Jacksonville Jaguars prove to themselves and everyone else that they're legit contenders

Jay Asser 17/09/2018
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The bottom never fell out this time.

After looking eerily similar to the AFC Championship Game for three-plus quarters, the rematch between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New England Patriots on Sunday had a far different ending.

Conservatism never set in for Jacksonville. Their uber-talented defence never succumbed. Blake Bortles was the hero, not a liability.

Week 2 victories aren’t usually significant, but for the Jaguars, their 31-20 win was about more than just maintaining an unbeaten record on the season.

It was a statement, perhaps more to themselves than to the rest of the league, that reaching the doorstep of the Super Bowl in January wasn’t a fluke, and that they’re more than equipped to go one or two steps further this season.

Jacksonville treated Sunday almost as if it was their Super Bowl. They wanted this one badly, in part to remove some of the sting remaining from their collapse in the AFC title game.

Tangibly speaking, the victory may only end up factoring in when home-field advantage is determined at the end of the season – not exactly a footnote, but a point that is nearly an eternity away from mattering.

However, the confidence the Jaguars gained from taking down New England is far more valuable, especially for the offence.

The other side of the ball wasn’t lacking belief, and while they now know for sure they can slow down Tom Brady’s attack, Jalen Ramsey and Co never had anything to prove.

Bortles and the offence, on the other hand, needed to show they could be the aggressors – not the team’s handicap.

Not only did they do that on Sunday, but they did it in the most convincing way possible as Bortles played arguably the game of his life and validated the faith shown in him by Nathaniel Hackett’s emboldened play-calling.

Bortles wasn’t asked to not lose the game this time – he was asked to go and win it. Even late in the fourth quarter, pass plays were called in running situations and seemingly every time, Jacksonville’s quarterback rose the occasion.

In total, Bortles attempted 45 throws, completing 29 of them for 377 yards and four touchdowns. His lone mistake, an interception in the fourth quarter, was a tipped pass off the hands of tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Bortles even added 35 yards on six rushes to look like the duel-threat player Bill Belichick billed him as in the lead-up to the game.

As impressive as the performance was though, it came against a lifeless New England defence that lost safety Patrick Chung and defensive end Trey Flowers during the contest. The Patriots unit looked improved in their opener against Houston, but it’s appearing more like that was the result of the Texans’ struggles, particularly on the offensive line.

If Bortles sees the same version of New England’s defence in January, it won’t really matter how much he’s been tested by better defences.

Considering the Patriots’ track record, it’s also possible that the next time they play Jacksonville, they’ll have hit their stride.

September disappointments are nothing new for Belichick’s side. Whether it was the 41-14 beat down to Kansas City in 2014, or the 42-27 embarrassment to the Chiefs in the opener last year, the Patriots have dealt with early-season hiccups by putting them in the rearview mirror swiftly.

The offence will undoubtedly be better than it was on Sunday, which was the Patriots’ first game with their running back trio of Rex Burkhead, James White and Sony Michel all healthy. Julian Edelman, who is currently serving a four-game suspension, will return in three weeks to greatly bolster the wide receiver corps and give Brady another trusty weapon.

It’s the other side of the ball which has questions to answer. The pass rush was often lacking last season and on Sunday, their issues resurfaced as they couldn’t get to Bortles for a single sack. The secondary didn’t help matters as they were burned constantly in man coverage.

It would be too early to panic for any team, but especially for New England, who every year try to build up to the playoffs so they can hit their peak when at the right moment.

While the Jaguars enjoy the high of one of the franchise’s most important wins, the Patriots are taking the long view.

If they meet again, how both teams respond to the Week 2 result could make all the difference.

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Josh Gordon will still have an opportunity after leaving Cleveland Browns

Jay Asser 17/09/2018
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Josh Gordon’s time with the Cleveland Browns is up, but the talented wide receiver will still have a chance to make an impact elsewhere.

On Sunday, the Browns announced that they intend to release the 27-year-old, who has a chequered history that includes substance abuse.

However, it’s expected that Cleveland will instead trade Gordon as a number of teams have reportedly shown interest.

While Gordon doesn’t have any say in where he gets traded, two teams he’s hoping pursue him are the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, according to reports.

If for whatever reason Gordon is released, he won’t be subject to waivers and will become an outright free agent as a vested veteran.

That’s unlikely to be the case though as Gordon remains an intriguing player with immense ability, making him a tantalising option for teams especially in need of wide receiver help.

The Cowboys and 49ers certainly fit the bill, as do the New England Patriots – who have the kind of structure and stability in place to deter Gordon’s worst habits.

After news came out of the Browns’ decision, Gordon posted an Instagram story thanking the organisation and fans, while adding at the end: “P.S. Anybody need a deep threat WR??”

His stellar 2013 season, in which he snagged 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns, is well in the rearview mirror, but as Gordon has shown in the limited time he’s spent on the field over the past three years, he still has big-play ability.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that Gordon will fare any better off the field in his next stop.

While the details over the Browns’ decision to move on from Gordon are murky, ESPN reported part of the reason for the move was that he showed up on Saturday with a hamstring injury after being a full participants in practice all week.

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Chicago Bears focused on righting their wrongs from Week 1 against Seattle Seahawks

Jay Asser 17/09/2018
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Before they ended up on the wrong end of a memorable Aaron Rodgers’ performance in Week 1, the Chicago Bears looked like a team that was ready to make a leap.

The final result was a disappointment for Chicago, but what they showed for much of the contest, especially in the first half, was encouraging on both sides of the ball.

Mitchell Trubisky and the offence scored 20 points in the first two quarters as Matt Nagy’s play-calling opened up the attack and used creative wrinkles.

However, Trubisky looked somewhat rattled in the second half when the Packers pass rush started to get in his face as the second-year quarterback often chose to tuck the ball and run instead of keeping his eyes downfield.

Monday’s clash against the Seattle Seahawks will help reveal if the Bears’ offensive improvement was for real, or just an aberration.

“We just saw that there was a lot of good plays and then there’s plays in there too that we can learn from and correct,” Nagy said. “And that’s very natural in [Trubisky’s] position. With where we’re at in this offence, that’s going to happen.”

On the other side of the ball, what looked like a dominant unit for the first three quarters of the opener, led by newcomer Khalil Mack, slowed down late in the game as conditioning played a factor.

Despite playing only 42 defensive snaps in his Chicago debut, Mack still had a sack, a a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception for a touchdown.

After getting a full week of practice leading up to Monday, Mack should be in better shape to play more against Seattle, who are extremely vulnerable against pass rushers at the moment.

In their opener last week, the Seahawks were run over for six sacks by the Denver Broncos, who constantly put pressure on Russell Wilson.

Seattle’s task will be made harder by the fact that three of their most important players – wide receiver Doug Baldwin, and linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright – are all out to injury.

They could also be without right guard D.J. Fluker and cornerback Tre Flowers, who are both listed as doubtful, while cornerback Shaquill Griffin is tabbed questionable.

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