Jacksonville Cost Themselves The AFC Championship Game

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the aftermath of the AFC Championship Game has focused on whether the officials stuck it to Jacksonville in their 24-20 loss to New England. But I still am. My reaction at the end of watching the game was that I just seen something special—a proud veteran team, holding off a more talented challenger. But griping about the officials is the oldest go-to excuse in the book (and I’ll admit I’m not above it), so I shouldn’t be taken aback by the fact this leads the discussion.

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If this were a court of law and I were representing the side of the officials, I would simply ask the judge if he really thought it was probable that the NFL Commissioner’s Office—the sworn enemy of the Patriots after DeflateGate, would actually go out of his way to help New England win. Especially given that Super Bowl TV ratings basically carry themselves and everyone outside of New England is simply bored with watching the Patriots in either case. I have a feeling I’d win the case on summary judgment.

But for the sake of going through the entire case for the legitimacy of the Patriot win, let’s roll through the litany of allegations against the officials….

*It’s pointed out that New England was only called for one penalty and Jacksonville was called six. This is the common gripe used in basketball regarding free throw disparity and my argument here is the same—it’s the job of officials to call (or not call) transgressions as they are (or are not) committed. It’s not the job of the officials to make sure everything is equal. If you disagree—or even think that this data is indicative of anything—simply tells me we have a fundamental difference of opinion regarding the role of officials in an athletic contest .

*There more substantive gripes surround two specific calls—an early whistle on a Patriot fumble on the fourth quarter that Jaguar linebacker Myles Jack would have returned for a touchdown. And a pass interference call near the end of the second quarter on Jags corner A.J. Bouye that set up a Pats touchdown.

Here’s video of the Jack play…

I understand Jacksonville’s complaint here—the whistle was, indisputably, blown early. If that play is a fumble, Jack should be going to the house and at 27-10, we’re talking ballgame. But watching the replay over and over on CBS as it was being reviewed, I still think Jacksonville got the break in the play being ruled a fumble to begin with. It’s a strange play to be sure—you don’t often see the player hit the ground with the ball in transition. But it’s far from a clear recovery.

The ultimate resolution was illogical—by the letter of the law it should have been a Jacksonville touchdown or no fumble and New England ball. There’s really no middle ground for Jacksonville ball at the point of recovery, unless this is a backyard game where you want to come up with a compromise, lest one of the participants get mad and go home. But an illogical resolution doesn’t mean the Jaguars were the victims. At the time, it looked like the debatable ruling of fumble had cost the Patriots some desperately needed points.

Now here’ the Bouye interference call…

I don’t see Jacksonville’s case here at all. Watching in the moment my first thought was what a dumb play it was by Bouye. He has the coverage, he’s in position—why the need to grab the jersey? It was undisciplined football.

And that play, in a nutshell, summarizes why Jacksonville lost. The fact they went toe-to-toe with New England was no fluke, as I wrote back in December. It’s why, at recent New Year’s parties, I predicted the Jags were going to beat the Steelers, were going to give the Patriots everything they could handle and had a better chance of winning in Foxboro than Pittsburgh did.

Jacksonville was better defensively. They were faster to the ball, their defensive backs closed and covered with much better speed. They had a decisively better running game. Sure, they didn’t have Tom Brady, but they had what it took to make sure TB12 had no time to throw, no one to throw to or at least stayed on the sideline. And for three quarters they did most of that pretty well.

The one thing they didn’t do was play smart. New England doesn’t have the best top-to-bottom talent in the NFL, but they simply never beat themselves. You have to take it from them. Bouye’s foolish penalty gave the Patriots badly needed momentum when it looked like they were going to trail 14-3 at halftime. Jacksonville’s mistakes, born of the excessive enthusiasm often displayed by young talent, kept Brady in the game.

That story—and not whether the officials were celebrating a New England touchdown—is what should be the takeaway from an excellent AFC Championship Game.