Five months after first trip, Jaguars will make improbable return to New England

Jacksonville running back Leonard Fournette (27) bounces away from New England Patriots safety Jordan Richards, center, in the first half of a preseason game on Aug. 10 in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

On the night of Aug. 6, a week into a taxing training camp, the Jaguars left the heat of Florida for the comfortable temperatures and non-existent humidity of Massachusetts.

 

During the following four days, the Jaguars practiced three times and played a preseason game against the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

Who knew the Jaguars’ 2017 season would feature a return trip to Foxborough?

Five months ago, the “Believe In The Jaguars Club” was mostly limited to those inside their building. Even the most resolute fans thought an improvement from 3-13 to 7-8 wins would qualify as a success.

When the Jaguars fly back to New England this Saturday, it will be for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game and a berth in Super Bowl LII.

Several Jaguars pointed to the joint practices with the Patriots – two in pads and one as a walk-through – as serving as equal parts a barometer for their progress and a confidence boost for their upcoming season, which included a 10-6 regular season, AFC South title and a first playoff berth in a decade.

“It was a long time ago, but that was really good for us,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “The Patriots are the epitome of what you want to be in this league. Well-coached. Hard-working. Incredible team. Just to experience that and see how they work was huge for us.”

Said tight end Marcedes Lewis: “That helped us a lot as far as our confidence and knowing we can compete. When we went up there, we did some good things and we knew we had some things to work on. They helped jump-start us.”

During the Patriots practice sessions, Campbell and cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Colvin did not participate because of injuries. Cornerback A.J. Bouye and receiver Allen Hurns were injured during the first day. Right tackle Jermey Parnell was injured on the second day. A sub-plot that week was the seemingly never-ending saga involving left tackle Branden Albert, who retired early in camp only to express interest in returning.

The Jaguars passed and cut him Aug. 11.

Quarterback Blake Bortles was 11-of-17 and 5-of-17 passing in the two padded practice days. Receiver Allen Robinson was dominant against all Patriots cornerbacks. And defensive end Dante Fowler was twice sent to the sideline by coach Doug Marrone, once apiece for a face-mask penalty and for yapping with the Patriots.

“I thought we were able to get a lot out of it,” Marrone said Monday.

“For me, it (showed) how much work we had ahead of ourselves. I thought to myself, ‘This is the beginning and we really have a long way to go.’ ”

While several starters sat out, the Jaguars’ young players were able to practice against somebody from another team — the practices were divided in 1s vs. 1s and 2s vs. 2s and then at the end of the session, 3s vs. 3s.

“We learned how their offensive line blocks, how they play together and how they communicate with each other,” said defensive end Carroll Phillips, who used camp as an undrafted free agent to make the practice squad and eventually the 53-man roster.

Said rookie defensive end Dawuane Smoot: “I was able to get a lot of reps, see the plays they were running and get up to the tempo. It was a good measuring stick, for sure. Just going through camp, it was a major thing to try and do well against those guys.”

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady participated in the practices but not the preseason game. He has the Jaguars’ full respect, unlike some of the Steelers players last week regarding the Jaguars.

“Tom Brady, I think, is the greatest to play the game,” defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said. “It’s going to be a big week for us. Everybody has to meld together.

“You have to respect all opponents. We don’t talk. We just go out and play.”

Jaguars at Patriots

What: AFC Championship Game

When: 3:05 p.m., Sunday

Where: Gillette Stadium

TV: CBS

 

More