By Jeff Moeller
As far as the Jaguars’ 27-20 loss to the Chiefs in the divisional playoffs, the proverbial dust has settled, and the smoke has cleared.
The Jaguars are quickly becoming an afterthought with the thought of two excellent championship game matchups on the horizon this weekend. Pat Mahomes’ ankle and Joe Burrow’s bravado have further tucked the Jags under the canvas.
They shouldn’t be. But they will be back in the mainstream after the Super Bowl. They have earned that stance.
There’s plenty of chatter about Trevor Lawrence being in some future AFC championship game meetings with either Mahomes or Burrow.
But after this weekend, the talk will be around the two quarterbacks left for the Big Dance, adding either Jalen Hurts or Trevor Purdy into the conversation.
People may soon forget about how the Jags became the talk of the league from their once 4-8 seasonal plight – their eighth loss ironically was a 27-17 defeat to the Chiefs – to the meteoric rise to 9-8 and an AFC South title.
Then there was the “Jacksonville Juncture,” the indescribable 27-0 comeback against Los Angeles.
That was the current defining moment of this new chapter that began with the hiring of head coach Doug Pederson and the retooling of Lawrence after he was mishandled as a rookie by the prior regime.
Yes, these Jags aren’t in the same penthouse as the Chiefs, Bengals, or possibly the Bills, the latter who still has to prove they are a true Super Bowl contender. If the Jags aren’t in the doorway yet, they certainly are just around the corner.
This isn’t a time of self-indulgence because of the playoff loss for Jacksonville fans..instead it is a time of Thanksgiving.
Lawrence can be mentioned in the same breath as Mahomes, Borrow, Hurts, and Allen. Travis Etienne has all the makings of a lead back. The offensive line is solid and left tackle Cam Robinson was re-signed instead of worrying about planting the franchise tag on him again.
The acquisition of Brandon Scherff certainly solidified everything up front.
The defense definitely grew during the season, notably in the secondary. Rashawn Jenkins played like an all-Pro in the second half of the season, and Foyesade Oluokan again was a pure tackling machine with his 184 stops.
Rookie linebackers Devin Lloyd, Travon Walker, and Chad Muma will be cornerstones and perfect bookends to young vet Josh Allen. Due to the development of Lloyd and Muma, most of the anticipated first-round pressure was Walker.
The foursome of Christian Kirk, Evan Engram, Zay Jones, and Marvin Jones were as good as any unit in the league. The resurrection of Engram from his purgatory with the Giants arguably was the most significant.
Riley Patterson finally proved to answer all of the Jags’ placekicker woes over the past few years.
GM Trent Baalke will have his work cut out for him soon, as the Jags have 16 free agents. He has made his intentions clear about keeping this unit intact as much as possible.
The most significant signings appear to be Engram, Marvin Jones, Patterson, Dawaune Smoot, Arden Key, and Jawaan Taylor. Ja’Mal Hasty should also be in the mix, as he was a perfect complement to Etienne.
There also is the 2023 draft in which the Jags have eight picks, drafting 24th in the first round.
That’s something to think about. Over the past two years, the Jags had the No. 1 overall pick..now they are 24th.
The Jacksonville Icemen are off to a good start and have filled their arena on a regular basis. In a few months, the Jumbo Shrimp will be back on the diamond.
Still, soon Jaguars’ talk will dominate the area and the airways. They are a solid team from top to bottom. It has been a remarkable turnaround that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
The landscape and culture have changed. The talk this spring will be what the Jags can do for an encore, not about making the right choice for the top overall pick in the draft.
(Columnist Jeff Moeller covers the NFL and other sports for SportsDay and the Florida Sports Wire.)