us seven.

The Super Bowl was a rematch: Dallas vs. Jacksonville. We would look to win a third title with a third different quarterback.

After initial successes in the postseason, Skelton was hampered in the big game, completing 12/21 for 124 and an interception. David Johnson had no such problems.

He was the best back in the league again and again and showed no signs of slowing down. He finished with 21 carries for 146 yards and two touchdowns.

Dallas stuck around. It was tied at 16 before a late score for the Jags. Jimmy Smith, fresh off pay day, had two huge interceptions.

Jimmy deserved the MVP but for reasons unknown, the trophy was handed to quarterback Colby Skelton. It was completely undeserved but we got the trophy that mattered: the Lombardi. Who knew when, or if, we would get another one. It was going to be a busy offseason.

First order of business: making a quarterback decision. Colt McCoy had become the first quarterback to reach a Pro Bowl under my watch, but was an elder statesman. Trevone Boykin was 27 and going into the prime of his career and also had an elite postseason two years prior, winning us a title. Boykin was handed a three-year, $9 million deal. I found it to be a bargain based off his production. Jon felt he had been overpaid. Time would show who was right. McCoy, who had now served me well in two franchises, was let go.

Tight end Scott Chandler’s best days were behind him, sadly. We moved him, along with Julian Edelman, who’s injuries had caught up to him. S Landon Collins and G Josh Sitton both hit free agency, along with Johnny Hekker. Three of the top four rated free agents were from Jacksonville.

Seventh round guard T.J. Walter and sixth round safety Ishmael Dawson were both traded to make additional room for a huge draft pool. Our lone free agent signing was Jason McCourty, who had hit free agency. The 2020 draft class was weak at corner and so we brought the Jacksonville staple back for another year.

Lastly, receiver Antaries Gage, one of our first picks, was shipped to San Francisco. He finished his time in Jacksonville with 44 receptions for 583 yards and two touchdowns. He would be missed.

We had more first round picks than was necessary and ended up trading some of them for the following year. With the loss of Josh Sitton, we grabbed two guards from the SEC: Ali Austin from Georgia and Charles Crabtree from Ole Miss. Both had superstar development and would likely be staying in Jacksonville for a long time. Safety Rakkim Hagg would be taking over Collins’ spot in the secondary. There would be a hole there. FS D’Antwone Howard showed potential and seemed worth a second. With contracts ending for Russell Alexander and Daryl Washington after this season, LB Walter Everett would join college teammate Margarito Arenas on the Jags. He also had the superstar trait.

In the third, WR Tymichael Obiozor would offer us a redzone threat, a tall target who would fill Gage’s departure.

An issue occurred in the fourth. We could no longer trade picks. We had accumulated so many that we could not trade out of this year’s draft, forcing us to use fourth round picks on players we had planned to take later. It also meant we would need to start cutting players rather than trading them and would need to move towards quality picks rather than amassing as many as possible.

Our bust of the year was linebacker Curry Stuckey. He had a stellar combine but we had scouted him and his grades were not good. Jon decided to take a gamble. It didn’t pay off. He would sit on the practice squad and we would see if there was anything to be done with him after the year or if he would be cut altogether.

Left tackle Lindsey Tyler was actually our highest-rated player, taken in the fourth round, but as had happened in years past, our best pick came in the fifth round. CB LeVeon Rucker from Bowling Green State, clearly overlooked by the field, had first-round potential. His coverage stats were starter caliber.

With McCoy’s departure, Wisconsin signal caller Duncan Bingham became our new third-string quarterback. With Hekker gone, we drafted a punter with our final selection.

Our draft class (2020):

1/RG Ali Austin (Georgia), LG Charles Crabtree (Ole Miss)

2/FS D’Antwone Howard (Arizona), LB Walter Everett (Alabama)

3/WR Tymichael Obiozor (Drake)

4/MLB Curry Stuckey (Akron), RT Haile McDaniels (North Dakota), LT Lindsey Tyler (Butler), RB Jacob Slaton (Kansas State), TE Trey Pyatt (Fresno State), SS Armand Lewis (Indiana)

5/CB LeVeon Rucker (Bowling Green State), QB Duncan Bingham (Wisconsin), RE Omari Kelley (Clemson), LB George Moe (Rice)

6/P Jackson Shor (Syracuse)

 

Drafting that punter was a mistake. Jackson Shor was not an adequate substitute for Hekker and so he was cut, along with LB Dee Ford, who had served two of his three-year contract seasons. It was a contract I didn’t regret, but with the young stock we had coming in, his price tag couldn’t be fit in. I also admit he was never the polarizing backer I had hoped he would be. We signed a punter off of Seattle’s practice squad by the name of George Tepper.

Duncan Bingham was raw, but showed poise at moments during the preseason. I wasn’t sure if he would see the end of his contract though. With plenty of first round choices, it was possible we would take a top talent in the upcoming draft. Regardless, an option.

We had more offensive lineman than our active roster would allow, so North Dakota graduate Haile McDaniels, along with LB George Moe and 2019 safety Philip Davison would take spots on the practice squad. McDaniels was stolen by another team, who signed him to their active roster. It was the second year we had had a draftee stolen off that unit.

We split our first two regular season games, dropping a home game to Tennessee, whose running game, for the second consecutive match, torched the defense. They were the only division rival that was giving us problems.

In past years, we usually fared well with injuries. That would not be the case this season. After a start you would expect from a franchise citadel, LB Margarito Arenas tore his pectoral, ending his season. We had started MLB Jordan Bersin on the edge to allow Washington to finish his contract. Now, Bersin would take Arenas’ spot in the middle and Russell Alexander would once again arm the right side of the defense. For the second year, Skelton broke his collarbone, missing seven games. Was Skelton injury-prone? The worries started creeping in.

On the other hand, it would give Trevone Boykin yet another chance to prove himself. Receiver Jakeem Grant missed five weeks with a shoulder tear. TE Layne Cash, who I had grown frustrated with, tore his shoulder and missed a few contests. Safety Rakkim Hagg suffered an abdominal tear, forcing second-year player Demarcus Burfict into the free safety niche.

Despite all of it, we did not lose a game. We defeated our rival, Cincinnati, 31-26 behind three touchdowns from Boykin. During Boykin’s time behind center, the Jaguars set the franchise record for points, scoring 67 on Chicago on the road. David Johnson carried the rock 24 times for a single-game record 427 yards and single-game record six touchdowns.

By the time Skelton returned, Jacksonville was 8-1 and Boykin was seventh in the league in passer rating. Boykin narrowly completed 50% of his passes each week, but limited turnovers (11 TDs, 3 INTs), proving worthy of his contract.

Injuries also gave us a chance to look at our depth and better address what we needed to look at for the upcoming draft. Jon and I had become disgruntled with Layne Cash. His run blocking had begun to suffer and he had developed a problem with drops, one that had put us in difficult positions. His injury allowed us to see how much better Emmett Walls was. Cash was benched for the rest of the year. Tymichael Obiozor got reps in the slot during Grant’s absence, safety DeMarcus Burfict got some snaps holding over Hagg’s spot. It gave players on our team valuable experience.

It was important to credit the run game and some big play offense from the receiving core. Jon’s defense also provided takeaways in key moments.

Finally, during this streak, Jacksonville signed J.J. Watt to a mammoth six-year, $120 million extension and Gerald McCoy to a three-year, $55 million deal. They both had earned it and Jon and I had zero regrets.

There was no quarterback controversy just yet. Skelton was still the starter based off of his success in his rookie year, but another substantial injury would be concerning.

We ended the season 14-2. David Johnson was not stopped during a historic run, blowing the rushing record out of the water, falling two yards short of 2,600. It was an accomplishment that won him offensive player of the year for the fourth time, best back for the fifth year, and his third MVP award. McCoy, who posted 25.5 sacks, finished third in MVP voting and captured defensive player of the year. J.J. Watt racked up 20 sacks himself, earning the third place spot for DPOY. Shia LaBeouf won coach of the year for the third time. LeVeon Rucker, the gem of the draft class, finished fourth for defensive rookie of the year. Agholor finished fourth for best receiver.

Stat lines:

Skelton 129/197 for 1,537, 65%, 88.3 rating, 12 TDs, 10 INTS

Boykin 56/97 for 844, 57%, 107.0 rating, 11 TDs, 4 INTS

Johnson 287 carries for 2,598, 9.1 avg, 24 TDs

Agholor 45 receptions for 842, 11 TDs

Bersin 89 tackles, 16 TFL, 5.5 sacks

Watt 82 tackles, 20 TFL, 20 sacks

McCoy 69 tackles, 20 TFL, 25.5 sacks, falling one short of the record Watt set in our second season.

Tucker 25/28, 89%, 52/55 XP, 94%

Tepper 51.8 avg, 43.2 net avg, 15 inside the 20

Team stats:

Offense

Yards: 5130 (30th), 2209 pass (32nd), 2921 rush (1st), 29.6 ppg (1st) Last year: 4277, 2549, 1728, 19.8

Defense

Yards: 4133 (1st), 2634 pass (1st), 1499 rush (2nd), 18.5 pag (2nd) Last year: 3352, 2170, 1182, 16.4

78 sacks (1st), 7 fumbles, 13 INTs Last year: 66, 5, 6

 

Our first playoff game came against our division rival, the Tennessee Titans. Their running back, Daniel Woolfolk, had torched Jon in previous matchups. They also carried Julio Jones and a superstar corner, Griffin Spearman.

Jon’s unit performed in the big time. Jacksonville prevailed, 19-0.

The championship game, against the wild-card Miami Dolphins, was a walk through. 22-0.

David Johnson added another Pro Bowl to his boisterous resume. The entire offensive line (Lewan, Kirkland, Pimentel, DeCastro, Brockers) made an appearance alongside him. J.J. Watt and Gerald McCoy arrived after posting historic numbers. Tucker, Grant and new punter George Tepper also arrived in Hawaii, bringing the total to 11.

The Super Bowl was against the Dallas Cowboys for the third consecutive year. Todd Gurley had departed the team the last offseason, but Matt Ryan still anchored the top offense in football.

The game did not start well. Colby Skelton threw a pick-six on the first drive, but our team had always come through in the clutch. David Johnson carried the ball 18 times for 158 yards and a touchdown and Jon’s defense allowed three points the rest of the way, leading to a 17-10 victory and fourth Lombardi. Jon allowed three points in three playoffs games, likely a record. Skelton won the MVP for the second consecutive year despite a two-interception performance, which irritated Jon and I.

Jason McCourty and Daryl Washington, who had served us well for several seasons, retired following the game. We re-signed George Tepper to a two-year, $4.29 contract.

We were forced to let a few big names go in free agency. Taylor Lewan, who we had hoped to keep for the long term, wanted over 13 million and given the abundance of draft picks, we decided to let him walk. He ended up signing with the Eagles for four years and $52 million.

LB Russell Alexander, the fourth-round USF product who had gone from nothing to capable, would leave us. A promising young edge rusher was at the top of our draft board. Alexander recorded 63 tackles and 12 sacks while splitting time in the starting role the last two seasons. That was great value for a fourth-round choice. Baltimore picked him up for four years and $30 million.

Wide receiver Antaries Gage, who we traded to San Francisco the previous offseason, went to Miami to join Colt McCoy. Gage received a $35 million payout for four seasons. Even though we wouldn’t get to be a part of their future, it was nice to see our draft picks succeed.

Kadron Moye and Howard Weston also left in free agency, leaving us two players left from the 2017 draft. Due to a game glitch, S Khiry Tandy’s contract was longer than the four seasons it should have been. Cheek’s contract was five years because he was drafted in the first.

TE Layne Cash, who had been demoted during the year, was shipped to Kansas City. Trade offers were made by other teams for guard Kendrick Oliver and center Trey Thorn, exchanging offensive line depth for draft choices. Oregon linebacker Brody Boselli was a strong third option in the middle, but Minnesota offered a first round pick for his services. He left for Minneapolis the following day.

Since Scott Chandler, the team had faltered at the tight end spot so Jon and I traded a first round selection and linebacker George Moe, a sixth-rounder from our last draft to San Francisco for tight end Eduardo Matias from Notre Dame. With three years of playing time under his belt, Matias was an 86 overall with receiver-like speed and an 80 run block rating. He could catch in traffic and play the jump ball. In our time in Jacksonville, we hadn’t traded for many players but Matias was one worth taking a chance on. The last two (CB Gant Rooks, RT Svondo Brockers) worked out pretty well.

Doran Grant had a poor season with us and yet again with more young talent on the horizon, Grant was traded for the second time, this time to San Francisco, coupled with an early second, for the fourth overall pick.

This year’s draft was stocked well. With the first overall selection, we drafted USC edge rusher Joe Fender. He would add a lot in the pass rush, but would need to be taught coverages. At left tackle, Michigan State’s Denton Condo would join a strong offensive line. He would be followed by college teammates Henry Luke and Lawrence Hebert. Hebert carried a superstar trait with him, putting added pressure on Skelton to perform. Another substantial injury would move him down the depth chart. Hebert suddenly looked like the future.

Strong safety Justice McGraw was the apparent bust of the draft. Taken in the third, McGraw carried close to zero intelligence and a 68 overall. He would spend his first year on the practice squad.

And then, in the fourth, defensive tackle Clayton Gales arrived. Scouted by close to nobody, the Indiana State athlete was ranked tenth in true talent and could really rip off a blocker. He looked like the heir to Gerald McCoy.

Our draft class (2021):

1/LB Joe Fender (USC), LT Denton Condo (Michigan State), MLB Gilbert Hanoian (Tennessee), CB Henry Luke (Michigan State), QB Lawrence Hebert (Michigan State), RB Jatashun Bradshaw (Wisconsin), WR Marquise Darby (Mount Union)

2/FS Antwan Heyman (Penn State)

3/SS Justice McGraw (Ohio), RE Rhett Sharpe (Indiana)

4/DT Clayton Gales (Indiana State)

5/LB Austin Zenner (Alabama)

 

Our first big move of the 2021 season was signing a franchise staple to a long-term deal. Texas A&M star Rafael Cheek, the left end we took with our first ever draft pick, was signed to a six-year, $79.7 million extension. We intended to keep the three megastars on the defensive line as long as we could and so we poured a ton of money into the trenches.

The Jaguars started off their season with tough opponents. Trailing the rival Bengals into the second half, Skelton led the offense to a comeback win, 27-21, and painted one of the strongest outings of his career, completing 30/40 for 387 yards and three touchdowns to bounce back from two early interceptions. In addition to catching all three scores from Skelton, Agholor had eight receptions for 171 yards, earning him player of the week honors. The following game, Skelton led the cats to another victory from behind, putting up a stat line of 26/31 for 219 yards and two scores. Skelton had noticed we had drafted Hebert and was giving it his all.

After a couple strong performances, Skelton threw four picks in a home loss to Los Angeles, but rebounded the next week in a 34-3 throttling of Arizona. In that game, Jon’s defense racked up 11 sacks, the most Jon’s unit had ever put together in one contest.

It was smooth sailing for much of the season. Skelton and Agholor’s chemistry went through the roof. Skelton came just short of reaching 3,000 yards and Agholor finally broke the ceiling of the 1,000 yard mark.

In drafting Wisconsin superstar Jatashun Bradshaw, I was able to sub out Johnson late in games more often than I used to with Weston and Cobb. I wanted Johnson to be on the team long-term and hopefully putting him on a snap limit would extend his career with the Jaguars. This is also how Skelton and Agholor were able to build that familiarity. I made the aerial attack a larger part of the week-to-week gameplan, spreading out offenses more and giving us yet another weapon to utilize in important moments. We had already demonstrated we could bully teams on the ground. Now, we were proving we could pick them apart through the air.

We split the season series with what was becoming a serious divisional foe in Houston, led by Jameis Winston, Doug Martin and Amari Cooper. We ended the 2021 campaign 14-2.

Stat lines:

Skelton 257/373 for 2,978, 68%, 91.4 rating, 21 TDs, 18 INTs

Johnson 262 carries for 1,983, 7.6 avg, 21 TDs

Agholor 73 receptions for 1,096, 10 TDs

Matias 58 receptions for 564, 3 TDs

Watt 85 tackles, 25 TFL, 25 sacks

Arenas 74 tackles, 11 TFL, 2 sacks

McCoy 52 tackles, 14 TFL, 16 sacks

Fender 51 tackles, 10 TFL, 8 sacks

Tucker 26/29 for 89%, 50/50 XP, NFL-record 65-yard field goal

Tepper 53.8 avg, 44.4 net avg, 11 inside the 20

Team stats:

Offense:

Yards: 5221 (28th), 2835 pass (32nd), 2386 rush (1st), 28.1 ppg (3rd) Last year: 5130, 2209, 2921, 29.6

Defense:

Yards: 3091 (1st), 2176 pass (1st), 915 rush (1st), 13.1 pag (1st) Last year: 4133, 2634, 1499, 18.5

73 sacks (1st), 13 fumbles, 14 interceptions Last year: 78, 7, 13

 

Thankfully, the Dallas Cowboys were defeated in the wild card round. After three consecutive Super Bowl matchups, this season’s ultimate championship game would feature at least one new team.

In the divisional round, we once again faced off against Cam Newton’s Denver Broncos. We had beaten the team multiple times, including at least two playoff contests. Denver was looking for blood.

The score was 14-6 when punter George Tepper pinned the Broncos on the one-yard line with under two minutes to play. Denver would have to go 99 yards to tie the game. It was the perfect scenario.

On the very first play, Newton connected with one of his targets along the sideline and a miscommunication on the defense led to a scamper and score. However, Jon’s defense prevented the two-point conversion and a late touchdown from Johnson sealed the game, 21-12. David Johnson totaled 177 yards in the fight. Nelson Agholor caught 11 passes for 160 yards and both of Skelton’s two touchdown passes.

At the end of the game, backup running back Jatashun Bradshaw suffered a shoulder tear. He would be back for the Super Bowl, but linebacker Barkevious Mingo suffered a dislocated hip, ending his season. Receiver Jakeem Grant had suffered a ruptured disk at the tail end of the regular season and was also gone for the playoffs.

Worse, the Steelers, one of the strongest teams in the AFC, would be meeting us in the championship game. Led by rookie quarterback Trey Dalman, Pittsburgh put the pressure on early. Dalman finished the game 18/25 for 273 yards, 3 TDs and an interception.

The Steelers defense, who still employed Justin Houston, stifled the run early and bottled up the air attack. We were on the ropes.

Our special teams kept us in it. Willis Banks, filling in for Grant as our return man, had two punt returns for over 60 yards, giving a frustrated offense a short field to work with. With the Steelers up with seconds left in the half, Banks returned the kickoff for a score as the final seconds fell away, leaving us down only one at half. It was a huge momentum shifter.

It was what the team needed to wake up. Pittsburgh’s defense couldn’t stifle Johnson in the second frame. By game’s end, he had 166 yards and three scores as the walls came crumbling down. A late score sealed it, 33-21 Jacksonville.

David Johnson won his fourth Most Valuable Player Award, his fifth Offensive Player of the Year and his sixth Best Running back award. Johnson was having a Hall of Fame run, adding only more accolades to his intimidating resume.

Watt had a Hall of Fame resume of his own. Following the regular season, he was nine sacks short of Bruce Smith’s all-time sack record. He finished sixth in MVP voting, won yet another Defensive Player of the Year and, surprisingly, was selected as best defensive lineman after putting up 25 sacks.

McCoy finished tenth for DPOY and fourth for best defensive lineman. Jatashun Bradshaw finished tenth for offensive rookie of the year, but Joe Fender, the monstrosity of an edge rusher from USC, won Defensive Rookie of the Year. Skelton finished seventh for best quarterback.

Colby Skelton’s best season earned him a Pro Bowl, as did Agholor, who earned fourth for best receiver. David Johnson and the entire offensive line (Kirkland, Crabtree, Pimentel, DeCastro, Brockers) made their expected appearance as did J.J. Watt and Gerald McCoy. Tucker, the league’s best kicker, and Tepper also joined the ride, making 12 Pro Bowlers.

Jimmy Smith squeezed his way onto the awards list, sneaking into eighth on the best defensive back list.

The Super Bowl was against the Packers, literally the only other team Jon and I didn’t want to play. We had beaten Rodgers and Green Bay in our first Lombardi bout. We were thirsty for fresh competition. The last two playoff games had been thrilling. This Super Bowl was not. Johnson carved a weak defensive front for 183 yards, two touchdowns and a Super Bowl MVP award in a 26-7 smashing. Still, it was a fifth Super Bowl for Jon and I. One for the thumb.

The offseason hurt. We knew it would hurt, but not this much.

Jimmy Smith retired.

And McCoy.

We knew there was a chance Jimmy would retire. His contract was up with us and there was a chance we might not even keep him, though we discussed placing the franchise tag on him.

But McCoy. McCoy was still a 99 overall with close to no regression. He was one year into a three-year contract that paid him $18 per. Madden had cursed us, it seemed. The only benefit was that it freed some cap space, but that was cap space we were more than willing to devote to McCoy. We were sunk.

McCoy, during his six years with us, totaled 101 sacks.

It only got worse. This was the first year we would end up losing a couple of high-quality players in free agency. Center Jacob Pimentel and left tackle Kaleb Kirkland, two of our starters, had expiring contracts. We offered Pimentel four years and $40 million but he would not budge and I couldn’t justify paying a center more than ten a year. Kirkland wanted more than $13 per and we simply didn’t have the cap space for it. It would appear we should have tried to keep Taylor Lewan after all. We would be starting 2022 with two new starters on the offensive line.

Justin Tucker, despite being offered a $20 million check for four seasons, felt he could get more elsewhere. Tight end Eduardo Matias, who Jon and I both loved, wouldn’t stay for $8 million a year. We had traded a first-round pick for him and he had given us tons of production in his one season with us. It was a trade we didn’t regret.

We did get one player to stick with us. Free safety Rakkim Hagg, who we drafted in the fourth round of our second draft out of Charleston Southern, inked a four-year, $30 million deal, giving us a hometown discount. While we had zero interest in letting strong safety Khiry Tandy go, who was a 97 overall now, it did give us an option. Hagg had became a talented player himself, an 88, and we still didn’t think he’d hit his peak yet. If we couldn’t make a deal, we would still have one playmaker at safety. Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that.

Kirkland, Tucker, Matias and Pimentel, all four of them, were the top four highest rated players in free agency. That left a bitter taste in our mouths.

The 49ers, who had already built a reputation for signing our players, brought Pimentel in for a five-year, $45.9 million contract. Seattle picked up Matias for a five-year, $51.8 million package, a price we simply couldn’t match. Kirkland had turned down four years at $13 per with us, but signed at five years and $58.3 with Washington.

Tucker found out teams don’t pay kickers $5 per and lost money because of it. Our original offer was off the table and instead, we got him back for three years and $10.4, saving us more cap space for our future stars.

Losing such important pieces of the puzzle was made more difficult when we looked at the 2022 draft class. It was a weak class, the worst since we started this team. There were few players we were excited about.

We needed a corner and there were three capable ones. Tavares Al-Jabbar was the best of the three, or so it appeared. There were two other capable ones but Al-Jabbar had the best combine of the draft. We tried to trade into the top five to snag him, offering teams three mid first-rounders for the selection. They wouldn’t budge and Al-Jabbar was drafted. The other two corners followed. We needed a corner, but neither were quite what I was looking for in the first round. Jon thought we should have drafted one. We would have to check the boards after the draft.

Down a Matias, we scouted tight ends. I’ve always been a fan of Wisconsin and Noah Stupar was from the cheesehead state. There was a tight end from LSU on the board, too, both with similar stat lines. Stupar excelled in the categories I look into at the combine and so Stupar became our first selection of the 2022 draft.

Thus far, our first selections had been Cheek, Arenas, Skelton, Austin and Fender. Stupar’s name would be added to the list.

Down two lineman, we were looking for three in the draft. Ali Austin, our first selection from our 2020 draft, had backed up DeCastro for the last two years. He would move to center for the upcoming season and Denton Condo, the second overall pick from last year’s draft, into the left tackle spot.

Clayton Gales, the monster of a player we had taken from Indiana State, would slide in at defensive tackle. I was antsy to see the impact he could make.

While we didn’t draft anyone with slow development, our first picks weren’t bounce-off-the-wall fulfilling like in past years. We selected a guard that we probably could have waited until the second to pick. We drafted a defensive tackle in the second that we reached for, falling short of our expectations. Still, I was more than willing to be proven wrong. Russell Alexander had become something. He’d actually finished in the top ten for best linebacker this past year. There was no reason these guys couldn’t make something of themselves, too.

On paper, Notre Dame lineman Mavin Teel was our best pick. He could start on day one if need be.

It was only fitting, in all of our seasons of drafting, that we selected our worst draft pick ever in the 2022 draft. Desperate at corner, Jon pulled the trigger on Alabama corner Kalik Mayo. We had had excellent results drafting linebackers from Alabama; Margarito Arenas, Walter Everett and Austin Zenner were all great choices.

Kalik Mayo was straight garbage, a 64 overall in the fourth round. While that pick was all on Jon’s head (and I couldn’t possibly do that bad myself), I suggested taking safety Chadrick Clemmings next. He had 84 speed, a hurdle that would be hard to leap over.

In the fifth round two years ago, we drafted LeVeon Rucker out of Bowling Green State, perhaps our best pick of that draft. We decided to scout Connor Witt, another athlete out of BGS. We were impressed with what we saw and took a flyer on him in the fifth. He was very mobile and while he would need to be groomed, looked to have potential.

Our draft class (2022):

1/TE Noah Stupar (Wisconsin), LG Samuel McCalebb (Miami)

2/DT Laquon McElroy (North Carolina), RG Derek McLaughlin (TCU), LT Mavin Teel (Notre Dame)

4/CB Kalik Mayo (Alabama), SS Chadrick Clemmings (Georgia Southern)

5/QB Conor Witt (Bowling Green State), MLB Crandall Jett (South Dakota)

6/LB Jason Sudfeld (Rutgers)

7/WR Taylor Hutchinson (Delaware State)

 

After the draft, we took a look at the boards. Jacquet and Chris, the two cornerbacks, both had competent, high 70’s overalls, but both had slow development. We had dodged a bullet. Al-Jabbar was the best. We traded two firsts for him. We traded picks to get Gant Rooks and Svondo Brockers. Those two players became superstars. Hopefully Al-Jabbar, the Auburn product, could follow their career paths.

Kyle Juszczyk’s contract had expired and our old friend, Madden regression, had destroyed his blocking ability. We signed a rookie fullback off of free agency. Through the preseason, Antwan Burt displayed low awareness, missing obvious blocks and leaving my backs out to dry. His blocking stats didn’t mean anything if he didn’t have the wherewithal to get in between the defender and the ball carrier. It was something we would need to pay attention to.

Witt played well in the first three preseason games. Boykin, going into the final year of his contract, looked to be expendable. He had had a helluva run with us and had quarterbacked the team to a Super Bowl, but Madden regression had visited him as well. I started him in the final exhibition. He threw two picks and overthrew targets. It was his last appearance in a Jaguars jersey.

In his career with us, Boykin had put up a capable stat line: 91/157 for 1,404, 57%, 100.3 rating, 16 TDs, 8 INTs.

After a rather uneventful preseason, Nelson Agholor suffered a shoulder tear. He’d miss six games.

We’d faced adversity before. Teams are made by how they respond to it. Darby, our first-rounder from Mount Union, moved up and performed well. Stupar was a nice addition as well. He occasionally missed blocks in the running game but was a reliable receiving option with speed comparable to Matias. Agholor’s speed on the outside was missed but we had the talent on our team.

David Johnson had lost a step. His stamina had begun to sink, though his performance did not. I did give Bradshaw a bigger workload just to ease the pressure off.

The team played as a unit and won all six games without Agholor. During the streak, Shia LaBeouf clinched his 100th win.

Two big-name players were signed to extensions. Safety Khiry Tandy signed a team-friendly four-year deal for $39.9 million, a steal for a 99 overall. Gant Rooks, our star cornerback, wanted elite money. I battled back and forth with myself and Jon and I decided to take a leap and offer a five-year, $74.8 extension, close to $15 per year. It was a long-term deal. Jon and I were essentially stating that Rooks would be a top corner for the next five years. In a few years, we’d be able to look back and see if we made the right decision.

On the other side, fifth-rounder LeVeon Rucker had four interceptions in a road game against Houston, a feat I’d never accomplished in my time playing Madden.

J.J. Watt broke the all-time sack record, surpassing Bruce Smith’s 200.

In another road divisional game, Skelton had one of his best days, completing 15/22 for 244 yards and four scores. He was having a strong year.

Until the inevitable happened. Skelton suffered a shoulder tear. It was his third major injury and after two broken collarbones and now this, we’d lost confidence in his long-term health. Hebert was given the reins. He did not disappoint.

After two years of focus points, Hebert had bettered Skelton and had a near perfect passing game in his second start, completing 16/22 for 276 yards and five touchdowns. He had more zip on his throws and showed more composure in the pocket.

By season’s end, David Johnson was fourth all-time in rushing yards (14,746) and third all-time in rushing touchdowns (140).

Jacksonville was a dynasty. The Jags went 15-1, losing their only contest to the Broncos and Cam Newton, who finally got his revenge.

Stat lines:

Skelton 132/191 for 1,563, 69%, 100.7 rating, 14 TDs, 8 INTs

Hebert 97/150 for 1,428, 64%, 103.4 rating, 11 TDs, 6 INTs

Johnson 259 carries for 1,885, 7.3 avg, 20 TDs

Agholor 53 receptions for 941, 12 TDs

Stupar 48 receptions for 483, 2 TDs

Watt 75 tackles, 17 TFL, 23.5 sacks,

Cheek 59 tackles, 12 TFL, 21.5 sacks

Arenas 75 tackles, 22 TFL, 2 sacks

Bersin 68 tackles, 21 TFL, 1 sack

Fender 63 tackles, 14 TFL, 10 sacks

Tucker 24/27 for 88%, 49/54 XP for 91%

Tepper 52.0 avg, 46.5 net, 11 inside the 20

Team Stats

Offense:

Yards: 5109 (28th), 2868 pass (32nd), 2241 rush (1st), 28.3 ppg (3rd) Last year: 5221, 2835, 2386, 28.1

Defense:

Yards: 2834 (1st), 1950 pass (1st), 884 rush (1st), 10.1 pag (1st) Last year: 3091, 2176, 915, 13.1

78 sacks (1st), 10 fumbles, 17 interceptions Last year: 73, 13, 14

 

The first playoff game of the 2022 season was against the New York Jets. The Jaguars trailed 10-0 early before rattling off 19 straight points. The Jets’ comeback hopes fell short and Jacksonville advanced yet again, 22-20. Hebert had a modest day in his first postseason action, passing for just over 100 yards but no turnovers. Johnson entered the promised land twice.

The AFC Championship was against the Miami Dolphins, who we had squashed in the 2020 championship game, 22-0. They had lost their star middle linebacker for the season with a PCL tear and their lead back. They boasted the conference’s best receiver, at least according to the voters. Their defense was fourth against the run.

David Johnson did not get that memo, carrying the rock 15 times for a buck 40 and two scores. Hebert threw for 213 yards on 14/17 passing and six points.

A one-v-one ball was thrown up early in the game to that receiver, Malcolm Sample. Gant Rooks picked it off and that set the tone for the remainder of the outing. The final score: 26-0. In two AFC Championships, Miami had been outscored 48-0. Change had better be on its way to Florida.

As had been the case for the last several seasons, the awards ceremony was a celebration of Jacksonville achievement.

David Johnson won his fifth MVP, sixth offensive player of the year and seventh best running back award. JJ finished fourth for MVP and Cheek, in his first year of universal playing time, earned tenth on that list. To my knowledge, it was the first time we had ever had three players finish in the top ten for most valuable player.

LaBeouf finished runner-up for COY behind Tomas Pita, the coach of the Los Angeles Rams who had yet another astounding regular season campaign, finishing 14-2. The team had not yet found playoff success but it appeared LaBeouf may have found his first true rival.

Watt grabbed yet another DPOY award, with Cheek finishing third on the list. In McCoy and Watt’s best year together, the two combined for 45.5 sacks. In Cheek and Watt’s first campaign, they totaled for 45. This duo was dangerous. Oh, and Watt and Cheek finished first and third on the best defensive lineman list as well.

Noah Stupar, our dangerous tight end, finished ninth for offensive rookie of the year. Despite missing nearly half the season, Agholor still accrued nearly 1,000 receiving yards, earning him second on the best receiver archive. Gant Rooks had seven interceptions in the final year of his rookie deal and was named best DB in the AFC. Safety Rakkim Hagg finished seventh.

Pro Bowlers included Johnson, Agholor, Condo, Teel, Crabtree, McCalebb, Austin, Abraham, DeCastro, McLaughlin, Brockers, Tyler, Cheek, Watt, Fender, Hagg and Tucker. For reasons unknown, the best cornerback in the AFC (Rooks) didn’t make the Pro Bowl. Still, 17 Pro Bowlers.

In the Super Bowl, we finally had new competition: the Minnesota Vikings. The stagnant games of playing Green Bay and Dallas were over. There was fresh blood to overthrow.

Minnesota had a strong linebacking core, centered in the middle by our former player, Brody Boselli. That unit was third against the run during the regular season. An aged Melvin Gordon and a strong armed lefty at quarterback named Nick Reyna had produced the highest-scoring offense of the year, an attack that averaged over 29 a contest. Reyna had finished fifth in MVP voting.

The Vikings moved the ball down the field until Reyna took a deep shot that SS Khiry Tandy picked off. My unit then went on a drive that grinded down the first quarter and exhausted the Minnesota defense before putting up seven.

Minnesota struggled to keep drives going the rest of the way. At half, the score was 21-3.

One of the stronger offensive lines Jon’s defense had had to play was no match for the Jaguars four-man rush of Fender, Watt, Cheek and Mingo. Reyna had little time to make big plays and Gordon was overwhelmed in the backfield. We won our sixth trophy by the tune of 26-3.

Hebert finished a quiet but solid inaugural postseason, completing 17/21 for 177 and a score to Nelson Agholor. Johnson won his second Super Bowl MVP award, totaling 163 yards and three scores in the big game.

There were no retirements on our team this year, which gave us a sigh of relief after the torment of last offseason. Still, we had a lot of names going. TE Emmett Walls, S Demarcus Burfict and DT Sheldon Carrie were all allowed to leave for their first at-bat in the free market. WR Jakeem Grant’s time with us had come to an end. Regression had torn him down and his contract had ended. It was fun playing with him.

C Donald Abraham, who I didn’t intend to keep, had gotten the superstar development trait after receiving his first Pro Bowl invite. I had a hard time letting a player with superstar potential go. To Jon’s dismay, I was able to get him re-signed to a three-year deal for $9 million. If all worked out, Abraham would be an eventual starter at center or the go-to backup on the offensive line.

MLB Margarito Arenas’ contract had ended as well and he wanted five years and over $60 million, a deal we couldn’t afford after the re-signs of Cheek and Rooks. I was ready to let him walk but Jon was wishy-washy on the idea. With Gilbert Hanoian in the wings, an early first-round pick, it seemed unnecessary to throw money at the position but the franchise tag was only $9. On the condition that Hanoian started getting regular playing time, Jon tagged Arenas. It would give Hanoian a little more grooming before being thrust into the starting role.

George Tepper, the punter, wanted a $22 million mega deal that we weren’t willing to offer. We had learned from Hekker. We didn’t need to overpay for a guy to kick a ball 20 times a season.

This year’s free agent class was especially weak. Tepper, Carrie and Burfict were all in the top five and Boselli as well, all four of which we drafted. Burfict, despite being an 85 overall, only asked for a $4 million average annual value. Had we had more cap space, I gladly would have offered that. Hagg and Tandy were also locked at the safety positions. He was signed by the Rams to a three year, $12 mill contract. With the Rams becoming a rival in the NFC, we would likely see him again. Tight end Emmett Walls was snatched by Dallas for an AAV of $6.5. Defensive tackle Sheldon Carrie also went to Dallas on a bloated $60 million deal. Boselli got a five-year offer sheet elsewhere.

The draft wasn’t as bad as the now infamous 2022 class but it was a weak farm of players. The linebacking gang was weak overall and the receiving core wasn’t thrilling either. It was a strong trench class but after drafting three players for the offensive line in last year’s draft, the need couldn’t justify the pick. With five first-round selections, it looked like we were trading for next year or trading up.

There were a couple of players at the top of the board that we were excited about. LB Tyrone June out of Florida State was a Heisman winner and looked like a mime of Joe Fender. He was projected second overall. We couldn’t trade up for him, not with Walter Everett and Barkevious Mingo on the other side, but if he were to fall, well, crimes would be committed on the gridiron. There was a left tackle from Wisconsin that had high marks but as I mentioned, we had taken three lineman the previous year and all three of them had made the Pro Bowl and received a massive amount of upgrade points. I simply couldn’t justify it.

Our man was cornerback Derel Wiggins from Texas. He was a man-to-man specialist with high grades and top-five speed. Problem was, everyone in front of us needed corner. They also needed lineman though and in a strong trench year, it would be a mistake not to take one. Al-Jabbar, the first-round corner we had traded for last year, had still not seen substantial playing time. There wasn’t a big enough need to trade up for Wiggins.

We had the sixth overall pick. Tyrone June went second to Houston. I’d have to play that monster twice a year for the foreseeable future. Linemen came off the board as we had thought until number five, when Buffalo took Wiggins.

It seemed to happen every year. Our guy would get taken right before us. My heart sank after the draft. Wiggins was a superstar and now would play opposite Griffin Spearman, a superstar who played for division-rival Tennessee before leaving for the Bills a few years back. Our old friend Landon Collins was still at safety. We played the Bills almost every year. Another player I wasn’t looking forward to playing against.

With the sixth pick and no one we wanted, we moved it for a selection in 2024.

In the middle of the first round, we reached our third choice. The only player touted by us was Tyrone Wilcox, a receiver from the ACC. He wasn’t a stud though. His combine wasn’t anything exemplary and I had taken strong receivers late in the first round in past drafts (Banks, Darby). If we took him here, it would be a reach.

On the other hand, the league had gone heavy on receiver. Three or four had already come off the board and it was only pick 13. The teams after us were also scrambling for pass catchers, yet we couldn’t get anyone to exchange picks with us. I was willing to fall a few spots back and if he was there, take him, if not, trade out entirely, but the league refused to cooperate. Our hand was forced and so we took Wilcox. He was a fine player but it was a reach. He would take over the four spot. With the loss of Grant, it was likely I moved Banks to the slot and Darby to the two spot.

After another trade back, we were sitting at the end of the first round and three first-round talents at quarterback were still on the board. We didn’t need a quarterback but drafting quarterbacks is hard. The combine never tells you anything. With Skelton’s contract over after this season, Connor Witt would be the only available safety net. Hebert would be going into the third year of his first deal. A new quarterback on the roster would spur Hebert’s production, in theory, and give us another option at signal caller. We also wouldn’t be rushed into having to start him in his first year. It’s possible that we had done damage to Skelton’s career by doing just that and I didn’t intend to make the same mistake again. There was a quarterback who had played in a west coast offense still on the board, but something told me to take Derek Bowman, a gunslinger from Oregon. He had a strong arm, an above average throw on the run, quick development and turned out to have better stats than the other guy. With time to learn, Bowman would also give me negotiating leverage with Hebert. I was disappointed following the selection to hear Bowman was dismissed from the team. Hopefully character issues wouldn’t become an elephant in the locker room.

After seeing no one in the second, the third round brought Jon his first player on defense, cornerback Malik Spears. The corner from UCLA had a nice stat line but slow development was a killer. Russell Alexander had overcome his slow start. It was possible Spears could, too.

Middle linebacker Terrell Toston was likely our best selection. A projected sixth round talent we took in the third, Toston had a great blitz package and a strong tackle grade to pair with superstar point boosts. Despite the disappointing class at the position overall, we found a great one.

Defensive end B.J. Hamiter was right up there with Toston. The fourth-rounder from Georgia was a bulldozer and with the game likely to retire Watt soon, Hamiter would take his spot before his rookie deal was done. I’d miss Watt and McCoy a lot but the future looked bright with Hamiter and Gales, not to mention Cheek.

This year’s bust apparent was Diamond Vines. We didn’t scout him but with a fourth-round grade attached and with the last pick of the sixth, I decided to take a flyer. A 63 overall was bad, but Jon took a 64 corner in the middle of the fourth last year. He still held the award for Worst Draft Pick.

With the privilege of choosing Mr. Irrelevant, Jon insisted we take a fullback just for the meme. While a great name, Rushing wouldn’t make the team.

Our draft class (2023):

1/WR Tyrone Wilcox (Louisville), QB Derek Bowman (Oregon)

3/CB Malik Spears (UCLA), MLB Terrell Toston (William & Mary), TE Parker Gordy (USF)

4/LG Irvin John (San Diego State), RE B.J. Hamiter (Georgia), SS Andy Nance (Florida)

5/C Cole Cornelius (Charleston Southern)

6/RE Myles Baugh (Ohio), WR Diamond Vines (Maryland)

7/FB Russell Rushing (Miami)

 

After giving Mr. Irrelevant a shot in our first preseason game, Rushing was cut and we signed Sylvester Greco out of Auburn to take over the fullback spot. He played better than Burt did in our previous season and had a high awareness rating considering he came off of free agency. Jimmy Guzman, a rookie punter out of Colorado State, would join our special teams.

We got to learn a few things about our squad in the preseason. Derek Bowman developed immediate chemistry with Wilcox and Gordy, both of which made some great catches. Wilcox demonstrated he could be a reliable pass catcher but lacked the speed to beat corners vertically consistently. I was very impressed with what I saw from Gordy.

I was intrigued by my receiving crew. Diamond Vines was definitely gonna need some work. He would sit on the practice squad. Gianni McClung, a catcher we had upgraded through the scout team, had some nice moments. With an insane amount of depth at receiver, he would be a part of our preseason cuts.

Obiozor had some nice plays from the slot. I had hoped to start our seventh-rounder from last year, Taylor Hutchinson, at the return spots but that was proven not to be a feasible option at this time. He also would spend another season on the practice squad.

Bowman and Connor Witt split time at signal caller and both looked like solid options behind Hebert. With his shoulder injury from last year, Skelton was cut before the regular season. Our medical staff had determined his career was likely over. It was the end of an era for Jacksonville. Hebert was only the fifth quarterback during our tenure to start a game (Tannehill, McCoy, Boykin, Skelton).

Skelton’s final stats:

701/1042 for 8,376, 67%, 65 TDs, 61 INTs

No one added Skelton following his departure. It appeared he had retired.

Meanwhile, at the running back position, Jatashun Bradshaw had a rough preseason. Jon, at this point, was apprehensive about re-signing him and I acknowledged that it was frustrating to see him struggle against backup units. He still had a few years on his contract left that we could form a more definitive position, but it was a blot on his resume. Jacob Slaton, our third-string option, outperformed Bradshaw in a crucial preseason before the last year of his rookie deal.

Despite the depth we had built in Jacksonville, the defensive line failed to get consistent pressure, once again reminding us how important Watt and Cheek were to this team. Jon’s unit struggled mightily, which was a bit of a concern for me. My unit, despite a run game that struggled at times, was still performing adequately. Jon’s got torched in some of these exhibitions, giving up 30+ in one contest. The excitement we had for Toston and Hamiter aside, they were still raw products.

Outside linebacker Jason Sudfeld was a strong performer during the preseason on defense, so much so that Jon started calling him Sudafed because he was making offenses sick. Middle linebacker Crandall Jett was sadly stolen off our practice squad by the rival Cowboys after a notable showing. Al-Jabbar had a noticeable appearance after spending most of his first year on the bench soaking in the playbook. He would get to see regular playing time in our dime packages.

Jakeem Grant, who had a long run with our franchise, signed with the Raiders during the final weeks of preseason.

D’Antwone Howard, a second-round safety who had not done much during his time with us, had a domestic violence run-in we found to be credible. He was cut.

Abraham, fresh off a contract extension, was not pleased we drafted another center and decided not to show up for training camp. He was traded to the Bears.

The season started rough. David Johnson’s stamina was running out, which forced Bradshaw and Slaton into more playing time. Trying to play offense without our unit’s best player was challenging. In each of our first three contests, we fell behind 10-0 early. Johnson finished with a peg over 50 yards in week two. Despite the struggles, we won all three games.

Lawrence Hebert was the reason. That and Jon’s defense was doing Jon’s defense things. Hebert didn’t do anything crazy on the stat sheet, but he controlled games. He was the sheriff of this possy.

In a game against Tennessee, Hebert completed 15/22 for 311 yards and two scores, both to receiver Marquise Darby, who had taken over the outside receiving spot opposite Agholor. He had 194 yards in the win.

Hebert was top-five in passer rating. Then he suffered broken ribs because of course he did.

I had topped Hebert’s injury rating to a 99. I had crafted the best offensive line in football and surrounded my signal caller with first round talent at receiver and still my quarterbacks were getting injured. I ran a West Coast offense to get the ball out as quickly as possible. I had done all I could do to prevent this. Hopefully, this would be Hebert’s last injury. Until I found a quarterback that could stay healthy, I simply couldn’t justify offering an extension.

Hebert would miss three weeks. Derek Bowman was given the nod over Connor Witt and would become the sixth quarterback to start a game for our organization. Bowman, the strong-armed rookie, got a chance to show LaBeouf what he could do in the starting role.

Thankfully, Johnson put together some strong performances. Bowman didn’t throw a touchdown pass in his first two starts, but committed only one turnover. He had some accuracy issues but we knew that when we drafted him. Over time, that rifle of an arm would be focused and turned into a truly lethal weapon. Until then, the aerial attack took a hit. Overall, I was pleased with Bowman’s debut games.

We got two franchise pieces signed to long-term deals. Middle linebacker Jordan Bersin signed a five-year, $48.7 million piece of parchment, a bargain for what we believed to be a top-ten linebacker. That extension sealed the deal for Margarito Arenas. He had lowered his contract demands this season, but this was the end of the road. Margarito would be playing for a new team next season.

Right tackle Svondo Brockers agreed to a five-year, $49 million payout, another bargain for an elite tackle. Center Ali Austin and right guard David DeCastro also had expiring contracts and it was likely they’d be leaving the Jags at the end of the season. The Brockers deal was a must.

Left tackle Denton Condo was struggling on the other side. He had high block ratings but wasn’t getting the job done. He allowed three sacks in the opener.

While Jatashun Bradshaw had struggled during the preseason, he emerged as an exciting playmaker in the return game. He had three returns for scores in the season’s first five matches and Willis Banks added a fourth. After improving his ball carrier vision, Bradshaw began to perform better in backup duties as well.

Hebert returned from injury with a chip on his shoulder and put together a league-record performance, completing 22/33 for a league-record 677 yards and a mind-blowing nine scores. For reasons unbeknownst to us, the Texans insisted on putting an aged Stephon Gilmore on Nelson Agholor in single coverage. We exploited it repeatedly on deep throws. Agholor set a record of his own, catching 16 passes for a league-record 585 yards and 8 trips to the end zone. We also blew our previous franchise record for points out of the water (67 @ Chicago in 2020). We put up 90 at home against Houston.

Jon let up 28 points in that game, however, and in the next game, Baltimore clawed back from two scores down to tie the game. We would win on a late field goal, but Jon’s defense had let up again.

It would happen a third time against Pittsburgh. Jon was in panic mode and I was getting a tad bit concerned.

We trailed 14-3 before the Jags got settled down and scored 19 straight points and secured another W.

In that game, left tackle Denton Condo allowed four sacks. I was livid. For a second overall pick, he was a disgrace.

We were only two games into our toughest stretch of the season. We weren’t out of the woods yet. Still, 10-0 was a great start. The Buffalo Bills, who had built quite the team, were right behind us at 9-1. Our old rival Cincinnati wasn’t too far behind either.

Following that huge game versus the Texans, Agholor led the league in receiving and Hebert, who had had an incredible inaugural campaign up till now, led the league in passer rating. After routinely being towards the bottom of the league in offensive yards, we sat at ninth. Ninth! My offense had been last in passing every year. This looked like the year that streak would end.

A shutout win against Atlanta was a much-needed victory for Jon’s group. It was followed by a rivalry game against Cincinnati. Hebert ran a play action rollout and gunned a 50-yard bomb to put us in field goal range. He was then smashed by a defensive lineman and had to leave the game. Bowman would come in in relief.

The wind was taken out of the sails of the Jaguars offense. Late in the fourth, the Bengals scored to take a 20-12 lead. Derek Bowman, a rookie, would have to lead our team down the turf. The Jags got to the 30 before Bowman took a costly sack. It was 4th and 21 and with only one timeout, we couldn’t kick a field goal and try to get a three-and-out. This was it. With no idea what to call, I called four verticals and Bowman threw one up to Agholor, who made a sensational catch over the corner and fell into the end zone. Agholor had been a game changer for so many seasons for us and continued to thrill. For the two-point play, I gave it to our talisman, David Johnson, who beat the defender to the pylon to tie it up. Jon held off the Bengals on the final drive. We ended up winning in overtime, 23-20. It was by far our toughest game of the season. The Bengals were not a team to take lightly.

Following that tense game, we learned Hebert had suffered a partial MCL tear and would miss eight weeks. A player with a 99 injury rating had suffered two major injuries in one season. What were the chances?

Jatashun Bradshaw, who had been making progress and was a likely candidate for a Pro Bowl spot as a return man, would also miss eight weeks, his ailment a dislocated hip.

Bowman played quite well in our next two contests. His throw on the run was lethal and it had to be. Defenses were throwing the kitchen sick at the offensive line trying to get our rookie quarterback flustered. After humiliating the Texans again, a road trip to Tampa Bay proved costly. For Tampa Bay.

Chris Harris Jr., the team’s top corner, had 79 speed. Agholor was salivating.

The Buccaneers as a whole had one of the worst defenses we had ever played. The whole team went off. Bowman went 16/21 for 499 yards and seven touchdowns. Agholor had seven catches for 297 and five scores. He had put together two of the best regular season performances for a receiver in the same season and was close to setting the single-season receiving and touchdown records. The final score? 63-10.

At 14-0, we had two contests against divisional underlings Indianapolis and Tennessee before the playoffs. Based on Hebert’s prognosis, it looked like Bowman would have to start the postseason We’d have to hope the pressure didn’t get to him.

Margarito Arenas would suffer a shoulder tear, giving Hanoian starting time.

We would end our schedule 15-1. In our final game, Bowman collapsed, committing four turnovers in a 22-20 defeat. We would have to hope that didn’t transfer into our first playoff game.

Hebert, injured half the season, put up a 131.0 rating, better than any regular starter in the league. The same could be said for Bowman, who put up a 112.2. Both players limited turnovers and were smart with the ball, contributing to the best passing attack the franchise had had under our watch.

Johnson finished the season second on the all-time rushing yards list and tied for the rushing touchdowns record. Agholor fell just short of breaking Calvin Johnson’s single-season receiving record and tied Randy Moss’s single-season touchdown record. Those two blowouts were huge contributors to the cause.

Cheek and Watt combined for only 31.5 sacks but others on the team made up for the slack. The defense finished with 75 sacks, which was on par with our annual numbers.

Condo, despite a dreadful first half, wasn’t noticeable for most of the second session.

Stat lines:

Hebert 106/156 for 2,029, 67%, 131.0 rating, 17 TDs, 6 INTs

Bowman 108/167 for 1,756, 64%, 112.2 rating, 15 TDs, 7 INTs

Johnson 277 carries for 2,058, 7.4 avg, 24 TDs

Agholor 76 receptions for 1,889, 23 TDs

Bersin 93 tackles, 15 TFL, 4.5 sacks, INT

Fender 59 tackles, 16 TFL, 11.5 sacks

Cheek 78 tackles, 29 TFL, 19 sacks

Watt 72 tackles, 17 TFL, 12.5 sacks

Tucker 20/24 for 83%, 60/61 XP for 98%

Guzman 50.3 avg, 45.4 net, 11 inside the 20

Team Stats

Offense:

Yards: 5830 (10th), 3543 pass (28th), 2287 rush (4th), 33.5 ppg (1st) Last year: 5109, 2868, 2241, 28.3

Defense:

Yards: 3432 (1st), 2536 pass (1st), 896 rush (1st), 14.6 pag (1st) Last year: 2834, 1950, 884, 10.1

75 sacks (1st), 5 fumbles, 11 interceptions Last year: 78, 10, 17

 

David Johnson won his sixth MVP, seventh OPOY and eighth Best Running Back award. LaBeouf won another COTY. Agholor finished as the best receiver and fifth on the OPOY list. Rafael Cheek earned his first Defensive Player of the Year trophy. Bowman finished fifth for Offensive Rookie.

Cam Newton, for the second time, had been outpaced by Johnson in MVP voting.

Our first playoff game came against our old rival Cincinnati, still the only team to ever beat us in a playoff game. Had it not been for the Bengals we would have won seven consecutive Super Bowls. That defeat, after all these years, was still bitter. After a hotly contested game in the regular season, the Jaguars came out aggressively against Cincinnati. Bortles threw three interceptions, two to LeVeon Rucker, who really showed up after a few rough games to end the season. Bowman threw for 200 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-17 home victory. It was an impressive postseason debut for Bowman. Willis Banks sadly suffered a shoulder tear in the contest. It was likely the last game Banks would play for the Jaguars. He was the best receiver I had ever drafted in all of my years playing Madden and he would be sorely missed, but he wanted to be the star guy and with Agholor still stunting on fools, that was something I couldn’t give him.

The conference championship could have been against Buffalo, a team that looked worthy of our time (they had three Pro Bowlers in the secondary), but as with all things, Cam Newton had to soil it. The Broncos upset Buffalo and Cam came into EverBank Field with the hopes of finally getting his ultimate vengeance. It looked like he was going to get his way. Cam had quite the performance, throwing for nearly 350 yards. The Broncos defense bottled up David Johnson, who had only 63 in the game. Asher Martin, a back we nearly drafted, was a dangerous receiving back for Denver and made some big plays against Jon’s defense. It was 17-7 at half.

Derek Bowman stood up in the second half and ended the game 20/23 for 228 yards and a score. Rookie Tyrone Wilcox and receiver Tymichael Obiozor both came up with huge catches. Up 21-17 late in the fourth, Newton had one last shot to drive down the field and finally put a dagger in the hearts of the Jaguars faithful. Barkevious Mingo had a favorable matchup on the outside with the team’s starting right tackle out but Jon had not taken the user most of the day. On the last drive, he pulled the trigger. Mingo got some high quality pressure and with Cam in field goal range, a throw into the end zone was picked off by safety Khiry Tandy. Again, Newton would go home in defeat.

David Johnson received his yearly invitation to the Pro Bowl. Joining him this season were Agholor, our entire offensive line (Condo, Teel, Crabtree, McCalebb, Austin, Cornelius, DeCastro, McLaughlin, Brockers, Tyler), Cheek, Fender, Tucker and rookie punter Jimmy Guzman. That made 16 Pro Bowlers, one short of tying our franchise record.

Many of our former players also made the Pro Bowl, including center Trey Thorn, guard Kendrick Oliver, strong safety Demarcus Burfict, punter George Tepper and fullback Antwan Burt, who played poorly for us but put it together somewhere else.

Thankfully, our nemesis, the Dallas Cowboys, would not play us in a fourth Super Bowl, falling to the New York Giants in the conference championship. Hebert returned from injury and I gave him the start in the big game. Bowman had played very well in relief but this was still Hebert’s team and after his year, he deserved this shot. He did not disappoint.

Hebert completed only 9/13 for 108 yards but threw three touchdowns and snuck for a fourth. The Giants front seven could not stall the Jaguar running attack. Johnson bulldozed them, going 25 for 154. For the second consecutive season, the conference championship was the harder test. The Lombardi show was a blowout. Our team simply had too much experience in the big game and it showed in the result: 35-10.

Now with our seventh championship secured, our fingers were crossed for retirements. It was possible we could lose David Johnson or JJ Watt this year or (God, please no) both. That is when this franchise would begin to get really difficult, that and when Agholor would no longer be able to bail us out.

We had at least one more year with all three players. Our only retirement was David DeCastro, whose contract had expired and we had already decided we were going to move on from. DeCastro retired on top and winning as many championships as he did, it was hard to see him as being mad at us.

We re-signed fullback Sylvester Greco, who had played well overall, to a two-year, $3.5 million extension. Second-year player Jimmy Guzman got a two-year deal worth a little over $4 million to continue punting duties. It was also worth noting George Tepper, our former punter, got that max deal, signing a seven-year, $27 million contract with Arizona.

As would continue to be the case due to our cap situation, we lost some big names. Center Ali Austin and his superstar trait got a six-year, $57 million contract with the Jets. They also got cornerback Chuckie Allen, a former first round rounder. The Bears signed speed rusher Omari Kelley, one of our backups, and tackle Lindsey Tyler, who got a five-year contract for over $40 million. Landon Collins left the Bills, one of the scariest teams in the AFC, for the Rams, who would now likely start two of our former players (Burfict, Collins) at the safety position. Tight end Trey Pyatt signed with the rival Broncos and Willis Banks marked a four-year, $54 million sheet with our nemesis, the Dallas Cowboys. Each year, our competitors got more stacked and it felt like the dam was bound to burst eventually.

We currently had Agholor at an $11 million annual average value, far below the 13.5 Banks just got. That Agholor contract was a steal and was only looking better with age.

Franchise player Margarito Arenas went to Philly, the worst team in the NFL that season, for a five-year, $55 million lease. Barkevious Mingo, despite his age, got 2 and 20 from Cleveland. D’Antwone Howard, the safety we dismissed for domestic violence, was apparently so valuable to other teams that the 49ers franchise tagged him.

Then came the draft. It was a top heavy draft but there were some players we were excited about, including two middle linebackers.

With the sixth overall pick, a cornerback named Buggs looked stellar but Jon and I both begrudgingly agreed to trade the pick. We didn’t need to draft a corner that high, not with our current depth at the position. Besides, there was another corner on our draft board we thought we could get better value from. I’ll get back to that.

With our first pick we took a center, Korbin Pike. It wasn’t a flashy pick, but we lost a few lineman this year and would have two new starters on the offensive line. I wanted to have a strong backup option at center if Cornelius, a fifth-rounder from last year’s draft, didn’t produce.

With the last pick of the first round, we selected George Lyons, a Florida State backer who was second in true talent. It was a slam dunk. Trey Rolle, the other middle linebacker we had our eyes on, was another slam dunk. We drafted him in the second round and he was eighth on the chart. In the third, we took that corner I mentioned, Malcolm Aldridge, who was seventh on the board. We got three players who were top-ten in true talent. It was incredible management and scouting on our part. This was one of our best drafts, maybe our best ever.

Our draft class (2024):

1/C Korbin Pike (Clemson), MLB George Lyons (Florida State)

2/MLB Trey Rolle (Louisville)

3/CB Malcolm Aldridge (UCF)

5/LG Kris Curran (Marshall), LE Josiah Benoit (Auburn)

6/SS Vincent Loyd (Arkansas State), RB Korey Desir (Virginia)

 

We added a receiver named Flutie because with a name like that, he was probably a goat, and a third string tight end.

We lost our first preseason game to the Bengals, something that seemed to happen almost every year. The offense just could not get going and Jon’s defense couldn’t tackle. Taylor Hutchinson, the Delaware State prospect we had drafted two years ago and I was hoping could shine in the preseason, broke his collarbone and would be out six weeks. He might still make the roster, but it was a missed opportunity.

We had a tough first half schedule. We started off with Buffalo, one of the best teams from last year. They did lose some pieces, but a 17-0 win was a close game and got us right into the thick of the season. Best of all, J.J. Watt came to play, registering four sacks. After a rough tour last year, he looked back to form. David Johnson also broke the plain for the 165th rushing touchdown of his career, breaking the all-time record. There was a chance he’d break the all-time rushing record by season’s end as well.

Joe Fender, our star pass rusher, suffered an abdominal tear and would miss six weeks. Already we were getting beaten over the head with injuries. Fender was a 99 overall. Austin Zenner, a draft pick from Alabama, would fill in for him.

Hebert had the worst game of his career in our second match, tossing four interceptions. Thankfully, David Johnson had 232 yards and two scores, allowing us to escape with a 24-17 win over Miami. Starting tight end Noah Stupar broke his collarbone in that game, meaning he’d miss half the season. Parker Gordy would get a chance to show what he could do with more playing time. Defensive tackle Clayton Gales tore his shoulder and would sit out a few games. We were getting hit with injuries early.

With Hebert struggling and injuries piling, I made the run game a bigger part of the offense, rotating Johnson, Bradshaw and Desir. It worked to perfection against the Jets. We put up 42 points. Johnson had 158 and two, Bradshaw had 69 and a score and Desir had 57 and his first career touchdown. Johnson would continue to get most of the carries but as I had done before, I was doing my best to put him on a snap count. It had lengthened his career thus far and his production had not dropped yet. With this being the final year of his deal, we signed him to a two-year, $30 million extension. He had done so much for us. It was money well spent. Hopefully, he would play out that deal.

We also signed left guard Charles Crabtree to a five-year, $50 million deal. It was another huge bargain for an elite lineman.

In a game against Tennessee, Watt had four sacks and three forced fumbles, a ferocious stat line that earned him player of the week honors.

Hebert struggled with turnovers early, which was a concern for me. I expected regression after a crazy 2023 but not this much. I needed strong performances from Hebert if I was gonna consider giving him an extension. For me to throw money at that position, I needed my play caller to stunt and Hebert simply wasn’t doing that right now. He had the talent, he’d demonstrated that. We just needed him to put the puzzle together and glue it.

Cincinnati got a win against us. Bortles was still playing like one of the league’s better talents and the offensive line struggled in that game. God, we hated the Bengals.

The following week, Hebert and Agholor lit up the Chicago Bears, with Agholor catching four scores and putting up 272 receiving yards.

We then lost to Houston, a division rival that always seemed to give us fits. Justin Tucker had had a disastrous first half of the season and missed a field goal that would end up costing us the game. We were 7-2 going into the bye.

We faced some adversity in that first half. Injuries will always be a roadblock for any team but the players that came in filled in admirably. They showed up and made the most of their reps. Considering all the pieces we lost, we had done quite well.

Strong safety Khiry Tandy would break his collarbone after the bye, missing almost the entire second half of the season. Al-Jabbar would be moved to safety in the meantime.

Our toughest game of the season was against the Detroit Lions. DeAndre Casey, a running back from Nebraska, ran over the Jaguars all day. Jon could not stop him. He finished with 27 carries for 141 yards and the Lions put up points. 31 of them. We forced the game into overtime where Tucker sinked the winning putt but this was a team we would need to watch out for in the future. No team had run over Jon’s defense like the Lions did that Sunday.

A healthy defensive squad near season’s end started to bend and was scorched more than it should have been. It felt like the chasm between us and the rest of the pack had started to shrink. We finished the season 14-2.

Stat lines:

Hebert 227/319 for 3,345, 71%, 111.0 rating, 27 TDs, 17 INTs

Johnson 266 carries for 2,186, 8.2 avg, 25 TDs

Agholor 66 receptions for 1,533, 16 TDs

Darby 38 receptions for 545, 2 TDs

Bersin 87 tackles, 17 TFL, 5 sacks

Cheek 70 tackles, 23 TFL, 22.5 sacks

Watt 65 tackles, 15 TFL, 22.5 sacks

Everett 55 tackles, 13 TFL, 7.5 sacks

Gales 34 tackles, 18 TFL, 5 sacks

Tucker 15/21 for 71%, 62/64 XP for 96%

Guzman 49.7 avg, 42 net, 9 inside the 20

Team Stats

Offense:

Yards: 6065 (3rd), 3250 pass (31st), 2815 rush (1st), 32.3 ppg (1st) Last year: 5830, 3543, 2287, 33.5

Defense: 3606 (1st), 2441 pass (1st), 1165 rush (1st), 13.4 pag (1st) Last year: 3432, 2536, 896, 14.6

73 sacks (1st), 15 fumbles, 18 interceptions Last year: 75, 5, 11

 

After being critical of Hebert in midseason meetings, he turned it up. A lot. The second of half of the 2024 season was the best Hebert had ever played and the best quarterback play we had had in the history of our franchise, becoming our first headman to throw for over 3,000 yards, and tossing 27 touchdowns, breaking the previous record of 21. He had a 71 completion percentage, also a new high for us. It was the third year in a row that our starter had a passer rating over 100 and Hebert was responsible for two of those. The offense had soared from near the bottom of the pack to 10th and 3rd in total offense with Hebert at the front and had averaged over 30 a game in each of the last two seasons. If he stayed healthy through the rest of his contract, it would be hard to not give him an extension.

Hebert would go on to win best quarterback in the AFC and get a Pro Bowl nod.

Agholor led the league in receiving yards and Willis Banks, our old friend, finished as the runner-up with 1,401 and led the league in receptions with 99. Agholor finished eighth in OPOY voting and was named the AFC’s best receiver.

Both Desir and Bradshaw reached their season goals. Bradshaw averaged 8.5 ypc, a showing that impressed me.

By season’s end, David Johnson had set the career rushing record, surpassing Emmitt Smith. He added a seventh MVP, eighth OPOY and ninth Best Running Back award to his trophy case.

Rafael Cheek and J.J. Watt found themselves seventh and 10th on the MVP list and first and second on the Defensive Player of the Year sheet. Cheek, our first ever draft pick, had won back-to-back defensive player of the year awards. He also won best defensive lineman.

LeVeon Rucker and Gant Rooks both made it onto the best defensive back chart.

Our first playoff game was a 34-13 victory over the Baltimore Ravens. Hebert was 13/17 for 235 yards and two scores.

The conference championship was tighter. It was the Battle of Florida for the third time but Miami came up short again, falling 19-7. The back known as David Johnson had 21 carries for 142 yards.

Pro Bowlers included Hebert, Johnson, Agholor, the entire offensive line (Teel, Condo, Crabtree, McCalebb, Pike, Cornelius, McLaughlin, John, Brockers, Curran), Cheek, Watt, Everett, punter Jimmy Guzman and Bradshaw. That’s…18.

It was on to the Super Bowl and it was against the Los Angeles Rams, the team we had been itching to play for years.

We had a double-digit lead in the second half but the Rams fought back. Jacoby Brissett dissected Jon’s defense. My offense sputtered. We were down 24-20 with under a minute to play. Hebert drove the Jags down the field and got the unit to about the seven with :13 to play and no timeouts.

He threw an interception on the next play. We had lost the Super Bowl.

It was a terrible feeling. It sunk us. This is something that would hang with this franchise forever. It was bitter.

It was also a reminder of how difficult it is to win a championship. Yes, we had done it more than a few times but each year was a challenge. Now, we were hungrier than ever.

Here’s a list of our offseason losses:

LE Rhett Sharpe- 3yr, $14 with Denver

FS Antwan Heyman-4yr, $36.5 with Buffalo

WR Tymichael Obiozor-4yr, $28 with New England

LB Austin Zenner-6yr, $54.4 with Buffalo

LB Walter Everett-6yr, $134 with Miami

CB LeVeon Rucker-4yr, $54.5 with Los Angeles Rams

LB Jason Sudfeld-5yr, $36.5 with Dallas

 

Walter Everett hurt especially but we could not afford a max contract for both of our edge rushers and Jon and I both favored first overall selection Joe Fender. He’d be up for an extension this year and that was the way we decided to go.

Prior to the draft, Jon decided to move on from Tavares al-Jabbar. He had not become the player we had hoped for. He was moved to division-rival Tennessee.

Going into the 2025 draft, we knew we would need to prepare for the 2026 offseason. We had a ton of starters that would hit free agency

It was a strong cornerback and running back class in 2025 and when you have a class as strong as these two were, even if it’s not at the top of your need list, you take one. CB Jordan Brisby would serve as our fourth corner this year and learn Jon’s defense before likely starting in the slot next year. With David Johnson nearing the end and Jatashun Bradshaw in a contract year, I took Hurricane Quay Sloan. He was another speed back with a nice elusive set.

Both Nelson Agholor and Marquise Darby would also be at the end of their contracts and so I took route runner Bruce Cummings out of Oregon. Oregon had been a recruiting ground for us since we started our coaching careers and Cummings stat line did not disappoint. It is possible Bowman and Cummings already had chemistry from their college days. We took teammate Jamarquis Rhinehart, our seemingly required linebacker selection, in the fourth. Rhinehart was our fifth selection out of Oregon, the most of any school during our tenure thus far.

Watts Beatty was a defensive tackle prospect out of Texas that would bolster our defensive line. Clayton Gales was a certified beast at that position but it was likely we wouldn’t be able to sign him to the mass extension he deserved.

Hebert and QB Connor Witt were also up for new contracts and Zach Angulo, a quarterback near the bottom of the draft board, was an intriguing option. We took him in the fifth round.

Our draft class (2025):

1/CB Jordan Brisby (Texas A&M), WR Bruce Cummings (Oregon), RB Quay Sloan (Miami)

3/DT Watts Beatty (Texas)

4/MLB Jamarquis Rhinehart (Oregon)

5/QB Zach Angulo (Stanford)

7/SS Andre Bayer (Buffalo)

 

It was a good draft and we immediately jumped into the preseason, itching for blood. Cummings was stellar while Angulo had growing pains. The most impressive performance? Free safety Andy Nance, who had a forced fumble late in a game that resulted in a game-winning return touchdown and a blocked punt, the first one we’d ever had. His ratings weren’t super attractive but he performed well above them.

Our first game was against the Rams, the team that ended our Lombardi streak and had made our blood boil.

The offense hit a wall all game. Los Angeles came out victorious again, 13-8. We had officially found our nemesis.

Our running game was not the same as it was in years past. Johnson was below his 100 a game mark.

Starting free safety Rakkim Hagg would miss three weeks with a shoulder tear, giving preseason hero Andy Nance a shot in the starting rotation. Overall, he played well.

Through five games, we were 3-2 and the offense had scored 107, an average of 21.4, a rather large red flag.

We would win our next two but the offense still struggled. Hebert had seemingly imploded, throwing only five touchdowns in our first seven games to 10 interceptions.

I had to make a move. Losing to Cincinnati at home, I brought Bowman off the bench. The Oregon product (we love our Ducks!) threw a 60-yard bomb to Agholor on his first throw and we would come back to win 24-16.

Hebert was still the best quarterback we had ever had. I couldn’t take that away from him but a move needed to be made. If we continued playing like this, it would come back to bite us. Bowman had an incredible 2023 postseason run while Hebert was recovering from injury and I had benched Bowman for the Super Bowl, promising he would have his shot. His time had come. Derek Bowman would be the starting quarterback going forward.

It paid immediate dividends. Bowman threw for five touchdowns against the Raiders in a 52-24 clinic.

Malcolm Aldridge, who had had a strong year at the second corner spot, suffered a dislocated elbow. He would miss four weeks. Slot corner Henry Luke would move to the outside and rookie Brisby would get some slot snaps.

After a solid stretch of games, David Johnson suffered a foot fracture in the second-to-last game of the season. We would be without our star for perhaps the rest of the season. The pressure was on. Things just got a lot more complicated.

Jatashun Bradshaw would be the starting back for the beginning of our playoff run. David Johnson was our workhorse, our centerpiece. Could the team survive without him?

Bradshaw looked fine in our last regular season contest but the playoffs were a different beast. We had depth at the position. We just had to hope they stepped up to the plate. This was an especially valuable opportunity for Bradshaw. It would show us and the market what he could do in a starting role.

We finished 13-3 along with the Buccaneers, Browns and Cowboys. The gap between us and the pack was closing.

David Johnson finished fourth for MVP, the first time in a long time he hadn’t won the award, and second for OPOY and best back. Sadly, it appeared Johnson’s window was closing, although, DJ still finished with just under 1,600 yards, a mark he would have reached had it not been for the injury, and a 6.3 clip, which was still excellent. Rafael Cheek, with 23.5 sacks, earned DPOY honors for the third time. In the last four seasons, Cheek had recorded 86.5 sacks, the most in any four-year stretch. Cheek was a surefire HOFer.

Joe Fender finished with 18 sacks after a slow start and earned his extension, inking six years and $105 million, far better than we had expected. Former backer Walter Everett had signed for nearly 22.5 million a year. Fender settled for $17.5, a true bargain. Fender won best linebacker, an award Jon had been trying to win for the last ten years. Jordan Bersin, off perhaps his best season ever, also made the top linebacker list. Both Fender and Mr. Watt finished in the top ten in DPOY voting.

Noah Stupar had proven himself and despite my reservations about extending a tight end, did so, getting Stupar for the next five years for $48.

Quay Sloan, our apparent running back of the future, made the offensive rookie list.

Stat lines:

Bowman 107/162 for 1,784, 66%, 105.5 rating, 15 TDs, 11 INTs

Hebert 94/162 for 1,319, 58%, 63.7 rating, 5 TDs, 12 INTs

Johnson 248 carries for 1,573, 6.3 avg, 16 TDs

Agholor 44 receptions for 926, 6 TDs

Stupar 40 receptions for 532, 2 TDs

Darby 34 receptions for 619, 7 TDs

Bersin 106 tackles, 22 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 3 INTs

Cheek 82 tackles, 21 TFL, 23.5 sacks

Watt 61 tackles, 15 TFL, 18.5 sacks

Fender 66 tackles, 16 TFL, 18 sacks

Kight *Stats lost, missed two kicks all year (one from 55 into 14 mph winds)

Guzman 47 average, 42.5 net, 15 inside the 20

Team Stats

Offense:

Yards: 5055 (31st), 2904 pass (32nd), 2151 rush (4th), 26.3 ppg (9th) Last year: 6065, 3250, 2815, 32.3

Defense: 2746 (1st), 2127 pass (1st), 619 rush (1st), 13.9 pag (1st) Last year: 3606, 2441, 1165, 13.4

79 sacks (1st), 10 fumbles, 13 interceptions Last year 73, 15 ,8

 

Our first playoff game came against the Baltimore Ravens. Heavy anticipation came with us through the tunnel but evaporated early. Bowman protected the ball, completing 11/12 for 141. Bradshaw, in his second career start, was stunning: 15 carries for 115 and three touchdowns.

The conference championship was against the Kansas City Chiefs. Another solid outing from Bowman but it was Bradshaw that once again turned heads: 24 touches for a buck nine and two more scores in a 21-9 win.

This year we finished with 11 Pro Bowlers. David Johnson, despite missing out on a lot of the year’s awards, was still a Pro Bowler. Members of the offensive line were still regulars on the list (Teel, Crabtree, Pike, Cornelius, John, Brockers) as were franchise player Rafael Cheek and legend J.J. Watt. Joe Fender, after signing his extension, made it to the list as did Jimmy Guzman, the punter looking for a new deal. Joey Kight, who missed two kicks all season, would have surely made it if not for the lost statistics.

The Super Bowl on our redemption tour would come against the Buccaneers, headed by Jared Goff. It was a tight one.

Up 14-10 in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, the offense was unable to punch it into the end zone and seal the deal. We did the safe thing and settled for a field goal. The Bucs drove into field goal range but stalled in the red zone. The Lombardi was back in its rightful home.

David Johnson returned to the field for potentially the last time and earned MVP honors, carrying the rock 23 times for 103 and a score. If this was his farewell tour, it ended on a high note. Bowman was clinical (11/12 for 137, TD).

And so it was. Ten seasons, eight Super Bowls. There was no knowing where the franchise would go from here. The three stars we had relied on since the beginning (Johnson, Watt, Nelson Agholor) would likely retire soon. A door was closing but another was open and we were excited to see what was behind it.

 

SUMMARY

’16 14 Pro Bowlers SB LI Jaguars 29-7 Packers

’17 10 PBs Divisional Jaguars 10-20 Bengals

’18 14 PBs SB LIII Jaguars 34-7 Cowboys

’19 7 PBs SB LIV Jaguars 23-16 Cowboys

’20 11 PBs SB LV Jaguars 17-10 Cowboys

’21 12 PBs  SB LVI Jaguars 26-7 Packers

’22 17 PBs SB LVII Jaguars 26-3 Vikings

’23 16 PBs SB LVIII Jaguars 35-10 Giants

’24 18 PBs SB LIX Jaguars 20-24 Rams

’25 11 PBs SB LX Jaguars 17-10 Buccaneers

 

Through ten seasons:

(2016) Tannehill 232/370 for 2,581, 62%, 76.1 rating, 12 TDs, 16 INTs

(2017) Tannehill 234/357 for 2,918, 65%, 91.6 rating, 21 TDs, 16 INTs

(2018) McCoy 147/224 for 1,883, 65%, 85.1 rating, 13 TDs, 14 INTs

(2019) Skelton 183/281 for 2,298, 65%, 74.7 rating, 18 TDs, 25 INTs

(2020) Skelton 129/197 for 1,537, 65%, 88.3 rating, 12 TDs, 10 INTs

(2021) Skelton 257/373 for 2,978, 68%, 91.4 rating, 21 TDs, 18 INTs

(2022) Skelton 132/191 for 1,563, 69%, 100.7 rating, 14 TDs, 8 INTs

(2023) Hebert 106/156 for 2,029, 67%, 131.0 rating, 17 TDs, 6 INTs

(2024) Hebert 227/319 for 3,345, 71%, 111.0 rating, 27 TDs, 17 INTs

(2025) Bowman 107/162 for 1,784, 66%, 105.5 rating, 15 TDs, 11 INTs

 

(2016) Johnson: 323 carries for 1,874, 5.8 avg, 18 TDs

(2017) Johnson: 315 carries for 2,062, 6.5 avg, 17 TDs

(2018) Johnson 328 carries for 2,153, 6.6 avg, 22 TDs

(2019) Johnson 309 carries for 1,610, 5.2 avg, 10 TDs

(2020) Johnson 287 carries for 2,598, 9.1 avg, 24 TDs

(2021) Johnson 262 carries for 1,983, 7.6 avg, 21 TDs

(2022) Johnson 259 carries for 1,885, 7.3 avg, 20 TDs

(2023) Johnson 277 carries for 2,058, 7.4 avg, 24 TDs

(2024) Johnson 266 carries for 2,186, 8.2 avg, 25 TDs

(2025) Johnson 248 carries for 1,573, 6.3 avg, 16 TDs

 

(2016) Chandler: 75 receptions for 668, 4 TDs

(2017) Agholor: 53 receptions for 964, 7 TDs

(2018) Agholor 51 receptions for 903, 7 TDs

(2019) Agholor 44 receptions for 820, 7 TDs

(2020) Agholor 45 receptions for 842, 11 TDs

(2021) Agholor 73 receptions for 1,096, 10 TDs

(2022) Agholor 53 receptions for 941, 12 TDs

(2023) Agholor 76 receptions for 1,899, 23 TDs

(2024) Agholor 66 receptions for 1,533, 16 TDs

(2025) Agholor 44 receptions for 926, 6 TDs

 

(2016) Collins: 82 tackles, 3 INTs

(2017) Washington: 89 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 INTs

(2018) Rooks: 53 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 INTs, 15 PDs

(2019) Washington: 83 tackles, 17 TFL, 3 sacks

(2020) Bersin: 89 tackles, 16 TFL, 5.5 sacks

(2021) Watt, 85 tackles, 25 TFL, 25 sacks

(2022) Watt 75 tackles, 17 TFL, 23.5 sacks

(2023) Bersin 93 tackles, 15 TFL, 4.5 sacks

(2024) Bersin 87 tackles, 17 TFL, 5 sacks

(2025) Bersin 106 tackles, 22 TFL, 4.5 sacks, 3 INTs

 

(2016) Watt: 18 sacks McCoy: 11.5 (29.5)

(2017) Watt: 26.5 sacks McCoy: 13.5 (40)

(2018) Watt: 14.5 sacks McCoy: 18.5 (33)

(2019) Watt: 15 sacks McCoy: 16 (31)

(2020) Watt: 20 sacks McCoy: 25.5 (45.5)

(2021) Watt: 25 sacks McCoy: 16 (41)

(2022) Watt: 23.5 sacks Cheek: 21.5 (45)

(2023) Watt: 12.5 sacks Cheek: 19 (31.5)

(2024) Watt: 22.5 sacks Cheek: 22.5 (45)

(2025) Watt 18.5 sacks Cheek: 23.5 (42)

 

Offense

(2016) Yards: 4384 (32nd), 2435 pass (32nd), 1949 rush (top-five), 21.4 ppg

(2017) Lost Data

(2018) Yards: 5074 (30th), 2611 pass (32nd), 2463 rush (1st) 27.6 ppg (2nd)

(2019) Yards: 4277 (32nd), 2549 pass (32nd), 1728 rush (3rd) 19.8 ppg (30th)

(2020) Yards: 5130 (30th),  2209 pass (32nd), 2921 rush (1st), 29.6 ppg (1st)

(2021) Yards: 5221 (28th), 2835 pass (32nd), 2386 rush (1st), 28.1 ppg (3rd)

(2022) Yards: 5109 (28th), 2868 pass (32nd), 2241 rush (1st), 28.3 ppg (3rd)

(2023) Yards: 5830 (10th), 3543 pass (28th), 2287 rush (4th), 33.5 ppg (1st)

(2024) Yards: 6065 (3rd), 3250 pass (31st), 2815 rush (1st), 32.3 ppg (1st)

(2025) Yards: 5055 (31st), 2904 pass (32nd), 2151 rush (4th), 26.3 ppg (9th)

Defense

(2016) Yards: 3276 (1st), 2512 pass (1st), 764 (1st), 53 sacks, 14 fumbles, 16 INTs, 13.0 pag

(2017) Yards: 2311 (1st), 1595 pass (1st), 716 rush (1st), 65 sacks, 4 fumbles, 11 INTs, Lost Data

(2018) Yards: 2175 (1st), 1772 pass (1st), 403 rush (1st), 71 sacks (2nd), 9 fumbles, 15 INTs, 6.9 pag (1st)

(2019) Yards: 3352 (1st), 2170 pass (1st), 1182 rush (1st), 66 sacks (2nd), 5 fumbles, 6 INTs, 16.4 pag (1st)

(2020) Yards: 4133 (1st), 2634 pass (1st), 1499 rush (2nd), 78 sacks (1st), 7 fumbles, 13 INTs, 18.5 pag (2nd)

(2021) Yards: 3091 (1st), 2176 pass (1st), 915 rush (1st), 73 sacks (1st), 13 fumbles, 14 INTs, 13.1 pag (1st)

(2022) Yards: 2834 (1st), 1950 pass (1st), 884 rush (1st), 78 sacks (1st),10 fumbles, 17 INTs, 10.1 pag (1st)

(2023) Yards: 3432 (1st), 2536 pass (1st), 896 rush (1st), 75 sacks (1st), 5 fumbles, 11 INTs, 14.6 pag (1st)

(2024) Yards: 3606 (1st), 2441 pass (1st), 1165 rush (1st), 73 sacks (1st), 15 fumbles, 18 INTs, 13.4 pag (1st)

(2025) Yards: 2746 (1st), 2127 pass (1st), 619 rush (1st), 79 sacks (1st), 10 fumbles, 13 INTs, 13.9 pag (1st)

 

166-22 (140-20, 26-2 post) after ten seasons

12-4, 3-0

16-0, 0-1

16-0, 3-0

11-5, 3-0

14-2, 3-0

14-2, 3-0

15-1, 3-0

15-1, 3-0

14-2, 2-1

13-3, 3-0

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Tim Sports Report for 2018 NFL Week 3

Top 5

  1. Browns win, Baker shines.

It has happened. The Cleveland Browns have won a football game. The Meme Fountain will likely continue, however. They are the Browns. Baker outplayed Darnold. Have to squeeze that in here.

2. QB Drew Brees 39/49 for 396, 3 TDs, 120.7 rating, 3 carries for 7, 2 TDs @ATL

Mr. Brees and Mr. Ryan had quite the gun show on Sunday but Brees gets the edge for a spin move past two defenders and dive into the end zone.

3. QB Matt Ryan 26/35 for 374, 5 TDs, 148.1 rating vs NO

A near perfect passer rating with five touchdowns and the Falcons still lose. Usually, this is where someone would say, “The offense needs to be better” but in this case, I don’t think it can be. You can only hide your problems for so long.

4. RB Christian McCaffrey 28 carries for 184, 2 receptions for 10 vs. CIN

Always gonna give a running back a shoutout when they explode on the stat sheet. McCaffrey is one of my favorite emerging stars. Dual-threat and has a chance to survive in this league long-term.

5. RB Alvin Kamara 16 carries for 66, 15 receptions for 124 @ATL

Speaking of dual-threats, another great performance from a back. The 2017 running back class has a chance to be one of the best ever.

Worst of the Worst

5. The Lions streak is over.

Kerryon Johnson ran for a hundred yards. Lions hadn’t done that in 70 games. Sad to see it go.

4. Defense, anyone?

Some really high scoring games thus far. At least we had Titans beating the Jags 9-6!

3. Sam Bradford started another football game and predictably cost his team the game.

Four turnovers on four consecutive possessions. Bravo!

2. Vikings blow game against Buffalo. Were favored by 17 points.

A complete stunner. Vikings defense didn’t show up and the Bills defensive line is the strength of the team. Still hard to believe this happened.

  1. Jets knock Tyrod Taylor out of game, spawn Age of Baker, lose to Browns.

Hue Jackson is a very stubborn and very stupid man. The Jets were going to win this game. The Browns offense was anemic. It had been since the beginning and still Hue had not made a change. All the Jets had to do was not knock Tyrod out of the game and of course that’s exactly what the Jets did because they’re the Jets. Sam Darnold did not look threatening though that might speak more to the Browns defense than Darnold. Baker had quite the debut.

Steelers Recap

The Steelers beat Fitzmagic but earn no brownie points from me due to letting them own the second half and come roaring back into the game. All those takeaways and they still almost lost. The Steelers window is closing but I don’t know if anyone knew how fast it was coming until now. Gotta take Pittsburgh at home against the Ravens purely because it’s a divisional game at home. It’s a win they need.

Game of the Week: Vikings @ Rams

Vikings got upset by the Bills. I expect them to come pissed off into Los Angeles and make a statement. An upset win against McVay would mean a lot. Zimmer. McVay. Thursday Night. Yes, please. I’ve got the Vikings.

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2018-2019 NFL Power Rankings: Week 3

1. Rams (-) (W 35-23 vs. LAC)

What we learned: The Rams, currently, are a few steps ahead of the pack.

Kansas City’s defense is too weak to be a nemesis. Los Angeles is on the throne.

What we learned again: The Rams have too much firepower.

Gurley, Cooks, Kupp, Woods and Goff is proving more than serviceable in McVay’s hands.

2. Chiefs (+2) (W 38-27 vs. SF)

What we learned: Patrick Mahomes is still throwing touchdown passes.

Tack another three on the chalkboard there, Jimmy.

What we learned again: Justin Houston can still play.

Two strip sacks. Well played, sir.

3. Eagles (+3) (W 20-16 vs. IND)

What we learned: Was not the Eagles best game.

They will more than likely fall in next week’s ranking but due to my top five getting sabotaged, Philly gets to sneak a few spots up the ladder. Wentz looked fine and I’m not concerned about how he’ll perform this season.

What we learned again: Eagles fans should be the most relaxed in the NFL.

The Rams could be holding that flag but they haven’t won a championship yet. The Eagles have and are still a very strong team. Most games this season will be exhibitions for Philly. They’re making the playoffs.

4. Jaguars (-1) (L 9-6 vs. TEN)

What we learned: I was right!

Blake Bortles cannot be counted on to carry the Jaguars offense on a regular basis. That is not their identity. No Fournette and the offense stutter steps. Hate to see this team lose a divisional game at home but Tennessee is no slouch. They’re moving up quick.

5. Falcons (+2) (L 43-37 vs. NO)

What we learned: Atlanta, despite occasional red zone problems, can still score.

Atlanta still has the most explosive receiver group in the league, the best backup running back (talked about that last week) and a quarterback who can sling.

What we learned again: For Dan Quinn being a former defensive coordinator, his defense is still a constant struggle.

Atlanta is hurting from the injury bug right now but Atlanta hasn’t had a great defense since Quinn has been there. I’m not calling for a firing or anything but if your offense is putting up 37 and losing, you need to make some changes.

6. Vikings (-4) (L 27-6 vs. BUF)

What we learned: We play the games for a reason.

Minnesota was a huge favorite, playing a home game against one of the worst teams in football. They were humiliated. Hopefully this is a wake-up call. This is a game that may come back to bite them.

What we learned again: Anyone seen Dalvin Cook?

Had a good start to last year and has remained mostly anonymous thus far.

7. Patriots (-2) (L 26-10 @DET)

What we learned: This is the first time the Patriots have lost back-to-back games by double digits since December 2002.

An interesting stat for sure but it’s too early for the panic button. New England’s defense is still bad. We already knew this. The offense has struggled, which is unheard of for New England but again, I think it’s just too small a sample size to run them out of the top ten just yet. We know the ceiling this franchise is capable of.

What we learned again: Bill Belichick has no time for fun.

Seeing Belichick walking past kids just looking for a high-five wasn’t a great look. It was also stereotypical Belichick.

8. Chargers (+3) (L 35-23 @LAR)

What we learned: The Chargers defense might officially be a problem.

I think I’ve already mentioned this but I am perturbed how Melvin Engram and Joey Bosa aren’t entering the dreams of opposing quarterbacks.

What we learned again: The Bolts might be trending in the wrong direction.

After starting 0-4 last year, Los Angeles looked like a competitor. Keenan Allen had a comeback player of the year. Melvin Gordon has been on fire this year and yet the Chargers sit at 1-2. A big win against the Rams or Chiefs would have made a huge difference. Kansas City looks like a playoff lock. If the Bolts want a shot at a playoff run, they have to come away with victories in some of these games. Eventually, keeping games close only means so much.

9. Bears (+1) (W 16-14 @ARI)

What we learned: I love the Bears defense.

Tenacity is back to Chicago. Looks like a playoff team.

What we learned again: The Bears offense isn’t great and it will be up to the defense to keep them in games.

16 points, let alone having to come back to win against Arizona, isn’t flattering.

10. Buccaneers (-1) (L 30-27 vs. PIT)

What we learned: There’s a reason they call him Fitzmagic.

Fitzpatrick is magical but like magic, it fades away eventually. Fitzmagic turned into Fitztragic in the first half. He performed some heroics in the second and nearly pulled a win out of his beard anyway. Cracks began to show but Fitzmagic isn’t done yet.

What we learned again: The Buccaneers can’t run worth a damn.

Peyton Barber has not been an acceptable option and Ronald Jones hasn’t made the progress management has hoped for.

11. Packers (-3) (L 31-17 @WAS)

What we learned: The Packers recipe of “Rodgers or Bust” is finally coming back to bite them.

Rodgers suffered a knee injury of some sort and playing on it as hampered his play. He’s still doing things other quarterbacks simply can’t do but he’s hobbling out there and the Packers and Aaron himself are putting his long-term health at risk by continuing to play on it. I understand that’s what a leader does but if I’m Aaron, I’m so disgusted with Packers management that if I’m Aaron, I’d tell them to screw off. If they’d built a team during the near decade he’s been on that field, they could at least win some games without him or, better yet, maybe he wouldn’t have got injured in the first place.

What we learned again: You need more than one player to play football.

Feel like we should all know this but Green Bay doesn’t.

12. Panthers (+5) (W 31-21 vs. CIN)

What we learned: Panthers have the most complete team in the NFC right now.

Not a Cam fan but Carolina is on the right track. Love McCaffrey. Their receiving core is iffy and their offensive line is prone to spurts. That front seven? Terrorizing.

What we learned again: Luke Kuechly is the Panthers most valuable player, not Cam.

If you’ve been living your life thinking Cam Newton is the MVP of the Panthers, you are incorrect. Cam is also prone to spurts. The defense has always been strong and Kuechly, the league’s best middle linebacker, is the reason why.

13. Giants (-) (W 27-22 @HOU)

What we learned: The Giants can score points when given protection.

I took Houston for this game. I expected Clowney and J.J. Watt to be all over Eli. Watt had three sacks, but otherwise, the Giants handled the Houston defense. At this point, I think that’s more a statement on Houston than New York. We’ll see.

What we learned again: Eli Manning is still a feasible option if not an attractive one.

25/29 with two scores. Eli is not a quarterback that will win you games by talent alone. It’s too early to say whether taking Barkley was a mistake but I’m not as hard on the decision as others are.

14. Bengals (+1) (L 31-21 @CAR)

What we learned: Cincinnati might have a suspect run defense.

McCaffrey is an electrifying player but he’s not someone who’s great between the tackles so he’s often limited to traps or zone reads outside. McCaffrey had 184 yards rushing. Haven’t gotten to watch the tape but that’s a lot.

What we learned again: John Ross is a bust.

When John Ross does something, I will shut up. Until he does, I will keep talking.

15. 49ers (-3) (L 38-27 @KC)

What we learned: The 49ers are now in trouble.

With Jimmy G, San Fran was an intriguing team to watch. Without him, less so and the team is too young to compete for a wild card spot. There’s also now concern about Jimmy’s long-term health. No one can know how he’ll return from that knee injury.

What we learned again: $37 million quarterbacks are a bad idea.

*shrug

16. Ravens (+3) (W 27-14 vs. DEN)

What we learned: Ravens look fresh.

The Broncos defense was a true test for what was one of the league’s worst attacks last year. Baltimore came away with 27.

What we learned again: Ravens defense will do Ravens defense things.

Allowed under 300 yards offense and under 200 passing.

17. Dolphins (+5) (W 28-20 vs. OAK)

What we learned: Kenyan Drake looks awful.

His tape from last year looked good. A lot of analysts liked him as a dark horse fantasy pickup. He had five carries for three yards against the Raiders. Yes, the Raiders.

What we learned again: Miami is undefeated.

Still haven’t learned much about the Fins. They’ve played three mediocre opponents and so I have to take most of their stats thus far with a grain of salt.

18. Redskins (+9) (W 31-17 vs. GB)

What we learned: Redskins look improved.

Now that they have an actual starter at running back in AP, the Skins can better utilize Chris Thompson, forming a legitimate one-two punch combo in the backfield. Alex Smith is a downgrade from Kirk Cousins but will likely not force things down the field or make gunslinger-like decisions. Ball security will be a plus for this team. I have little confidence in the team’s receivers (Paul Richardson and Jamison Crowder both look better as slot options) and Jordan Reed is an injury bug.

What we learned again: AP has more juice.

19 for 120. He’s not done yet.

19. Browns (+2) (W 21-17 vs. NYJ)

What we learned: Cleveland won a football game.

Haven’t been able to say that in a long time. Let the record show I was rooting for the Jets.

What we learned again: Hue Jackson is an idiot.

Hue watched Baker this summer and decided Tyrod should start. That’s fine. I’m not a fan of starting rookie quarterbacks in openers, but by the end of the first quarter, it was readily apparent that Tyrod should not be in the game. Hue is a really dumb guy though and I can say with the utmost confidence that the Browns would have lost this game if it wasn’t for the Jets knocking Tyrod out of the contest.

20. Titans (+6) (W 9-6 @JAC)

What we learned: The Titans quietly knocked off Houston and Jacksonville.

Neither game was pretty but a win is a win. They’re gonna get a boost in the power rankings next week if this keeps up.

What we learned again: Tennessee doesn’t need Mariota.

Think I said this last week. Guess I want to make sure you’re listening.

21. Lions (+8) (W 26-10 vs. NE)

What we learned: Kerryon Johnson is the Lions first 100-yard rusher since Reggie Bush on Thanksgiving, 2013. Snaps 70 games without 100-yard rusher, fourth-longest drought.

I would get excited but this doesn’t mean that the Lions have finally acknowledged that running the ball exists. Blind squirrels find nuts, too.

What we learned again: Matt Stafford is underappreciated.

He plays for the Lions so this is kinda redundant. I just can’t imagine what Detroit would be like without him. I think once he’s gone we’ll begin to realize how good he really was. Not a HOFer or anything but a very good passer.

22. Saints (+1) (W 43-37 @ATL)

What we learned: The Saints can score a lot of points.

Drew Brees is more of a factor this year, Michael Thomas is a WR1 and Alvin Kamara is an MVP candidate.

What we learned again: The Saints defense is definitely back to being awful.

Matt Ryan had nearly a perfect passer rating and five touchdowns.

23. Broncos (-7) (L 27-14 @BAL)

What we learned: Denver’s No-Fly Zone is over.

Think this was already established last year but feel like losing to Flacco was a red flag.

What we learned again: When Case Keenum is your quarterback, teams like Baltimore aren’t a favorable matchup.

Keenum against the Ravens or Flacco against the Broncos? I’ll take Flacco.

24. Steelers (-) (W 30-27 @TB)

What we learned: For the Steelers to win, their defense will have to force four turnovers. Even then, might still barely win.

The first half was great. The defense came up with big plays and the Steelers unloaded on Tampa Bay. Then they didn’t show up in the second half and let the Bucs claw their way back into it. That lost Pittsburgh any rungs in the power rankings they might have earned from the win.

What we learned again: At this point, feels like everything and then some has to go right for the Steelers to win a football game.

It’s not often that you watch a game and come away more frustrated after a win. Such was the case on that evening.

25. Texans (-11) (L 27-22 vs. NYG)

What we learned: Bill O’Brien is on the hot seat.

Now sitting at 0-3 with a healthy roster, O’Brien is out of excuses. No quarterback, not healthy and no money are all off the table. This team has a light schedule, too. Make a run for the wild card or get out of town.

What we learned again: J.J. Watt is still a freak.

Three sacks!

26. Jets (-8) (L 21-17 @CLE)

What we learned: Darnold did not look like the better quarterback on Thursday.

Baker was quite something. Looked diligent with a gunslinger attitude. Darnold looked like he was still learning.

What we learned again: The Jets are gonna Jet.

They were winning. All they had to do was not injure Tyrod. They, of course, injured Tyrod.

27. Seahawks (-2) (W 24-13 vs. DAL)

What we learned: Seattle’s only as good as Russ is that day.

Russ has to be playing great for Seattle to have a shot. Hard to see this team bailing him out if he has a rough night.

What we learned again: Earl Thomas is a top-five safety.

Thomas, Berry and Harrison Smith are the first three names that come to mind. Malcolm Jenkins, Devin McCourty, Eric Weddle and Keanu Neal are up there as well.

28. Cowboys (-8) (L 24-13 @SEA)

What we learned: Dak Prescott is now becoming a problem.

People hit the concern button earlier than I did and I’m hitting it now. Dak seems incapable of throwing for 200 yards right now. His receiving core sucks. Travis Frederick probably won’t play this season. Let’s not pretend Dak’s walking through an orchard. That said, if he’s the franchise quarterback Dallas believes him to be, he needs to show them more.

What we learned again: Scott Linehan needs to go.

In the first three weeks, Dallas has put up 8, 20 and 13. Time for a new offensive look.

29. Bills (+3) (W 27-6 @MIN)

What we learned: The Bills were pissed off.

They came out swinging and shocked the world. They were heavy underdogs.

What we learned again: Josh Allen is a bust.

Dude seems to be better at running than throwing. Maybe they should move him to running back.

30. Colts (-2) (L 20-16 @PHI)

What we learned: The Colts still struggle to run the ball.

It’s the Eagles so not a team that most run well against but you would’ve hoped Frank Reich would have brought a new philosophy to the Colts.

What we learned again: The Colts always seem to fall a step behind.

They seem to have a shot at a lot of big games but seem to lose each time. Close but no cigar seems to be a running joke.

31. Raiders (-1) (L 28-20 @MIA)

What we learned: Jordy Nelson’s still alive.

Six receptions for 173.

What we learned again: Hiring people who haven’t coached in a decade is a bad idea.

Signing them to a 10-year, $100 million contract is probably a bad idea, too.

32. Cardinals (-1) (L 16-14 vs. CHI)

What we learned: The Cards blew a 14-point lead.

Congratulations! You still suck! Least they’re starting Rosen next game.

What we learned again: Bradford just made a lot of money to suck and sit on the bench again.

Bad habits die hard, huh, NFL?

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Tim Sports Report for NFL Week 2

Top 5

  1. QB Patrick Mahomes 23/28 for 326, 6 TDs, 154.8 rating @PIT

That was quite something. The Steelers defense is atrocious and it’s important to try and keep that performance within that frame. That said, to do that in National Football League in your third professional start is brilliant.

2. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick 27/33 for 402, 4 TDs, INT, 144.4 rating vs. PHI

Back-to-back showings for Mr. Fitzmagic. It is not often that a player gets on my Top 5 twice in a row but what Mr. Fitzpatrick is doing right now is truly special. That postgame presser was hilarious.

3. QB Blake Bortles 29/45 for 376, 4 TDs, INT, 111.0 rating vs. NE

After bashing Bortles in my power rankings, he went off. Against a bad defense, sure, but it’s still New England and I will still give him a tip of the hat.

4. LB Darius Leonard 19 tackles, 15 solo, sack, forced fumble @WSH

That is a eye-opening stat line for a rookie linebacker.

5. RB Matt Breida 11 carries for 138, TD, 3 receptions for 21 vs. DET

It’s Breida’s backfield to lose after this. Morris seems to be a veteran journeyman more than a starter.

Worst of the Worst

5. QB Sam Bradford 17/27 for 90, INT, 53.0 rating @LAR

My favorite punching bag is an easy jab for me. I don’t feel bad throwing them this guy’s way.

4. New York Giants on Sunday Night Football

What was that? The Giants looked like disheveled man coming out of a highway wreck. Eli was dumping it off to Saquon nearly every play. The Giants offensive line looked like a sand castle.

3. Second tie in two weeks

I’m unsure what the basis was for shrinking the overtime clock to ten minutes but I’d like to kindly remind NFL leadership that no one wants to see tie football games.

2. Kicking

Is hard, apparently. Plenty of kickers cost their teams games this week, bringing us to…

  1. K Zane Gonzalez

What a dumpster fire this guy was. Two missed extra points and two field goal tries on top of it. This guy couldn’t kick a flame off a cupcake. It was only another scene of a Brown Browning all over himself.

Steelers Recap

The Steelers defense is like a paper towel trying to prevent a running faucet from hitting the sink below. They could not do anything against Mahomes. Mahomes is playing excellent pigskin right now, sure, but it looked easy for him. Gifting the opposition 21 points before you start playing isn’t a recipe for success either.

Tampa Bay feels like a must-win but I’m not hitting the panic button just yet. A loss on Monday would be a push to the edge.

Game of the Week: Chargers @ Rams

The Battle of Los Angeles should be a fun time. I’ll take the Rams at home but this could be a legitimate Super Bowl preview.

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2018-2019 NFL Power Rankings: Week 2

1. Rams (+1) (W 34-0 vs. ARI)

What we learned: Sean McVay has a legit shot at being one of the best coaches in the NFL for the next decade.

We didn’t learn much about the Rams as a team on Sunday but we did learn more about McVay, who continues to succeed with an average rookie quarterback behind center thanks to elite schemes and play calling. Don’t let his age make a fool of you. This guy knows football and in my eyes is already at the top of the game.

What we learned again: It is really hard imagining a future where the Rams don’t win the West.

Arizona is in a full rebuild, Seattle is hanging by a thread and while Shanahan and the 9ers have promise, it’s hard to see them meeting the Rams at eye level.

2. Vikings (-1) (T 29-29 @GB)

What we learned: The Vikings aren’t quite perfect yet.

On paper, there’s little reason why the Vikings shouldn’t have been able to handle Green Bay like a lesser. Green Bay is a weak roster, though improving and as great as Aaron Rodgers is, he’s still only one man. In Lambeau with a better team, the Vikings missed an opportunity to establish themselves as the kings of the North. On the other hand, they added Dan Bailey so they’re now closer to perfection.

What we learned again: The new roughing the passer rule is ridiculous.

The only reason the Vikings didn’t lose this game is because the referees called a phantom penalty on Clay Matthews, who made a routine, clean hit of Cousins. This rule needs changed as soon as possible. It’s hurting the game and turning fans off.

3. Jaguars (+2) (W 31-20 vs. NE)

What we learned: The Jaguars can win without Fournette.

After bashing Bortles last week, Bortles got onto my top-five this week, throwing for 376 yards and four touchdowns. Jacksonville can win without Fournette but what I said is still true: in most games, Jacksonville will struggle offensively without their workhorse.

What we learned again: Jacksonville’s defense is built to last for the long haul.

As dominant as Jacksonville is, it’s likely we’ll see this for at least the next three years. The roster is young and the front office is continuing to build upon it. A reminder Jacksonville took yet another defensive lineman in the first round this year.

4. Chiefs (+2) (W 42-37 @PIT)

What we learned: Patrick Mahomes looks really good.

It is not often you see a rookie quarterback throwing six touchdowns at the highest level. Mahomes earned my number one spot on my top-five this week. I’m not completely sold on him because of the sample size and because Andy Reid historically has managed to makes quarterbacks look a lot better than they really are but it’s very difficult to not be impressed with the young gun.

What we learned again: The Chiefs defense is hurting.

It’s not going to be talked about much because of how dominant Mahomes was, but the Chiefs defense looks like something that will come back to bite them in the future. When your rookie quarterback is playing as well as Mahomes is and you still only won by five, that’s got to be something in the back of your mind.

5. Patriots (-1) (L 31-20 @JAC)

What we learned: The Patriots might be in for a rough year.

Last week, I joked New England could start your neighbor at receiver and still win, poking at the lack of playmakers on this offense. I like Chris Hogan and I like James White. I’m sure Edelman’s return will be a big boost. Gronk is still gonna do Gronk things. That unit didn’t look exemplary in Florida.

What we learned again: The Patriots defense is still suffering.

Bortles played really good on Sunday. I’m not going to take that away from him. That said, you got blown up by Blake Bortles and a Jaguars offense without their best player.

6. Eagles (-3) (L 27-21 @TB)

What we learned: The Eagles secondary is prone to getting scorched.

Malcolm Jenkins is an underappreciated talking point on this defense. Philly has no elite corners and it showed on Sunday as Fitzmagic performed more deep ball theatrics.

What we learned again: Philly should be three rooms away from the panic button.

All teams are constantly adjusting, trying to make tweaks to improve from week to week, some more than others. If I’m a Philly fan, I’m very comfortable with how my team has performed and where it’s headed.

7. Falcons (-) (W 31-24 vs. CAR)

What we learned: Matt Ryan will do it all himself if need be.

Ryan ran it in twice last week and threw two more.

What we learned again: Tevin Coleman is probably the best RB2 in football.

There are other candidates (James White, Bilal Powell, Dion Lewis, Chris Thompson) but with Freeman out of the game, the Falcons don’t lose much of a beat without him. Coleman, a free agent in 2019, is all but an assured starter next year.

8. Packers (+1) (T 29-29)

What we learned: That defense is still a problem.

Green Bay gave up 22 points in the fourth at home. Yes, that penalty played a large role in the events following it, but if the defense doesn’t crumble earlier in the fourth, that play never happens.

What we learned again: The roughing the passer rule is ridiculous.

Said it earlier: Packers got hosed by that Matthews penalty. This should have been a win against a better team for Green Bay and I’m gonna treat it that way. I still think Minnesota is the best in the North but Green Bay came to play.

9. Buccaneers (+7) (W 27-21 vs. PHI)

What we learned: Ryan Fitzpatrick deserves one last shot at a starting role.

Fitzmagic is simply too good to be sitting on the bench. We’ve seen what Fitztragic can do but what Fitzpatrick is doing right now has earned him that shot.

What we learned: Jameis needs to go.

The Buccaneers look better than they’ve ever looked with Jameis and with Jameis due for an extension, moving on from him would be the right move. He’s also become too much of a problem off the field. Stick with Fitzmagic.

10. Bears (-) (W 24-17 vs. SEA)

What we learned: The NFC North looks like the strongest division in football.

I currently have Minnesota, Green Bay and Chicago in my top ten and Detroit is too strong of a roster to stay near the bottom for long. The NFC South and East are both strong as well, but the North is currently outpacing them.

What we learned again: Khalil Mack is by far the best move the Bears made this offseason.

Chicago added a lot of playmakers to aid Trubisky: Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, Taylor Gabriel, a new coach and drafted one of the best available centers in James Daniels from Iowa. None of it has made as big a difference in the Bears’ fortunes as Khalil Mack.

11. Chargers (+2) (W 31-20 @BUF)

What we learned: The Bills suck.

I’d love to put something about the Chargers in this spot but I really didn’t learn anything about the Bolts in this game.

What we learned again: Is Keenan Allen finally good to go?

A career decimated by injuries has placed a lot of red flags around his camp. If Keenan puts up similar numbers to last year and doesn’t suffer a major injury, it might be time to start removing some of those flags.

12. 49ers (-) (W 30-27 vs. DET)

What we learned: It appears Matt Breida has earned the starting nod.

Nothing has been reported to confirm this but Breida has done more in back-to-back games. He had 11 carries for 138 yards. Remove the long 66-yard scamper and he was still 10 for 72.

What we learned again: Jimmy G is not a god. He’s a game manager.

This is only another reason why I have a problem giving Jimmy G all the money. His stats thus far are that of an Alex Smith. Nothing overly flashy but protects the ball and doesn’t do anything obnoxiously stupid. His stats against Detroit were rather pedestrian: a smidge over 200 and two scores.

13. Giants (-5) (L 20-13 @DAL)

What we learned: All the playmakers in the world won’t help offensive line woes.

Odell did little against Dallas, as did Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard. For the majority of the evening, the Giants game plan read “Dish to Saquon.” He ended the day with 14 receptions. Running the ball wasn’t an option. The Dallas front seven was all over him.

What we learned again: Sometimes, you’re only as good as you’re offensive line.

Eli looked frazzled all night. Nate Solder is a big upgrade to this unit but is only one guy.

14. Texans (-3) (L 20-17 @TEN)

What we learned: Blaine Gabbert started for the Titans and you still lost.

That’s a red flag especially given the Texan personnel on defense.

What we learned again: Lamar Miller looks old.

Unsure where D’Onta Foreman is or the Texans run game that used to be an identity of this team. DeShaun Watson is really fun to watch but is still budding and a complimentary run game would be a nice comfort.

15. Bengals (+4) (W 34-23 vs. BAL)

What we learned: The Bengals have the Ravens number.

After Thursday, the Bengals are 8-3 in their last 11 against Baltimore.

What we learned again: Even when the Bungles win, they’re still Bungling.

After a strong win against a divisional opponent, it was reported starting back Joe Mixon had torn cartilage and would have to undergo arthroscopic surgery.

16. Broncos (-1) (W 20-19 vs. OAK)

What we learned: Phillip Lindsay is the first undrafted players to get 100 scrimmage yards in his first two games.

Looks like the starting back right now but will likely struggle against power defenses like Baltimore next week.

What we learned again: You can complete 29/32 and still lose.

Carr was 29/32 for 288 and a touchdown.

17. Panthers (-) (L 31-24 @ATL)

What we learned: Christian McCaffrey has a legit shot to be the first running back to have 100 catches in a season since Matt Forte had 102 in 2014.

Forte was fourth in receptions that year behind Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas and Julio Jones.

What we learned again: Christian McCaffrey is a beast.

He is a PPR dream and a playmaker who’s gonna have a long career in this league.

18. Jets (-4) (L 20-12 vs. MIA)

What we learned: Darnold is not a finished product.

Last week I said it appeared that starting Darnold was the right move. I still think it was, even though I’m against starting rookie quarterbacks week one. That said, Darnold isn’t a trailblazer. He’s not rookie Andrew Luck. He will have growing pains.

What we learned again: The Jets aren’t there yet.

I like the direction the program is headed but this isn’t a playoff team. Still would’ve liked to see them win a divisional game at home.

19. Ravens (-1) (L 34-23 @CIN)

What we learned: The Ravens are 23-27 since 2015.

I still think John Harbaugh is a good coach but he’s on the hot seat. It’s looking like a change might be on the way.

What we learned again: The Ravens don’t have a run game and that speaks bad news for the offense.

If you have Alex Collins in fantasy, you’re probably not concerned. He’s gonna get you touchdowns. The Ravens had 66 yards rushing against Cincy.

20. Cowboys (+5) (W 20-13 vs. NYG)

What we learned: Dallas’ front seven can show up at any moment.

The team is noticeably weaker when Sean Lee isn’t in the lineup but is strong when he is. Dallas was 8th in total defense last year and averaged 20.8 against.

What we learned again: The Cowboys literally can’t score.

If you watched the game on Sunday night, it felt like a game that could have blown off its hinges. It did not. The Giants defense is going to be above average this year but the amount of chances Dallas had, you would have liked to see them put some points on the board.

21. Browns (+3) (L 21-18 @NO)

What we learned: The Browns defense is for real.

I honestly expected a Saints win by 10. Instead, Drew Brees, an all-time great, was bottled by Cleveland. Stunning.

What we learned again: The Browns are still gonna Brown.

Kicker Zane Gonzalez earned the number one spot on my worst of the worst, missing two extra points and two field goals.

22. Dolphins (+4) (W 20-12 @NYJ)

What we learned: The Dolphins might not be in full tank mode after all.

It’s honestly hard to tell how good this team is given their schedule early (vs. TEN, @NYJ, vs. OAK) but 2-0 is 2-0. If you win the games you should win, you are at least putting yourself in a position to compete.

What we learned again: Ryan Tannehill is serviceable.

Tannehill is not the first-round talent he was drafted to be but he is serviceable at a financially responsible price tag. He is not going to win you games by himself and he may lose you some because of his mistakes, but generally, Tannehill isn’t flashy. Sometimes serviceable and boring is fine.

23. Saints (-2) (W 21-18 vs. CLE)

What we learned: We should absolutely be hitting the panic button in New Orleans.

You start the season by getting obliterated by Ryan Fitzmagic. You follow that up by playing a nail-biter at home against the Browns, who, if not for Lord Incompetence himself at kicker, would have beaten you. Given the talent on your roster, this is unacceptable.

What we learned again: Sean Payton is overrated.

I’ll be singing this song till the day I die. Cleveland is improved yes, but you have Brees, Kamara, Michael Thomas, Marshon Lattimore and Cameron Jordan on your team. Figure it out.

24. Steelers (-4) (L 42-37 vs. KC)

What we learned: The Steelers might not make the playoffs.

After tying with Cleveland in a game ripe with ineptitude, you give up 21 straight points to start your home opener. You fight back and tie it at half and I’ll give you credit for that. You then finish the day by giving up six touchdown passes to a rookie quarterback on your home turf. Monday night against Tampa Bay feels like a must-win.

What we learned again: The Steelers defense might be bottom-ten this year.

Pittsburgh brass made no significant upgrades on the defense, instead going almost exclusively offense at the draft. These are the fruits that come with that.

25. Seahawks (-4) (L 24-17 @CHI)

What we learned: Russ is gonna have a rough year.

Russ is an elite quarterback and will have elite games but that offensive line, which believe it or not has actually improved, is simply not good enough for sustained success.

What we learned again: Drafting a running back in the first round was really, really stupid.

Unless Rashaad Penny is a perennial Pro-Bowler, this makes no sense. Hard to see this guy doing much of anything behind that offensive line. Here are the things this team needed more than a running back: Offensive line, safety, defensive line, cornerback, receiver, tight end. You went with running back. Bravo.

26. Titans (+1) (W 20-17 vs. HOU)

What we learned: The Titans can win games with Blaine Gabbert at quarterback.

This is not an endorsement of Gabbert but of rookie head coach Mike Vrabel, who’s doing things in Tennessee. He got Clowney’s career back on track and likely should have been given the reins in Houston, a decision the Texans may regret by season’s end.

What we learned again: Tennessee doesn’t need Mariota extended.

Sunday was yet another reminder of what Tennessee can do without Mariota. They have a legit running back duo with Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. Delanie Walker is a top tight end who is out for the year but will likely return next year. Corey Davis is a rookie receiver that’s growing and Tennessee will likely target pass catcher in the next collegiate selection ceremony. They improved the defense with two of college’s best linebackers. This team simply doesn’t need Marcus.

27. Redskins (-4) (L 21-9 vs. IND)

What we learned: Chris Thompson is a weapon for this offense.

Jordan Reed is an injury magnet. Jamison Crowder and Paul Richardson are better flex options than outside receivers. Thompson out of the backfield? Get ready for all the catches. Had 13 this week.

What we learned again: The Redskins still aren’t consistent.

A strong start against Arizona is offset by a missed opportunity against Indy at home. No excuse for this team not being 2-0 right now.

28. Colts (-) (W 21-9 @IND)

What we learned: Linebacker Darius Leonard, a second-rounder out of North Carolina State, might be a steal.

19 tackles, 15 solo, sack and a forced fumble. That’s a helluva stat line for a rookie.

What we learned again: Luck’s not really back yet.

Andrew Luck was a potential HOFer before Indy let him get smashed by mammoths for two years. It will take him time to recover his form. I’m hoping he gets back to his normal self, but there’s no guarantee he ever returns to being the force he once was.

29. Lions (+1) (L 30-27 @SF)

What we learned: The Lions aren’t this bad.

It’s hard to see them at 29 next week. I honestly am just more impressed with what I’ve seen with other teams thus far. It was too little too late but Detroit almost got a win out of this. They’ll probably be in low 20s next week, depending on how they play New England.

What we learned again: Stafford is the engine.

As has been the case since he was drafted, the Lions go where Stafford goes. He wasn’t good week one and Lions were smashed. Lot better this week and a lot more competitive.

30. Raiders (-1) (L 20-19 @DEN)

What we learned: “Great pass rushers are hard to find.”

Those are the words of Jon Gruden, a man grossly unaware of his own actions.

What we learned again: Trading Khalil Mack was stupid.

I’m honestly so dumbfounded by the Raiders stupidity that I might just put this here for the rest of the season. The Bears being a top-ten team right now is not a coincidence.

31. Cardinals (-) (L 34-0 @LAR)

What we learned: David Johnson might not be a star just yet.

He had a great rookie year but 2018 is not being kind to DJ, even in the new coach’s run-first offense.

What we learned again: Sam Bradford is terrible.

Getting paid $20 million to suck every year is great work if you can get it.

32. Bills (-) (L 31-20 vs. LAC)

What we learned: Allen has been welcomed to the depths of gridiron hell.

Rest in pieces, young pup.

What we learned again: Offensive lines are needed to football.

Buffalo lost three starters this offseason. Coincidentally, Buffalo is god awful and LeSean McCoy is helpless to stop the bleeding.

Biggest Climb: Buccaneers (+7)

Biggest Drop: Giants (-5)

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2018-2019 NFL Power Rankings: Week 1

1. Vikings (W 24-16 vs. SF)

What we learned: If not for the grand introduction of Sean McVay, Mike Zimmer would have won Coach of the Year in 2017.

Mike Zimmer is one of the best coaches in football and the defensive scheme he has made in Minnesota is still causing the best of the best problems. That should tell you something.

What we learned again: Minnesota, as advertised, has the most complete roster in the NFL, including the league’s best defense.

They’re my pick to win this year’s Lombardi. They finally got their upgrade at quarterback in Cousins, Cook returns from injury, Diggs and Thielen are one of the strongest receiving duos in the league and Minnesota’s defense, as mentioned above, is nasty.

2. Rams (W 33-13 @OAK)

What we learned: Rams-Vikings is a solid bet for the NFC Championship game.

Honestly can’t say I learned much from the Rams pummeling the ghost of Chucky. On the other hand, the Rams are a really good football team and seem to be the only thing that can get in their way.

What we learned again: The Rams won the offseason.

In case you somehow forgot, the Rams have gone all in on this season, acquiring multiple talent veterans to bolster their roster. They are stacked at every spot.

3. Eagles (W 18-12 vs. ATL)

What we learned: The Eagles are not fully reliant on their quarterback, demonstrating once again why their team is loaded.

As I stated pretty thoroughly in my quarterback breakdown piece, overpaying your quarterback will destroy a franchise and the proper usage of funds saved by a quarterback on a rookie deal can completely turn a franchise around. Exhibit A: Philly.

What we learned again: The Eagles should absolutely not rush Wentz back.

The Eagles have shown they can win playoff games and Super Bowls with Nick Foles at quarterback. Putting their franchise savior in any potential danger whatsoever for meaningless regular season games (let’s be honest, Philly’s making the playoffs regardless) would be beyond stupid. I’d rather lose a game than risk injuring The Book of Wentz.

4. Patriots (W 27-20 vs. HOU)

What we learned: The Patriots could start your neighbor at receiver and still win.

Funny joke, but is it also possibly true? Going into their game against Houston, New England had three receivers on their active roster: Phillip Dorsett, Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson. Didn’t matter. Another win. Just signed Browns bust Corey Coleman. If anyone can revive his career, it’s Tom Brady.

What we learned again: Tom Brady is still defying time just fine.

Looked fine on Sunday. 277 and three scores. Brady will do Brady things.

5. Jaguars (W 20-15 @NYG)

What we learned: The Jaguars defense will return to the top 10.

Not much to add to this other than they gave up only 15 to a talented group of position players and Saquon Barkley, minus one breakout run, was contained.

What we learned again: The team’s offense is heavily reliant on one Leonard Fournette.

The team has little trust in Bortles to win them a game and for good reason. Fournette will be treated like a bell cow once again this season. Unfortunately for Jacksonville, he went and got injured in week one. If he misses substantial time, I expect the Jag offense to struggle. Sorry, but T.J. Yeldon is not Leonard Fournette.

6. Chiefs (W 38-28 @LAC)

What we learned: Patrick Mahomes is better for the Kansas City offense than Alex Smith.

The Chiefs already knew and most analysts already did but if there was any doubt about whether Mahomes’ arm strength was a huge factor in the Chiefs decision to move from Smith, that doubt has been eliminated. A four-touchdown debut was impressive.

What we learned again: Tyreek Hill is fast.

Said it in my sports report this week: Hill is a certified number one receiver now. His route running has improved since his appearance. If you haven’t, suggest you just watch some of the Chiefs tape from week one. It was quite something.

7. Falcons (L 18-12 @PHI)

What we learned: Julio is back.

Julio had a down campaign in 2017. I expected him to bounce back this season. Had a nice start.

What we learned again: The Falcons still suck in the red zone after a whole offseason to find a solution.

Steve Sarkisian, ladies and gents.

8. Giants (L 20-15 vs. JAC)

What we learned: Saquon Barkley is going to struggle this year.

Perhaps I’m extrapolating something that isn’t there, but hard to look at Barkley’s stat sheet on Sunday and be impressed. One amazing run, yes, but other than that? Nothing. Guess offensive lines are important after all.

What we learned again: Ben McAdoo should never be allowed near a football team at any level again.

The Giants are far better than their 2017 record suggested and McAdoo is why that’s the case. Losing to Jacksonville by 5 is a win for New York. They’re going to contend for a wild card this year.

9. Packers (W 24-23 vs. CHI)

What we learned: Aaron Rodgers is Superman.

Don’t think I need to add anything here.

What we learned again: The Packers are massively overrated.

Remove Rodgers from this team and it goes straight to the john. This team couldn’t float last year without Aaron and they weren’t gonna float against Chicago on Sunday night if he didn’t return. I hate putting the Packers in the top ten this week. They don’t deserve it. Mr. Rodgers was just so miraculous that it feels wrong not to give him a tip of the hat.

10. Bears (L 24-23 @GB)

What we learned: The Bears have a chance to repeat as a top-ten defense.

Last year Chicago was 10th in total yardage, seventh against the pass, 11th against the run and ninth in points against. They added Khalil Mack.

What we learned again: Khalil Mack is the best outside linebacker in the league.

Yes, better than Von Miller. Bears hit the jackpot on this one.

11. Texans (L 27-20 @NE)

What we learned: Houston is healthy.

Finally. Imagine the carnage that could be created with Watt and Clowney on the edge.

What we learned again: Deshaun Watson is not a finished product yet.

A player with tremendous upside made some costly mistakes. Still, a seven-point loss in Foxborough is a win for most organizations.

12. 49ers (L 24-16 @MIN)

What we learned: Jimmy Garroppolo is not elite yet.

Quarterbacks are able to show how good they are when they play defenses like Minnesota. Under 50% completion and three picks on Sunday.

What we learned again: The 49ers have a nice foundation in place and Shanahan knows what he’s doing.

Sadly, Shanahan’s Super Bowl debacle will follow him his entire career. He’s still one of the brightest minds in the game and they are a franchise moving in the right direction, though Jimmy G’s absurd contract could put the brakes on the train.

13. Chargers (L 38-28 vs. KC)

What we learned: The Chargers defense might be a weak spot.

Is the Chargers defense that bad or is Mahomes that good? We’ll have to wait and see.

What we learned again: Despite almost no media attention, Rivers is still playing quite well at an old age.

Football experts have talked about how much longer Brady, Rodgers, Brees, Ben and Eli are going to play and seem to repeatedly overlook Rivers. In addition to being a great fantasy signal caller year in and year out, Rivers continues to keep the Chargers relevant.

14. Jets (W 48-17 @DET)

What we learned: Starting Darnold was the right move.

For the record, I am completely against starting rookie quarterbacks in most cases. We’ve seen more that a couple quarterbacks’ careers end prematurely because they weren’t ready. Darnold looked ready.

What we learned again: Todd Bowles is the most underrated coach in the NFL.

The Jets did all they could to tank their roster last year and Bowles still kept the ship afloat. He’ll do more than keep it afloat this year.

15. Broncos (W 27-24 vs. SEA)

What we learned: Keenum is serviceable, likely not a long-term starter.

The Broncos gave Keenum a solid contract, one that gives him money he never had the chance to get previously while also not putting the money chests in a strait jacket. He had three touchdowns and three picks on Sunday.

What we learned again: Von Miller will lead the way.

Von Miller had three sacks and two forced fumbles against Seattle, bad offensive line or not. He’s still good. We’ll have to see if the Broncos defense follows suit this year.

16. Buccaneers (W 48-40 @NO)

What we learned: Ryan Fitzmagic is back.

It was the best game of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s career and while I sadly didn’t get to watch his performance live or in its entirety, the highlights were quite something. Whether Fitzpatrick is Fitzmagic or Fitztragic, he’s always entertaining.

What we learned again: DeSean Jackson’s not dead yet.

Jackson has never been the same player since leaving Philadelphia but has continued to be a deep threat. He’s still a playmaker.

17. Panthers (W 16-8 vs. DAL)

What we learned: Norm Turner and the offense didn’t have the greatest start.

Dallas had essentially a secondary of freshmen last year. Yes, the Carolina receivers aren’t threatening but this was a game you’d like to see Cam pour it on. Didn’t happen. I’m not going to discredit the Cowboys front seven but I expected more from Carolina.

What we learned again: Panthers still have one of the best front sevens in football.

Have been for a few years and still are. Kuechly is still the league’s best mike.

18. Ravens (W 47-3 vs. BUF)

What we learned: The Ravens gave Flacco all the weapons this offseason.

If he performs like he has the last few years, he’s gone and it’s on to the age of Lamar. Week one was against one of the worst the NFL has to offer. Let’s try to contain our excitement.

What we learned again: The Ravens defense is still strong.

Yes, some new faces have moved into the linebacker spots but a lot of these young additions are performing well. Weddle and Tony Jefferson are one of the best safety combos in the league.

19. Bengals (W 34-23 @IND)

What we learned: The offense is improved.

Who could have known that having an offensive line probably would have helped the team last year?

What we learned again: Marvin Lewis is still coaching the Bengals.

You’d think they would have fired the guy for incompetence or for even a fresh direction but no, Marvin Lewis is still there.

20. Steelers (T 21-21 @CLE)

What we learned: Ben Roethlisberger is at the end of the road.

I think we knew it last year but Ben is closer to the twilight stage of his career than football fans would care to admit. He looked plain awful on Sunday and I still don’t know how the guy didn’t get benched.

What we learned again: The Steelers window is closing.

The Steelers, at their best, are always known for their stout defense. That is not the case right now. The defense is bend don’t break and each year looks closer to breaking. Ben is nearing the end. I don’t care what he says. He doesn’t have five years left. They are talented on the offensive line and have one of the best position groups in the league but the years of Peyton, Ben and Brady owning the AFC are over.

21. Seahawks (L 27-24 @DEN)

What we learned: Russell Wilson is Seattle’s savior.

Not a lot of reasons to watch this team. The offensive line is still among the league’s worst and I still don’t know what Seattle was thinking drafting a back in the first round. Doug Baldwin has gone down with injury. Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham are gone. We’ve seen Wilson do his fair share of theatrics. He’ll have to do more than that if Seattle’s gonna make the postseason.

What we learned again: Earl Thomas needs paid.

Given the depth of the defense, unsure why Seattle is hesitating to pay this man. Sometimes, you don’t pay the man. This isn’t one of those times. You lose Thomas and this defense will morph into a turnstile.

22. Saints (L 48-40 vs. TB)

What we learned: Drew Brees can still throw footballs.

Last year was not Brees’ strongest year but I don’t think there were many people concerned about his production this year. If there were, they are likely silenced now.

What we learned again: The Saints are back to their old ways.

I talked about it in my quarterback breakdown last week. The Saints defense has never been consistently good during the Sean Payton era. I am on the record as saying Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy are the two most overrated coaches in professional football. The defense got cooked all day by Tampa Bay. Was Fitzmagic excellent? Of course, but some of those scores were simple blown coverages deep. Looks like we’re back to trying to outscore teams again.

23. Redskins (W 24-6 @ARI)

What we learned: The Redskins are not definitely going to finish at the bottom of the division.

It is the solid bet but given how bad Dallas played, they could fight for third.

What we learned again: Adrian Peterson is a Hall of Famer.

On Sunday, AP surpassed 12,000 yards and 100 career rushing touchdowns. I’ve been an AP fan his entire career. I’m hoping he has a few games left in him.

24. Browns (T 21-21 vs. PIT)

What we learned: Myles Garrett is the most valuable player in Cleveland.

Jarvis Landry may be the most talented player but Garrett is far and away its most valuable. He was blowing past tackles repeatedly on Sunday and recorded two sacks and two forced fumbles. Cleveland, a team that hasn’t given a player a long-term extension since who knows when, should definitely give this guy all the money.

What we learned again: Baker Mayfield will start this season and Hue Jackson should start packing.

Tyrod Taylor is a serviceable quarterback but looked off on Sunday. Had some simple misthrows in the flats and was mostly unimpressive. Hue is on the way out because his team had six takeaways and still couldn’t win. Unsure how much more Hue needs to fail at his job before he’s finally given the ax.

25. Cowboys (L 16-8 @CAR)

What we learned: The Cowboys will have a front row seat at the NFL Draft.

They may be just outside the top ten but it’s hard to see Dallas being that far off. The team struggled to get past midfield let alone score. The front seven for the Cowboys is strong enough to win them some games but a lack of game planning Sunday was evident.

What we learned again: Cowboys management took a huge L this offseason and wasted a year of Dak’s rookie contract.

Losing Witten to retirement was inevitable. Cutting Dez was the right move. His best days were behind him and he was no longer meeting the value of his signing price. These were the additions Cowboys management made to replace that production: Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin and third-round pick Michael Gallup. Given the immense savings they got from those former two moves, the Cowboys had to reinvest those funds into the receiving core. They did not and teams are not going to respect those players. They’re going to stack the box and Elliott is going to struggle at times because of it. Dallas will be without center Travis Frederick for likely the whole year. Rather than build around their proclaimed franchise starter, they’ve left him in the cold.

26. Dolphins (W 27-20 vs. TEN)

What we learned: Ryan Tannehill’s receivers this year are DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Danny Amendola.

Good luck with that.

What we learned again: The Dolphins are the epitome of treading water.

Funny pun, but really unsure what they’re going for here. Looks like a tanking to me but other times looks they’re trying. Either way, looks like the bottom of the AFC East.

27. Titans (L 27-20 @MIA)

What we learned: Derrick Henry has not been given the keys to the backfield.

Dion Lewis and Henry had about a 50-50 split on Sunday, so if you drafted either of them and expected something else, oops on you.

What we learned again: Marcus Mariota is likely not a franchise quarterback.

Year two was nice: 26/9 touchdown/interception split and nearly 3,500 yards. For a quarterback who’s not known for his arm, that’s great. Last year? 13/15 and a 79.3 rating.

28. Colts (L 34-23 vs. CIN)

What we learned: Andrew Luck is back to throwing footballs.

I’m a Luck fan myself and seeing him throwing footballs again was glorious.

What we learned again: The Colts still suck.

Turns out the return of your franchise quarterback is not enough to make your team not suck. Indy went and blew a 14-point lead on Sunday.

29. Raiders (L 33-13 vs. LAR)

What we learned: Derek Carr can be cut in 2019 for $7.5 dead cap.

After winning my MVP award for the 2016 season (28-6 TD/INT and all the fourth-quarter comebacks), Carr took a clear step back last year and did not get off to a great start this year. I wouldn’t say cutting Carr is absolutely the right move at this moment but if Carr plays like he did last year, I think you have to consider it.

What we learned again: The Raiders are the dumbest team in football right now.

You traded Khalil Mack.

30. Lions (L 48-17 vs. NYJ)

What we learned: The Lions were not prepared and that reflects on their coach.

They were apparently so unprepared that it’s been reported that Stafford, instead of using code, started yelling “screen” at his own teammates to change the play.

What we learned again: The Lions still don’t know what running is.

You’d think after all these years they’d learn something. Guess Detroit’s gonna Detroit.

31. Cardinals (L 24-6 vs. WAS)

What we learned: The Cardinals will have a front row seat for the 2019 NFL Draft.

David Johnson is the Obi-Wan Kenobi of Arizona. We shouldn’t forget about Larry Fitzgerald either but often times a receiver is only as good as his quarterback. The Cardinals are gonna be bad and the only reason to watch them, aside from watching Fitz’ retirement tour and DJ’s return, is seeing if Rosen comes to play.

What we learned again: Sam Bradford is one of the most overrated players in the history of professional football.

Once again, Bradford spent most of a season on injured reserve and once again he got paid during free agency and once again he sucked in the first game of a season. I wonder how many times this carousel of madness goes around before someone finally cuts the cord.

32. Bills (L 47-3 @BAL)

What we learned: The Bills will have a front row seat for the 2019 NFL Draft.

All of those offseason moves foreshadowing a grand tanking have finally come to fruition. What Sean McDermott now has in Buffalo is bare bones. The team lost three starters from their offensive line last year which means Shady McCoy will struggle to do much of anything and that’s if he isn’t put on the exempt list before that. Buffalo was 31st in passing last year and look like a strong candidate to repeat in that category.

What we learned again: Nathan Peterman is not an NFL quarterback.

I’m unsure what the line is between having a job and not having a job in the NFL but whatever that line is, Peterman has carpet bombed it. Trading McCarron looks like a poor decision right now, though who knows how much better McCarron really is.

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Tim Sports Report for 2018 NFL Week 1

Top 5

  1. LB Khalil Mack Sack, FF, FR, INT, TD @GB in first half

Quite possibly the greatest game ever played by a defensive player putting on a new uniform for the first time. Nice going, Oakland!

2. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick 21/28 for 417, 4 TDs, 156.3 passer rating, 12 carries for 36 yards, TD @NO

Fitzmagic might be back. I nearly took the Saints for eliminator before remembering the ghost of Ryan Fitzmagic and boy, did he put on a show. Fitzmagic had six career games with four touchdowns and his first with five came this past Sunday. For those keeping track, Mr. Winston has two games with four or more touchdowns, the same amount of games in which he has thrown four or more interceptions since coming into the league.

3. WR Tyreek Hill 7 receptions for 169, 2 TDs, return TD @LAC

Tyreek Hill has evolved from playmaker to certified WR1.

4. WR Michael Thomas 16 receptions for 180 yards, TD, Fmb vs. TB

Michael Thomas, at this rate, might keep Brees from retiring for another five years. Hard to leave professional football when you have this guy on your team.

5. RB James Conner 31 carries for 135, 2 TDs, Fmb, 5 receptions for 57 yards (192 scrimmage yards) @CLE

Beating cancer is but only one saga of James Conner’s story. Sunday was a heartwarming tale of not just an athlete but a person battling through adversity and excelling at the highest level. Had it not been for a costly fumble that cost his team momentum and served as the turning point in the contest, he would have been higher on this list.

Worst of the Worst

5. TEN@MIA sets record for longest-game in NFL history at seven hours, eight minutes due to delays.

Watching any portion of football that Blaine Gabbert is playing in probably already feels agonizing. Imagine how long this game must have actually felt for anyone that stuck around for the whole thing.

4. Lions give up 31 points in third quarter to Jets and first-time starter Sam Darnold.

Giving up 31 points in one quarter to any team is a rather large L. Giving that total up to an offense led by a rookie quarterback? Well, that’s….something. Matt Patricia has given up 89 points in his last two games.

3. Falcons fail to score from goal line five times against Eagles.

I’m sure Steve Sarkisian knows more about football than I do. With that said, a team with as high-powered an offense as the Falcons going 0-5 (yup, Philly gave them a free play, too) from the goal line is inexcusable if not borderline laughable. Matt Ryan also seems incapable of throwing touchdowns to Julio Jones anymore.

2. PIT@CLE

We’re only one week through the NFL season and Steelers @ Browns is already a strong contender for worst game of the 2018 season. No one likes to see a tie in the NFL but this game was rampant with such gross mismanagement and on-field incompetence that it felt like a mercy when the clock finally hit zero. Roethlisberger had three interceptions and two fumbles and Tyrod Taylor was sacked seven times and had more than a few missed throws.

  1. QB Nathan Peterman 5/18 for 24, 2 INTs, 0.0 passer rating @BAL

You will likely never see a game where a quarterback ended with a ZERO passer rating ever again. The NFL won’t do it but they should enshrine the jersey he wore for this game in the Hall of Fame.

Steelers Recap

I honestly hate to have to talk about this game at all. As I mentioned above, it’s a contender for worst game of the 2018 season. Big Ben picked up where left off at the beginning of last year: looking like he came out of a retirement home. Three interceptions and two fumbles against the Browns defense is pitiful, plain and simple. Are the Browns improved? Of course. Does that mean he has an excuse? Absolutely not. Only two players impressed me on Sunday: James Conner, who squeaked into the top five, and T.J. Watt, who had 10 tackles, three sacks and blocked what would have been a game-winning field goal for Cleveland.

Week one went about as bad as it could go for Pittsburgh. Home against Kansas City means they have every opportunity to bounce back. Starting 0-2 with their back half of the schedule upcoming might prove too big a hurdle to hop over. Still, I simply can’t bet on this team based off that performance. I’ll take Kansas City and hope I’m wrong.

Game of the Week: Patriots @ Jaguars

A rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game should be a trailblazer. I’m actually leaning Jacksonville in this game but that is fully dependent on Fournette’s status. No Fournette and it’s hard to see Jacksonville winning this game. On the other hand, if New England’s defense plays like last year, maybe not. As of now, taking Jacksonville.

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