Category Archives: Life

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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The Power of Art

I’m graduating college in a week, which means more blogging and more features. The hope is I churn a feature out each week. This should be one of many over the ensuing weeks.

Since fourth grade, I’ve played the euphonium. Participating in band was a way to connect with people, I was told. My father played trombone. It was a way for us to connect.

By junior high, I was committed and for a bit, considered if music was a profession worth pursuing for myself. I earned a seat in numerous honor bands, participated in one of the finest music programs in the state at North Hills and furthered my love and knowledge of music. During my senior high years, we put together some stunning performances. We were an ensemble of young teens who all had a committed vision of excellence and perseverance. We channeled our passions through it, our hope through it, our dreams through it. We were pressured day after day to do better and despite my doubts, we reached another echelon each and every time.

But despite all this, I was ready to move on after high school. By senior year, I had stopped practicing entirely, my attention and dedication pulled to other areas of my life. I thought it was time to let it go. Had it not been for a scholarship my school had offered for my musical talent, I’m not sure I would have stuck with it. Looking back, that was a foolish thing to think.

Now a senior in college, I’ve played for 13 years and I may have played my last concert two Saturday’s ago.

I put my horn back in its case and gazed at it a little longer than I usually do because I know I may not see it again for months if not years. As a journalism professional with a gradually expanding social circle and vastly expanding list of responsibilities, some of my hobbies have started falling to the wayside. Sadly, the euphonium has become one of them.

I do not say music because it hasn’t and never shall.

Since I’m a movie critic, you should expect a reference to a movie. Well, here it is. The Hope Is a Dangerous Thing scene from The Shawshank Redemption is one of my all-time favorite excerpts. Here, I could go on a ten-minute tangent discussing how criminal it is that The Shawshank Redemption didn’t win an Academy Award but that’s for another time. Instead, I’m going to talk about these snippets of dialogue:

“That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you.”

“You need it so you don’t forget, forget that there are places in the world that aren’t made out of stone, that there’s something inside that they can’t get to, they can’t touch. It’s yours.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Hope.”

At our most weathered and most tortured, at our most basic form, the arts still remain. A deaf man can still hear the music. A blind man can still see the art. A paralyzed man can still feel the dance. The arts inspire as much as they transform, as much as they remind us of what we once were and what we still can be. They are a universal language, a doorway to the soul.

They make you believe.

They make you feel.

They make you hope.

Sports has become a universal language. The arts, as well as sports, transcend linguistic barriers. Sports, as I explained in my We All feature, have the ability to overcome racial, social, economical, political and religious divides, unifying a diverse group to one aim. When Landon Donovan scored in the 2010 World Cup, the United States erupted. There were no detractors. There was no debating. There was a roar, a roar bellowing in the soul. It was a roar that roared, “Yes” and so much more than that. This raucous sound wasn’t a brick of sound. It was a tidal wave so large it’s immeasurable.

The same could be said when Manchester City scored two goals in four minutes to capture its first English Premier League title since 1968.

Sports, as well as the arts, convey the things that words sometimes can’t. In select moments, you will feel a chill on your back, an epiphany full of an aura that can only be described one way: heavenly. It is the most joyous of feelings, a feeling that will last only seconds but carries with it a mass of emotion. It reverberates inside of us. It is a feeling that replicates the vivacity of a child, unbound and free. It is a chant of ecstasy, a concussion of jubilation, a pulse-pounding ricochet contained in our hearts. It is the commanding presence of the brass, the force of the winds and strings and the crash of the percussion. It is genuine beauty, untouched and unsoiled, in its purest form. It is euphoric.

Most of all, it is an affirmation as much as a confirmation of what we already know, that we’re capable of anything and that no matter how many times we’re torn apart, you can’t separate the arts, the eternal flame, from the man.

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The Madden Experience

This is about a Madden franchise I created. I’m posting this as a memorial to some great times.Image result for madden 15 cover free use

My friend Kyle, who’s an Eagles fan, and I started a Madden franchise on Madden 15 on his Xbox 360. I sucked at the newer Madden games, especially in the passing game. I had played Madden 07 on the Gamecube for many years and on the earlier versions, you could fit the ball in tight windows and your quarterback could really gun it. You can’t do that in the newer versions. The older games were more offensive but the newer Maddens are more defensive. Quarterbacks can’t throw half as hard on these games as they used to be able to and their mobility is severely limited.

Kyle and I chose the Oakland Raiders as our franchise because they are a sad, sad team these days and created our own coach: Samuel L. Jackson. Yes, I’m a huge fan of the guy and I decided he had to be the coach.

We decided to start our team from scratch and do a fantasy draft.

We basically created one of the best teams ever.

We tried to target relatively young players so we could push for the future. With our first round pick, we took my boy, Steelers WR Antonio Brown and in the second round, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson. Unfortunately, I was unable to look at the original draft history of our team so I’m going mostly from memory from here on, but we focused on our offensive line and defensive front first. I believe Rams DT Aaron Donald was our third pick, followed by Ravens G Marshall Yanda. I am a firm believer that the linebackers are the heart of the defense so I wanted to get beastly linebackers. We grabbed Eagles LB Kiko Alonso and Cowboys G Zach Martin, with the intention of moving Yanda to right tackle like the Ravens did this past season.

Next I believe we took Dolphins SS Rashad Jones and Cardinals LG Mike Iupati, followed by Bengals RB Jeremy Hill. After the 8th pick, we looked at quarterbacks and I’m pretty sure we cried. Colt McCoy was our starting quarterback.

However, there was hope because we used our next pick on a quarterback also, Blake Bortles. It also wasn’t the end of the world if our quarterback wasn’t great. We boasted the best offensive line in the league, with three of our five lineman posting an overall of 90 or higher and the gridiron god AP in our backfield. Cornerbacks and D-line ended up being our last picks, but we still got some solid playmakers with Bears CB Kyle Fuller, Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Texans DL Louis Nix III and Redskins LE Ricky Jean Francois.

The starting lineup of Kyle and Tim’s 2015 Oakland Raiders:

Redskins QB Colt McCoy, Jaguars QB Blake Bortles, free agent QB Terrelle Pryor

Falcons LT Jake Matthews, Vikings LT Matt Kalil

Cardinals LG Mike Iupati, *

Bills C Eric Wood, Redskins C Kory Lichtensteiger

Cowboys RG Zach Martin

Ravens RT Marshall Yanda, Giants RT Justin Pugh

Redskins FB Darrel Young

Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, Bengals RB Jeremy Hill, Giants RB Andre Williams

Steelers WR Antonio Brown

Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders

Saints WR Brandin Cooks, Raiders WR Kenbrell Thompkins, Eagles WR Josh Huff

Lions TE Joseph Fauria, Jets TE Jace Amaro

Steelers RE Stephon Tuitt, *

Rams DT Aaron Donald, Browns DT Armonty Bryant

Texans DT Louis Nix III, Giants DT Everett Dawkins

Redskins LE Ricky Jean Francois, Cowboys LE George Selvie

Eagles ROLB Kiko Alonso, Bengals ROLB Vincent Rey

Eagles MLB Mychal Kendricks, Vikings MLB Jasper Brinkley, *

Falcons LOLB Brooks Reed, *

Bears CB Kyle Fuller

Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Jets CB Buster Skrine

Bears CB Kelvin Hayden, 49ers CB Leon McFadden

Dolphins FS Chris Clemons, Jaguars FS Johnathan Cyprien, Buccaneers FS Major Wright

Dolphins SS Rashad Jones, Texans SS Danieal Manning

Rams K Greg Zuerlein

Chiefs P Dustin Colquitt

 

I’m missing some of the backups (*) but I honestly can’t remember.

Behind our commanding offensive line, Adrian Peterson beat the single-season rushing record by about 70 yards, but somehow finished in second place for the NFL MVP behind the Jets’ Roethlisberger. Colt McCoy was never reliable and after the 11th game, Kyle and I had decided we were benching McCoy and trading him at season’s end. It was time to develop Blake Bortles. A stronger arm from Bortles made it much easier to make the big throws when we needed to. We finished 11-5, good enough for the AFC’s 3-seed and the NFL’s number one defense. We named our front seven “Sack City”. We had around 60 sacks during the regular season, led by Donald and Jean Francois.

We defeated Roethlisberger’s Jets, struggled in our second round matchup but made it through and beat the Houston Texans who had a lineup very similar to our own: beastly lines and founded on the running game. In our first year, we had seven Pro-Bowlers, including AP, Iupati, Martin, Yanda, Jean Francois, Donald, who led the league in sacks and Colquitt.

In the Super Bowl against the Eagles (who remember Kyle is a fan of), led by Cam Newton, we destroyed. We won by at least three touchdowns. Adrian Peterson had over 220 yards and two touchdowns in the big game, yet they gave the MVP to Kiko Alonso for six tackles and a pick-six.

Our first draft was a big one. Despite my limited knowledge of college football, I’m more intrigued with the draft each year. That and we had a lot of holes to fill.

We traded McCoy as promised to the Saints for a 3rd-round pick and Hill for a third-rounder to the 49ers. We should have gotten more for Hill looking back, but it was what it was.

When you create a franchise with a fantasy draft, the game takes care of all the salaries and cap hits for you, meaning most of your key players, like Brown and AP, are signed to five-year contracts and you don’t have to worry about resigning major players until your third-year.

We basically sold house on our backup defensive line. Only Dawkins impressed and he wanted $2 mill a year for four years as a second string so we let him walk.

Our draft went flawless. RE Tahrick Harvey was our first pick and was an 81 overall. Fantastic block shedding and tackling ability, he was a steal with the 32nd pick. Our second round pick, LE Tahrick Maggitt (fantastic name) was also a power tool and demonstrated the same ability to throw off blocks as Harvey. He would serve as a great backup to Jean Francois. We let Leon McFadden go and used our third on a CB named Emilio Fleming, who had killer speed and decent coverage abilities. I can’t remember who we drafted with our second third-rounder (from Hill).

Something that teams today do not do enough, in my opinion, is trade down when they don’t see someone they want. Kyle and I did this a lot. We traded our current picks for higher future ones three times.

We searched through undrafted players and free agent lists for backup players. We let Pryor go and in his place signed Bears QB Jay Cutler and Jets QB Michael Vick for cheap, one-year deals. We found an undrafted running back named George Boenzi with some quickness and moved Andre Williams to the second slot behind AP. We signed an undrafted RE named Khalil Moody to help out Harvey and Tuitt and found TE Heath Miller on the free agent list, so we picked him up and placed him above Amaro on the depth chart.

With Bortles now starting at quarterback, the passing game was much better than it was in our first year. Brown ended the year 19th in receiving and considering how little we passed the ball, that was pretty good. That and Adrian Peterson suffered an MCL sprain during our week 7 match and missed six games. With the running game on the backs of Andre Williams and undrafted newcomer Boenzi, we managed to go 5-1 without our biggest weapon, quite an accomplishment. It also demonstrated our depth was solid. Adrian Peterson still managed to finish second in rushing and our defense (Sack City) remained the best in the league. We finished 14-2 and with the #1 seed in the AFC. We narrowly defeated the Miami Dolphins by one touchdown and then had a rematch of the 2015 AFC Championship with the Houston Texans, a team that had Matt Flynn at quarterback, who was actually pretty good by this point and WR Calvin Johnson. We crushed them again and proceeded to the Super Bowl to defend our title. We had 11 Pro-Bowlers, including our entire offensive line, backup LT Matt Kalil, C Kory Lichtensteiger and RT Justin Pugh, AP, DT Aaron Donald and our rookie first-round pick, Tahrick Harvey.

We faced the 49ers, led by QB Ryan Tannehill, WR Jordy Nelson and our former teammate, RB Jeremy Hill, who ended the year fifth in rushing. We won by two scores, AP had 220+ yards and 3 touchdowns and won Super Bowl MVP.

To begin our second offseason, C Eric Wood asked for a ridiculous deal, something like $35 million for three years. I offered something like $18 million for three. He declined and in doing so, lost more than $3 million because we franchise tagged him for $2.75 mill. Backup LT Matt Kalil wanted to be paid like a starter. I offered $3.75 a year for three years and he turned it down. I wasn’t happy but we weren’t willing to waste more cap space on a backup left tackle. It worked out for us. At the end of the offseason, no one had bid on Kalil. He was forced to sign an $800,000, one-year deal with us. We released MLB Jasper Brinkley and SS Danieal Manning and replaced them with free agent signings, Bears MLB Jon Bostic and former Falcons SS Zeke Motta. P Dustin Colquitt’s stats were dropping, so we cut him in favor of P Jordan Gay. We offered FB Darrel Young about a million more per year than he asked for and he still turned us down. That worked out okay though, because we signed FB Mike Tolbert. We then found undrafted FB Dominique Meyer, who was actually a better blocker than Tolbert, so we traded Tolbert for a 7th round pick.

After releasing CB Kelvin Hayden, we used our first round pick on CB Allan Frederick. His man coverage and zone were both in the high 80’s, he was quicker than anyone on our team and he was a solid tackler. He was an 84 overall. We put him third on the depth chart and had him work out of the slot his first year even though he had an overall a point higher than Fuller and Kirkpatrick. The guy we wanted in the second round wasn’t there, so we took a gamble on LOLB Will Vincent. His man coverage and block shedding were garbage but there was some hope. Vincent’s speed and acceleration were secondary-like so while he might not always make the tackle, he would be the first guy there and at least slow them down.

We drafted someone with our third, can’t remember, and traded our other third for a second the next year. We got some offensive line depth with right guard Brice Bostic in the fourth, an 81 overall. We were unable to trade our second fourth-rounder and saw no one we wanted so we took a chance on a runningback named Black. Black ended up a total bust. He was slow and he was weak, unable to truck through tacklers or juke them out. We couldn’t even move him to fullback because his blocking was desolate. We cut him after the third preseason game.

We made up for it in the 5th by taking LE Andrew Chaney. We were unsure why he was projected to go that low prior to the draft. His power moves and block shedding were similar to Maggitt’s. We drafted him and he had an overall of 79. In the fifth round we got this guy! We still had Maggitt in the second spot based off of experience and his on-field intelligence was higher. Still, that gave us three advanced LEs.

We cut WR Javelle Kelly prior to the draft. The guy was too slow, his hands were inconsistent and he carried the ball like a loaf of bread. We took WR Leron Boyce, who had a 69 overall but had the speed and the hands we were looking for. His on-field IQ was the only problem.

In the 6th round, we grabbed RE Javares Carey, who proved to be an improvement over Tuitt. I’m a fan of Tuitt in real life (he plays for the Steelers) but in the game, the guy was not developing. His overall had jumped only two points in two years. Carey was already a 73 and played much better than his overall indicated. It was a steal for a 6th rounder.

In the 7th round, we needed backup DL. For the last two years, Tuitt had been the primary backup, along with Vincent Rey. We took a big guy named Damarr Hawkins and a MLB named Chris Harrison.

After the draft, we signed C Doug Legursky so we had someone to develop on the off-chance we were unable to resign Wood the next season and LG Greg Van Roten. We found an undrafted receiver named Jamarcus Dobbs. Most of our receivers were around 5’11”. Dobbs was pushing 6’5″ and made some impressive catches during the preseason. We decided to keep him instead of signing a third quarterback. We had dropped declining Cutler and Vick and signed amicable Matt Moore earlier.

Our final year was our best year. Adrian Peterson broke the rushing record we had set in our first season by more than 100 yards and broke the single-season TD record set by LaDainian Tomlinson. Again, Sack City stepped up whenever our offense faltered. We went undefeated going into the playoffs. Peterson won MVP and Greg Zuerlein won kicker of the year for the third straight year. He never missed a kick all three years. Allan Frederick was runner-up for Defensive Rookie of the Year. After defeating the Aaron Rodgers-led Browns, we faced the Houston Texans for the third consecutive championship game. We were down at half, but came back and won by 10+.

The Super Bowl was a rematch, once again against the 49ers. We were up by 3 with a minute to go and the 9ers had a 4th & 5 or something on their own 45. During the playoffs, Kyle would be the playcaller for the first half and I did the second. I had called Cover 2 Sink to pack the middle because I was expecting slant routes. They ran slants out of the right but TE Martellus Bennett and WR Jordy Nelson both ran deep routes, Bennett curving underneath Nelson and lone FS Chris Clemons in between the two. For the last couple games, Kyle had been jawing me that Clemons was old, pushing 30+ and it was time for him to go. Clemons backed up on Nelson and once Tannehill unloaded for Bennett, Clemons came up and smashed the ball right out of Bennett’s hands, a huge play that sealed our third consecutive Super Bowl and the second undefeated season in NFL history. Adrian Peterson ran away with all the awards, beating the single-season rushing record and touchdown record and won league MVP, the Super Bowl and Super Bowl MVP.

We had 17 Pro-Bowlers. The whole offensive line, AP, Bortles, Harvey, Donald, Jean Francois, MLB Mychal Kendricks, who Kyle had been trying to get to the Pro Bowl during this entire experiment, and rookie CB Frederick.

I learned a lot from this Madden experience.

1) Send the blitz more than you think you need to. I used to be overly cautious, but my roommate Jon, who’s smart enough that he could be a defensive coordinator in real life, gave me a lot of pointers and that was one of them. Also, don’t be afraid to send corners and safeties on blitzes. I used to never send them but I discovered quickly that it’s very effective. Our final year, I sent Buster Skrine, our fourth DB, on regular corner blitzes. At year’s end, he had 14 sacks, good for 2nd-most in the league. Keep in mind Skrine is a corner.

2) Offensive and defensive lines are far more important than any football fan realizes. Adrian Peterson is a boss and probably would have shredded teams regardless of who was in front of him, but during our second year, when AP was injured and Andre Williams had to carry the rock, you could hardly notice the difference. Linebackers are still the heart of the defense in my opinion, but if you can’t get pressure with your defensive line, you’re going to struggle in coverage and you’re going to have to send blitzes even when you shouldn’t. It’s much easier to succeed with an excellent defensive line and an average secondary than it is to succeed with an average defensive line and excellent secondary.

3) Use the nickel as your main defensive package. Unless you’re getting trolled by the run game, more often than not the nickel corner will provide more value than a linebacker, depending on who your nickel corner is of course. Our nickel corner was Frederick, a large and quick corner that could take on a runningback one-on-one without getting trucked. More often than not, nickel is what you want.

4) View kick returns as offensive plays. Avoid touchbacks at all costs. Brandin Cooks was a beastly returner (he had 14+ returns for TDs in our three seasons) but you don’t have to have a playmaker to have good returns. You just have to have the vision and a speedster at your disposal. For example, the Steelers drafted RB Dri Archer in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft. In real life, Archer is terrible. He’s insanely quick, but has no vision and so is unable to take advantage of his speed. On Madden 15, Archer is the perfect returner and as long as you, the hands at the joysticks, have the vision, you can have some solid returns. On average, Kyle and I were able to get it to the 30 on most returns, even when we were at the back of our own end zone. That’s an extra ten yards we didn’t have to travel. In a separate game unrelated to this franchise that I played with my friend Alex, we picked two of the worst teams in the league, the Titans and the Jaguars. My returner for the Titans was Leon Washington. Washington is not even an adequate player in real life. Not a playmaker or a big name. I returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, then Alex returned his, and then I returned another one. We had kick return touchdowns to start a game, back-to-back-to-back. That was the first time I’d ever seen that happen. My offense was garbage the entire game and I think I only managed one offensive touchdown. If my memory serves me right, I won 21-14. More than half of the points scored in the game were on those kickoffs. Both of mine were at the very back of the end zone and I could easily have let them go by, but I viewed it as a chance to score and I did just that. Kick returns are still in play so teams have the chance to return the ball. Return it. Take the chance.

5) Know when to punt. Prior to this experience, I had refused to punt the ball in any Madden game I ever played. I punted it once against my dad in overtime from my own five-yard line. The punt traveled 15 yards and Dad kicked the winning field goal on the next play. I vowed to never punt again. However, as much as we all hate punting the ball, it’s an important aspect of the game. Sometimes, you need to trust your defense and play the battle of field position. If you’re playing for fun, do what you want, but if you’re going for realism, punt when you should.

I had a lot of fun with this and I hope you all had fun reading if you’ve gotten this far. Have you ever made a franchise in Madden? Tell me about it in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.

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Regret

Life is full of it. No matter what you do, you’ll have it.

It will track you down like a lion tracks a gazelle, grass brushing against its fur, paws clumping in the mud right before the pounce.

In the blink of an eye, you’re down. You don’t even know what happened.

Where did it all go wrong? How did it come to this?

It’ll tear into you, it’ll cut you and you’ll bleed.

You’ll bleed a lot.

You won’t remember the last time you were in this much pain and anguish.

You’ll get angry. The fires of rage will encompass your soul as you curse the person, people or the decision that has done this to you.

For days you’ll rage, smash your whole being against the cage you find yourself entrapped in.

You will pound on those bars until your skin is raw and the blood has dried, until your bones are numb and your muscles tense.

You will tighten yourself, hide who you are, how you feel, what you did.

You will cloud yourself with hate. You will silently curse the person you once cared for, ask for their damnation.

You have no remorse, no solace to retreat to and no love in you.

For days you have lost part of yourself and are half if not less of your former self.

Part of you has entered a coma and your other half hates that half for ever opening up, for ever considering making the decision you made.

It loathes that half. It detests it. It condemns it.

It never wants to be whole again. Neither do you.

After these crucial days, you begin to realize what they did to you and what you did to yourself.

That’s when it first hits.

That’s when you realize the hammer came down.

That’s when you know you didn’t do enough or you did nothing at all.

Opportunity walked up to you and smirked and briskly walked away before you could even notice.

It came right under your nose and you didn’t do a damn thing about it.

You remained frozen like a philosopher, overflowing with “what ifs” instead of opening your eyes.

You allowed Doubt and Fear to handle the joystick.

You didn’t even put up a fight to stop them.

Or perhaps you have regret for something you did. Or for someone.

You should have never said those things you said.

You should have never devoted yourself to someone who not once devoted themselves to you.

Someone who not once reached out first, who not once showed they cared.

You remain isolated like a lost soldier in the snow.

Don’t know what to stand for, what to fight for, what to live for.

You learn from your mistakes but continue wondering how you ever made them.

Continue to ponder if you’ll ever get a chance to start over.

The burden of not knowing if you’ll get the chance weighs down on you like a monsoon.

Drenched, weathered and cold.

Your will is tattered and your soul is battered, but you got to keep going.

You got to push yourself. You got to believe.

Your compass can waiver but it must not fail.

You must give your family and friends an ideal to strive towards.

You must set the example. You must set the bar.

Not just for others but for yourself.

Push the limits. Demonstrate resolve.

Be better. Try harder.

Strive to be a better you each day.

Regret will always persist. It will never leave. The only choice we have is what we do now.

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The Breaking Point

I claimed the floodgates of WordsofWisTIM were opening. Instead they stalled and I apologize. I also can’t say that they’re likely to open anytime soon either because internship searching, resume writing and school work pervade. Just know that I miss writing movie reviews and other content on here and I will return…eventually.

This post is about the breaking point, the point that defines when we finally look at life and say, “I quit.” I’m not talking about suicide. I’m talking about when you look at what’s around you and you’re trying to win all the battles by yourself and you’re overwhelmed so much that you just break down.

I reached my breaking point Saturday…almost.

Looking for internships and building a resume is one of the most stressful experiences I’ve had to go through and continue to go through today. It is also extremely demotivating because unless you have family all over the surrounding area, your internship radius is extremely limited. For example, I can’t take an internship in Kentucky. I need to be able to commute because as you should well know, most internships don’t pay. Looking for people willing to give you a chance is stressful enough. When you only have a select few you can look at, it’s even worse.

Add to that upcoming deadlines on assignments and a college newspaper (not my own) that won’t answer my calls for material on an assignment that’s due Tuesday and you feel like you’re trying to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with one arm.

To summarize, I’m stressed and sadly my stress and workload has gotten in the way of this blog. Again, my apologizes and I will do my best to try to get content out in the coming weeks.

So I’m writing an article about homelessness for one of my classes. I had lots of trouble finding someone to talk to, far more trouble than I expected. On a Saturday night, I go to my local shelter for what is perhaps my last chance to get a good source before I returned to school. I was very nervous and anxious. My confidence in others far exceeds the confidence I have in myself.

As a youngster, I used to read the stories in Exodus, the stories of the Israelites turning away from God right after they were saved from the Egyptians. Despite the many miracles he provided them, they still found a way to turn away. Reading those at a younger age, I always found myself asking why God bothered helping them when they couldn’t believe in him for an extended period of time.

Yet here I was, wondering where that plan that God has for me was yet again, all because events were not transpiring at the rate that I wanted them to. That night I had two great interviews and was reminded everything will be okay.

Today, that paper finally got back to me, a mere 24 hours before my assignment is due.

Based off these two events, I think I’ve come to learn the importance of believing during the times you struggle the most yet again. It’s a recurring theme with me, yet one that I need to be reminded of on an almost continual basis.

So remember when you’re about to break down, shut off and just cry, remember to take a second to pray to the guy behind the controls. That’s the guy you should be talking to, not to everyone else.

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My Top Ten Favorite Video Games

My favorite video games are going to include some that are ancient by video game terms. I still have a Nintendo Gamecube and Playstation 2. I’ve never had a Xbox-360 or a PS3. With that being said, here are my favorite games up to this point of my life. Also, check out my brother’s list here. Note: These are my favorite games, not the ones I think are the best.

10. Killzone

Easily one of my favorite games on the PS2, Killzone had a solid campaign and story line that kept me engaged and wanted me to keep going with it. Among the few things I remember most about this game, the sniper interface was insanely difficult to get adjusted to compared to the other first-person shooters I’ve played. It’s not a difficult game to master by any means, but putting the AI’s on the hardest difficulty and putting on the maximum amount is still a difficult task on domination on most maps when it’s just you and a friend versus, elongating the game’s playability.

 

 

9. Conflict: Desert Storm and Conflict: Desert Storm II: Back to Baghdad

These are third-person shooters on the Nintendo Gamecube and probably ones few will know of, but I always got a kick out of Desert Storm for its two-player campaigns. It was one of the few games my brother and I could play the campaign together and that feature alone makes these some of my favorite games. The graphics are mediocre compared to the Call of Duty games on the system, but the versatility of the game and the unique control platform make this game a fun play that manages to stump you occasionally.

 

 

8. Mercenaries

Another third-person shooter, this time for the PS2, Mercenaries is easily one of the more difficult games I’ve played. There isn’t any multiplayer for it, but the campaign is so long and addictive that there’s really nothing to complain about there. You have to capture 52 different bad guys scattered all over Korea in a free-roam style play format. You can do whatever you want and missions will be waiting for you when you’ve decided you’ve done enough fooling around. With all that said, I found this game to be very difficult and it’s one of the few games I have that I haven’t beaten yet. After about 30 tries on the last mission, I just gave up. My brother eventually beat it, which was a thrill to watch, but I do think this game’s difficulty toward the end battered my resolve.

7. NHL 06

This game’s graphics are shoddy but I always found the gameplay to be pretty responsive and enjoyable on a continual basis. Upping up the difficulty did present its challenges but I eventually adjusted. I’ve pretty much mastered this game but I still play it on Gamecube on a regular basis from time to time. I love the newer NHL games though. The new controls are more elaborate and provide a more competitive and adrenaline-filled experience.

 

 

 

6. Madden 07

This game on Gamecube was made the year the Steelers won Super Bowl XL, giving this game some special significance to me. The lineups are solidified in my mind and the gameplay was the way I liked it before it became all about the graphics in the new one and your quarterback throws like a girl. The newer games are definitely more defensive-minded while this game was all about racking up the points. It never got to an arena football-type scoring match, but it was an up-tempo experience, something I miss with the latest renditions.

 

 

5. Super Smash Bros. Melee

One of the more popular games from Nintendo, the Super Smash Bros. on Gamecube holds the classic status over the newer remakes because of how big a deal it was at the time. Then, Nintendo was still a profitable company that had some solid games aside from Pokemon and Mario. Super Smash Bros.’ variety of characters and the combos you can do with each provides for a cartoon chess match for players. Everyone’s played it and if you’re a poor college kid such as myself, pulling out this game is one you can have a blast with.

 

4. Star Wars: Battlefront II

PS2’s third-person shooter is a top-five for me for a couple of reason. First, Star Wars. Who doesn’t love that? The class loadouts are diverse but not overly complicated and the maps are pretty good. I’ve never played this online but the multiplayer conquest is a lot of fun if you can play with a friend.

 

 

 

 

3. Guitar Hero Series

Guitar Hero has had a bigger impact on me as a person than any other game. My music tastes were brewed by these games. Before Guitar Hero, it was all 80’s pop rock. Guitar Hero showed me there was more than that and now I listen to a lot of rock, alternative rock, hard rock and even a little metal. Some set lists are more challenging than others but I like most of the songs they put on these games. It was the first concept of playing a guitar as a video game that I know of and the reaction time to when you hit the keys was very accurate, which could have easily been these games downfall. Every time I hear a guitar hero song on the radio, I know which Guitar Hero it’s from because I’ve played them so much. Truly an addictive experience to engage in.

2. COD: MW3

My favorite Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 3’s maps are better than any of the other COD’s I’ve played. The loadouts allow for hundreds of weapon and perk combinations so there’s always something you haven’t tried playing with before. The shot accuracy is usually pretty good and the graphics are visually-satisfying enough to immerse yourself with the gameplay.

 

1. COD:BOP2 Zombies

I love zombies. That’s all there is to it. I’ve played zombies for hours at a time. Most of the new maps are pretty good and the visual caliber is pretty detailed. Playing online is a blast considering all the people you meet in the different lobbies and achieving teamwork with your buds is always a must. Keep calm and Shoot Zombies.

 

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We All

While on vacation in Florida three weeks ago, I had a chance to see something awesome.

After returning from the beach, my family and I went to a restaurant called Harry’s Sports Bar and Grill. Do you know that place you always wanted to have as a kid, a joint that sold steaks and burgers and was covered with TVs and sports memorabilia? That was this place. There were  TVs in every booth, on every wall and even two in the floor. You read that right: In the floor.

The day we happened to go, the U.S. men’s soccer team was playing Belgium in their round of 16 match-up. The place was full to the brim so my parents asked me to go in and call them when a table was available. While the rest of my family didn’t get to participate in the events that followed, I did and they were some of the best from our vacation.

I don’t consider myself a diehard soccer fan. I grew up playing like every other kid and then switched to another sport just like every other kid, but I’ve been getting back into it, watching the 2010 World Cup and covering the Waynesburg University men’s soccer team for the paper and broadcasting the sport for the county’s sports radio station. It has a faster pace in college and the scoring is more prominent, making it more of a hockey contest on grass minus the sticks rather than a boring afternoon on fine-cut grass like another sport we all know. It’s grown on me a bit and I followed the World Cup and my favorite team, Germany, as best I could around my work schedule. Germany, if you didn’t know, won it all for their fourth World Cup title in their World Cup-record eighth finals appearance and I would hope you’ve heard of the team’s thrashing of favorite Brazil 7-1 in the semifinals, which has already been called one of the biggest upsets and greatest matches in World Cup history.

I missed the first half of the U.S. game because we were at the beach but came into Harry’s Sports Bar and Grill at around the 70th minute. The whole place was in an uproar, a crazed crowd limited only by their body’s ability to digest alcohol and the laws of gravity. All were at the edge of their seat with the mounting trepidation rising inside each of them, goalkeeper Tim Howard continuing to impersonate a Secret Service agent as he stopped shot after shot from reaching the holy twine on his way to one of the best goalkeeper performances in World Cup history. The oohs and ahhs echoed through the place, broadening the bounds of the acoustics.

My family does not understand the religion of soccer. They do not understand how soccer can transcend past the field of play into such a commitment. They are not the only ones. I’ve met plenty of people who feel the same way. America is a country that soccer has failed to ensnare despite the prophets who visit the land such as Landon Donovan, Mia Hamm, David Beckham, Abby Wambach and Clint Dempsey. Legends like Michael Jordan and Kareem, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays, and Joe Montana and Barry Sanders are praised throughout all 50 states and continue to live as enduring legacies in the hearts of both young and old as the names of soccer stars disappear from our memories like the last blockbuster that didn’t bust anything but the producers’ wallets. All of these stars will leave this world one day but will never be forgotten, for their names are already engraved in the American books of history. A soccer player has yet to accomplish this feat. Aside from Pele, the greatest futbol player of all time to the sport’s most loyal subjects, many Americans cannot name you another competitor in the sport. Whether that will ever change or not is to be determined.

What is factual is the religion of soccer is gaining new followers every day here, especially come every fourth summer. To grasp the full gravity of it, you cannot view it. You must be a part of it. Like more established and more worthy religions, watching church on TV and going to it are two entirely different experiences and to try to compare the two is not only unorthodox but unfair. Observing a sporting event on TV avoids commitment, especially when you are viewing it by yourself, but watching with a crowd of people offers the fan experience and atmospheric tinge we all look for.

That day I got to be a part of that in a way I’d never been a part of a sporting event before. Everyone is huddled together, eyes glued to the screen. All employee obligations are void and any plans you may have made for the afternoon and evening are postponed. Everyone shouts at the screen, yelling the number of the open player, some his name. They frantically point at him as if their finger’s direction affects the whereabouts of the ball. Any uneventful passing is met by fan analysis of the last couple minutes, all negotiating with each other what needs to be done to tip the scales in the United States’ favor, only to have someone point at the screen again and yell something inaudible that draws the attention of the fans and reenergizes the mass. This is what the religion of soccer does. Strangers are now friends and sports commentary compatriots.

The people in Harry’s Sports Bar and Grill that day turned into a people, the persons into a person. White became black, black became white. Republicans and democrats, rich and poor, convicts and priests, We All watched that game. What the game of soccer did was bring a group of people of various backgrounds, races and social statuses and united them as one people with one goal: to win. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else affected that goal.

In a country where our politicians constantly squabble and fail to compromise in favor of the greater good, where our social order continues to weigh more partial to one side, where racism and non-acceptance continues to hamper a country that goes by the mantra  “land of the free”, we were for once, as our founding fathers put it, We the People.

In that raucous abode, We All felt that game.

We All watched that game.

We All bore the sting of that first goal against us.

We All bit the bitterness of the second.

We All thought we tasted redemption after the first of our own.

We All shook our heads in defeat and disbelief.

We All only lasted a few hours that day because after the game’s conclusion, the crowd dispersed, becoming individuals and returning to their lives rather than remaining a camaraderie. There I remained, not only because it was time to eat, but because I still wanted We All. I think we all want that unity with our friends, with our family, with our people, with the people, but some of the things that make us us, like the stack in our wallets, the church we go to or the party we affiliate ourselves with get in the way of that. To become We All you don’t have to be less of yourself, you only have to be more of us. Don’t brag how much you make and don’t judge others for not believing what you believe. We All is a belief and an ideal that can be known and popularized by many things but for now it is popularized by one thing. That one thing involves a ball and two teams of 11 people on a pitch. That one thing is soccer and if you take the time to look at it with others, you’ll see just how much it’s capable of.

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Year One of WordsofWisTIM

On May 13, 2013, I started WordsofWisTIM to further my journalistic talent and to share my knowledge, wisTIM and opinions with others. 2,845 views, 69 followers, 149 posts and 1,267 tags later, WordsofWisTIM lives on and continues to prosper, thrive and grow in so many ways just as I feel I’ve grown in this last year. I read through my posts, all 149 of them, when I was making my Tim’s Favs page and I could really see the difference between how I was writing then and how I’m writing now. It’s been a blast and I’m happy that I gave it a go.

Most Views

In a day: 64, May 5, 2014

In a week: 203, week of May 5, 2014

In a month: 434, April 2014

 

Then again, WordsofWisTIM wouldn’t mean anything if it weren’t for my readers

Because a writer’s thoughts, words and aspirations are quite meager

If no one’s taking them in on the other side.

My words are like a tide.

There are a lot of waves out there. I know, I’ve been.

I have to hope the extra punch, extra heart and extra feeling that I put in

Knocks the air outta your lungs, makes an impact

Makes a difference and paints an abstract

Because that’s what I want to be.

I want to be “something that concentrates itself in the essential qualities

Of anything more extensive or more general, or of several things.”

I need to hope my writings ring.

I have a goal in mind.

It’s a goal that I did find.

“Existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence.”

That doesn’t mean I’m looking for magnificence.

It means that when my time here is done

I want to be able to say that I did more than have fun.

I want to be able to say I made my mark

That I had a profound, significant and stark

Effect on somebody

And not nobody

That my presence here

Meant something dear

And that I won’t fade

Like a masquerade.

I want my words to be sublime

Make you think, this guy’s worth my time

That I’m able to elevate myself above the rest

Not to say I’m better or that I’m the best

But to say I’m worth listening to, worth reading, worth understanding and worth knowing.

I’m young and still growing

But I know what I want.

Many are still on the hunt.

Some want fame or riches. Mine is to be missed.

My want is purpose.

It’s simple and complex

Because purpose perplexes.

It’s both solid and flexible

And yet at times it feels unattainable

But if you keep trying

Keep striving

Keep walking

Keep talking

Keep feeling

And keep believing

I think you’re bound to find it some day.

You can’t just take your insecurities and doubts and throw them away.

It’s a game of hide-and-seek and you’re on the seek.

Don’t let the frustration and seemingly hopeless situation get your hopes bleak.

Just keep looking for what you want most

Because just when you’re about to give up the most

You’ll fall upon it after all your miserable strife

And that will be the happiest and most reassuring moment of your life.

 

In conclusion, thanks for sticking with me and reading. It matters.

So far, I’ve written 93 movie reviews. Below are the movies strong enough to climb to the top ten and the garbage that splattered onto the worst of the worst list up to this point.

Here’s to another great year!

The Top Ten

1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: 98

2. Miracle: 97

3. Spider-Man 2: 96

4. The Green Mile: 96

5. Prisoners: 96

6. 42: 96

7. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers: 95

8. Mission Impossible III: 95

9. Spider-Man: 95

10. Iron Man 3: 95

 

The Worst of the Worst

10. A Haunted House: 40

9. The Contract: 37

8. Redemption: 35

7. Pride and Prejudice: 34

6. Thor: The Dark World: 29

5. The Sum of All Fears: 22

4. Midnight Cowboy15

3. Dark Fury13

2. Open Grave: 10

1. Alien 3: 5

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Looking for Nothing

If you’ve been following my blog for more than three weeks, you probably read my life post about the future.

In that post, I said:

“I’m going to be the man I wanna be.

And I’m going to be that man with those special to me

And all the strangers that walk by

On the off-chance that I make a difference in them aside from a sigh.”

Did I mean what I said? Yes. However, I admit that sometimes I’m not always at my best. I try to be, but sometimes I don’t. Some days aren’t so great and I just don’t feel like talking to people or the effort to do so seems like an additional thing that I’m not obligated to do.

Yesterday, at 1:30 am, I was bored, but not tired in the least bit. I’m usually in bed by then but I’ve been filled with energy the last few days and have been going to bed especially late while waking up just as early. My brother showed me a YouTuber about a month ago named dangmattsmith. He does comedy over chat roulette with random strangers. It looked like it could be fun although I admit I was a little uneasy about doing so. I’m a guarded individual who doesn’t jump out of his comfort zone to get to know people. Yesterday was the exception.

So I went to Omegle.com, the chat roulette site that dangmattsmith uses and gave it a shot. I mean, what else am I going to do at half past one?

The Omegle experiment went nowhere for the first half hour. Just a waste of time, people constantly skipping me and not interested in doing anything. I turned my camera towards my can pyramid that I have at school (what else is a poor college student going to build stuff with?), because I find it interesting and thought perhaps someone else would too.  

Apparently that was not the case. However, I was still bored and video games, television and reading have no allure to me at 2 in the morning so I just kept going on the off-chance that I ran into someone worth talking toSnapshot_20140422_1. Eventually I ran into two girls that looked about 16 or so. They didn’t hit next right away, which gave me the chance to say hey and soon a conversation had begun.

I was looking at two teenage girls while they were looking at a pyramid of cans. Small talk continued until they asked to see me. I’m not the most attractive guy and don’t impress the ladies with my appearance so I hesitated to do so out of fear that I’d be skipped Snapshot_20140422immediately and I was beginning to feel
inadequate after being skipped more times than I can count. I apprehensively moved the camera towards myself and got a positive reaction. To not be judged by your cover is nice. The conversation continued until the one girl went to bed and the other posed a question to me: “So, what’s your story?” I was taken back by this. I don’t share such things with strangers or better yet, people who I meet randomly online at two in the morning. Instead, we shared three true stories and one false and the other had to guess the false one, ala two truths and a lie slightly revamped. My stories were convincing and my lie unspoiled. Hers were not so lucky as I am a clever thinker and reader.

“Now what?” I asked myself. I was enjoying the conversation and would like it to continue as my pillow was still not calling my name. Rather than tell our true stories, my young friend thought of another creative idea: we guess each others. It was a fascinating premise and so I went along with it. My “personality dissection” of her was scarily accurate, down to some of the closest details, so close to the reality that I admit I impressed myself with all that I had learned about this person in a meager hour and a half. I was just amazed.

More thought-provoking conversation was had. We talked until five. That’s right, that’s not a typo. 5 in the morning. It was a conversation that I had never had before with someone I had not known a mere three and a half hours prior. She was smart far beyond her years, including using the word “usurped” in a sentence correctly, a word I thought she had misspelled when she had meant to say surprised (shows how much I know). She knew the world and how life worked incredibly well for her age at only 14 (younger than I had thought).

I was impressed but most of all I was thankful, thankful that I had randomly went onto Omegle expecting to waste a couple hours of my life and instead found someone who made those hours not just worthwhile, but life-altering.

In my opinion, there are few things more worthy of being treasured and cherished then when you went somewhere looking for nothing and ending up unveiling something incredible, like finding a pure pearl in a cracked oyster along the shore when you were just walking along the beach to waste time before you had to go to work. It shows that for once, someone or something was looking for you and further more, to them, you were a diamond that was worth digging for.

The feeling of being searched for, of being especially useful in someone else’s life, can be matched by few things. It lifts you up when you weren’t looking for a trampoline but a dry highway, and the air that rushed around you during that time you spent up in the air was a cool rush to a heated and stressed individual so that when you hit the ground, you’re running. You’re running fast. You’re searching for something again, with a whole new resolve and determination that you haven’t felt in a while. You’re smiling, more than usual and you don’t know why, but you just have this stupid grin on your face. You have this feeling in your stomach. It’s not love or the want of love. It’s not anger, fear, jealousy, or hatred. It’s happiness. Pure and unsoiled happiness. You don’t know how long that feeling is going to lie there, but I know I wish I could take it out of my stomach and look at it, admire it, draw a picture of it even though I’m artistically challenged and pin that scribble on my wall, so I can have a visual and physical model of what that feeling is.

I rip out a piece of paper and grab a pen, with no clue as to what I’m going to draw. I don’t stop to think. I just start drawing, scribbling all sorts of lines and shapes and thicks and thins. I shade in different depths of darkness and do my best to accent what I’m feeling into a picture. It only takes ten minutes so it’s not a masterpiece by any means. I look at what I’ve drawn for the first time and I’m shocked. The image that I’ve drawn, the symbol, the visual representation that I’ve drawn: is me.

I throw the picture down and run to the mirror. I look at myself, with the same shocked look on my face. I lift my hand up and close my jaw manually because the muscles don’t seem to be functioning. I look at every aspect of my being for one…two…three…four…five…six…seven…eight…nine…ten seconds and then… something begins to change. My upper lip begins to lift and then the corners. I can’t control it. It’s as natural and automatic as my heartbeat. The change is complete and I study myself again. I’ve never seen this look before, not like this.

It’s that stupid grin again. It’s bright and voluminous and my teeth start popping out. My eyes start welling up a little with tears of joy. I’m just so happy, oh so happy.

We all wish we could be as happy as I am now all the time. I no longer wish that because I know if we felt like this all the time it wouldn’t be as special, heartfelt, inspirational or as liberating as it is.

So the next time you’re bored and looking for something to do, go on Omegle, or for a walk. Do something that gets you moving (a.k.a. not watching television or playing video games). You’ll be looking at the ground and pacing and you just, you just might, run into something special or have something special thrown upon you.

So…what’s your story?

 

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Why Sports Are More Than Just a Game

I take sports very seriously. It might be my competitive edge, my love of competition, did I mention competition? It’s just fun. I gotta win, you know?

My friends and family ask me to calm down, tell me getting upset over it isn’t worth it. I know they mean well, that they’re only looking out for my well-being, but sometimes, that’s simply not the case, because sports are more than just a game.

Sports can break barriers before society fully embraces them, like the Brooklyn Dodgers and Jackie Robinson did with the color barrier long before the Civil Rights Movement, the same way sports are accepting gay athletes before gay rights are cemented as more than a concept.

They establish and develop community, helping cities with diverse populations come together on common ground.

When tragedies occur, people look for guidance, for hope, and for change. Sometimes it occurs in political action, relief efforts and public service. Other times, sports rise to the occasion.

On a day that will never be forgotten, September 11, 2001, the World Trade Center Towers were destroyed and over 3,000 Americans lost their lives. The following January, the New England Patriots won the Super Bowl. Is it a play on words? Yes, yes it is, but the effect was their, because we all could believe.

After the New England area was tortured by the Sandy Hook Massacre and Boston Marathon bombings, the Boston Red Sox went on to win the World Series after many expected them to be the cellar dwellers in the AL East.

Surely we can’t forget about the Japanese women’s soccer team that won the 2011 World Cup over the U.S. after a magnitude 9 earthquake and a tsunami tore through Japan, taking the lives of more than 18,000 and displacing hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Finally, and in my opinion, without question, the most momentous sporting event to ever occur in the history of sports, the Miracle on Ice lifted a nation. The economy in shambles and the U.S.S.R dominating the world in every facet, all hope in the future seemed lost and irrational for many American families.  That fateful 1980 Olympics showed the world and the U.S. that there is always hope. If you haven’t watched the film Miracle, you really should. I’ve posted a link to my review here. The final monologue of the film, given by Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks, reads: “…Young men willing to sacrifice so much of themselves, all for an unknown. A few years later, the U.S. began using professional athletes at the Games- ‘Dream Teams’. I always found that term ironic because now that we have Dream Teams, we seldom ever get to dream. But on one weekend, as America and the world watched, a group of remarkable young men gave the nation what it needed most- a chance, for one night, not only to dream, but a chance, once again, to believe.”

It’s a moment I wish I could go back and see, but I suppose a recording of the game will have to do.

Keep this in mind the next time you watch a sporting event. Some athletes only play for the paychecks, but many play for something greater, something bigger than they could ever be. And that, my friends, is worth watching.

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