Trash-talking Jaguars, Eagles finding it hard to keep up with Patriots
In a league where success is usually a sprint, quick, rewarding, and then complete, the Patriots have made it an endurance test.
But sometimes it feels as if their competitors can be a bit impudent when assessing the Patriots remarkable run since 2001 and its degree of difficulty in a league engineered to prevent it. Perhaps the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Philadelphia Eagles now have a greater appreciation for how easy it is to fall off the pace in a repeat run to the NFL’s final four.
Forget bangers and mash, it was comeuppance and crow that were on the menu in London on Sunday in the duel between the Jaguars and the Eagles at Wembley Stadium. Two teams that have taken their best shots at the Patriots, both verbally and on the football field, found themselves in a must-win matchup, with each team limping into the game with a 3-4 record, discovering the hard way that repeating success in the NFL isn’t as simple as the Patriots have made it look.
The defending Super Bowl-champion Eagles secured a 24-18 victory to move to .500. The Jaguars, who went 10-6 last season, stumble into their bye week with five losses and as losers of four straight, displaying more fight with each other than on the field so far.
We’ve seen brash and counterprogrammed Patriots contenders to the throne fade away before, but the young Jags have melted down at Mach 3 speed. Remember when Jacksonville handed the Patriots a dispiriting 31-20 loss in Week 2? That was supposed to be a statement victory for Jacksonville, revenge (sort of) for their AFC title game defeat in Foxborough and a declaration of their intention to challenge New England for AFC eminence. Instead, it looks like the high point of a season gone south. Since that game, the Jags have dropped five of six, undone by injuries, internal squabbling, offensive inefficiency, and the sobering reality of Blake Bortles’s capabilities — or lack thereof — at quarterback.
Meanwhile, the Patriots enter their Monday night road tilt with the Buffalo Bills as winners of four straight. New England has scored 38 points or more in every game of the winning streak. Its passing game appears to be restored to proper potency with the return of Julian Edelman and the integration of Josh Gordon. It appears doubtful the Patriots will see the Jags again this season, as since 1990 just 8 percent of teams to sit at 3-5 halfway through the season have made the playoffs, according to the NFL Network.
The good news for Jacksonville was that it didn’t have to bench Bortles on Sunday as it did the prior week in a loss to the Houston Texans, and its vaunted defense actually forced two turnovers after coming into the game having generated the second-fewest in the NFL. Doug Marrone’s bunch even scored in the first half, trailing 10-6, after being outscored 57-0 in the first half of their previous three defeats.
The bad news was that Bortles still got the Jags into the end zone only once in 10 possessions and made a bafflingly bad throw on fourth and 2 from the Jacksonville 48 on the Jaguars’ final offensive play of the game.
In fairness, Bortles had coconspirators, as wide receiver Keelan Cole fumbled in the first half, leading to Philly’s first touchdown, and rookie receiver D.J. Chark couldn’t come up with a touchdown catch in the fourth quarter that would have pulled Jacksonville within a field goal.
The Jags’ swagger, embodied by loquacious cornerback Jalen Ramsey, has turned to anger as their season has dissolved. When asked how the Jaguars were going to turn their season around, an agitated Ramsey replied, “Y’all ask me this every week, man. I don’t know. We’re going to figure it out somehow, some way. But I don’t know. I’m not the coach.”
A player and a team that thought they had all the answers suddenly has none. Like the New York Jets and the Seattle Seahawks before them, Jacksonville’s speak freely identity is contributing to their unraveling.
The Jaguars are paying the price now for their cockiness and trash talk.
Speaking of paying, the lasting NFL impression the Jags left in London this trip was being skinflints. Jacksonville had four players detained in London by police the night before their loss after the group allegedly failed to pay a bill at a nightclub that features burlesque and circus performers.
Perhaps, if the Jags had been as parsimonious dealing with Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, who completed 21 of 30 passes for 286 yards with three touchdowns and a Ramsey interception, they wouldn’t be leaving London at a loss for what happened to their season.
This game was really a schadenfreude-filled affair for the Patriots and their fans.
Philadelphia Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson, who spent most of the offseason fulminating against the insular culture of Fort Foxborough, left the game in the first half with a knee injury. You never root for an injury. Luckily, according to multiple reports, Johnson only suffered an MCL sprain. But he’s suffered from a swollen sense of self-importance since winning the Super Bowl.
Johnson, who said he would “much rather have fun and win a Super Bowl than be miserable and win five Super Bowls” in an unflattering allusion to the Patriots’ approach, looks as if he might get his one-Super-Bowl-win wish.
The team that beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII and then chirped about it all offseason is finding that heavy weighs the helmeted head that wears the NFL’s crown.
At .500, Philly has been nothing special this season. In their previous game, the Eagles blew a 17-point fourth-quarter lead at home to the Carolina Panthers. Their last two wins have come over the flailing Jaguars and the inept Giants. All four of the teams they’ve beaten possess losing records.
Coach Doug Pederson, lauded for his refreshing and free-wheeling play-calling last season, particularly against the Patriots, has been castigated for being too conservative at times this season.
If the Eagles thought they had a Super Bowl contender built for the long haul, they’re finding out that it’s difficult just to make the playoffs again, which makes what the Patriots have done all the more remarkable.
They somehow seem to avoid the potholes that take the wheels off other contenders. The Patriots have made the playoffs in nine straight seasons, have 15 straight seasons of double-digit wins, and have won at least nine games in 17 consecutive seasons, a post-NFL merger record.
The Patriots are a constant in a league where contenders can become pretenders posthaste.
Both the Jaguars and the Eagles were a bit hasty in thinking that they were on the Patriots level.
Now they realize that making the climb isn’t the hardest part. The hardest part is doing it again without slipping.