The Jaguars are coming of age. Could Big Ben be one of the all-time greats? And what is wrong in Oakland? All of this and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.
1. No Longer a Laughingstock
For so many years, the Jaguars were a joke. They drew more guffaws than wins.
Then came this season. They beat a healthy Texans team by 22 points to open the season. They held Joe Flacco to just eight completions in a 44-7 thrashing in Week 3. Two weeks later, they picked off Ben Roethlisberger five times. They added six more wins in their next eight games.
Still, respect was hard to get. And even after an exciting win over the Seahawks on Sunday, the Jaguars still don't feel they are getting their due.
"Everybody wants to joke about it, but we've been talking about it since we played Pittsburgh: We don't get respect," Jaguars cornerback A.J. Bouye told B/R. "They say Roethlisberger was retiring and Flacco didn't have it. Usually a lot of stuff like that, but we just went up against a player that they said was a MVP candidate, and we want to see what they say about that."
"They tried to bully us," Bouye said. "But we can't be bullied anymore. We're not those same old Jaguars."
I asked Bouye who the bullies are now.
"We're the bullies now," he said with a smile.
Bouye means the Jaguars are no longer that joke of a team that used to get punk'd and shoved and joked about. Now, they are the ones who do the pushing and dominating.
This team has a fearlessness now, a new level of self-respect. When Seattle's Michael Bennett said on the FS1 show Undisputed in March that the Jaguars were easy to beat, his words weren't forgotten.
The old Jaguars would have gotten beaten by 50. Not these Jaguars.
"We came from nothing last year," defensive lineman Yannick Ngakoue said. "We were basically a laughingstock last year. We took it personal. I'm not going to say [any] names, but people said that we could get beat by 50 points..."
No one jokes about the Jaguars any longer. Teams fear them now.
"I said we had grit at the beginning of the year, and we keep getting tested," defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "I think that is the good challenge of a playoff team. We get tested with the best teams of the NFL coming into your house, or you're going to them."
A playoff team. In the same sentence with the Jaguars. Remarkable.
In spending a lot of time around Jacksonville recently, it struck me that I couldn't recall any team that has made such a sudden transformation from losers into confident winners.
The locker room is packed with smart athletes. It's reminiscent of when I was around the 2000 Ravens, which was one of the smartest and most confident locker rooms I've ever covered. They weren't cocky; they were confident. These Jaguars talk just like that Ravens team, and that ended up pretty well for them.
"We just had to strike fear in his heart," Ngakoue said of facing Wilson on Sunday. "From the first plays, we were just trying to get to him and hit him and keep him contained, and that's what we did."
The only thing that used to be scary about Jacksonville was the empty seats in the stadium.
"This team, we know how good we can be, and we know we can be special," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "And in December is when you really find your rhythm going into the playoffs. And I guarantee you we had to earn it."
Tight end Marcedes Lewis, who has seen a lot in his 12 years with Jacksonville, added: "I don't want to sound like a cliche, but for us, [the Seattle game] was a big game—and every week, each game gets bigger—but it was another game for us, and we wanted to come out here and establish who we are and [that] we're not going to back down."
One of the newest Jaguars, star rookie running back Leonard Fournette, said, "This is not the old Jaguars team. We are not pushovers, and we're going to fight back."
2. Loyalty Still Counts for Something
I lived in Jacksonville for almost three years. It was both personally and professionally one of the best experiences of my life.
What I noticed more than anything was a hardcore group of fans that stuck with the team despite constantly being let down. They didn't always fill the stadium, but they knew the team as well as any fanbase I've been around. Against Seattle, the stadium was rocking for the first time in years.
The fans deserve it.
3. Seahawks-Jags Scuffles Should Prompt Changes
The end of the Jaguars-Seahawks game was ugly and damaging to the image of the sport.
Michael Bennett of the Seahawks dove toward Jacksonville center Brandon Linder's ankles, a scuffle broke out and Seattle defensive end Quinton Jefferson was ejected. He then almost climbed into the stands on the way out of the stadium after fans threw garbage and hurled hateful comments at him.
It all stems from the victory formation, where the offense kneels down to run out the clock. The formation has developed into a sort of gentleman's agreement between the offense and defense. The offense tells the officials they're going to kneel. Then the officials tell the defense the offense is going to kneel. Before the snap, the officials tell both teams: OK, take it easy. Then the kneeldowns begin. Most of the time, this is how it goes, and both sides abide by this gentleman's agreement.
But on rare occasions, some defenses decide, hell no, we ain't heard of no gentleman's agreement. Instead, the defense will attack the offensive line, which most teams consider a cheap tactic. That's what the Seahawks did.
There was a strong reaction around the league to Seattle's actions, and there's now a belief that the league needs to police these formations much more tightly. One assistant coach told B/R the formation is "a huge source of potential injury and fights."
The belief among many teams is the NFL will address this by fining players who are too aggressive in these formations. The tricky part is defining what is "too aggressive." That could make for some messy interpretations, but the effort is worth it for both the health of the players and the image of the league.
4. Big Numbers from Big Ben
Think of all the great passers in NFL history. Joe Montana, John Unitas, Dan Marino, Warren Moon, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, to name a few, but none of them have done what Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger just accomplished:
Randall Liu @RLiuNFL
Ben Roethlisberger is the 1st QB in NFL history to have 3 career games with 500+ passing yards https://t.co/5UnfJivq5b2017-12-11 04:59:34
There are moments when I sometimes forget how prolific Roethlisberger has been. Of course, it helps to playing with the best runner and receiver currently in the game.
Still, those are impressive numbers—historic. And perhaps it's time to think of Roethlisberger in much greater terms than maybe many of us do.
5. He's Not Getting Older, He's Getting Better
Big Ben isn't the only quarterback who deserves to be re-examined in an historical context. Courtesy of the NFL's senior director of communications, Randall Liu:
Randall Liu @RLiuNFL
Philip Rivers is the 3rd QB in NFL history to pass for 3,500+ yards in 10 consecutive seasons (2008-2017). The other 2: Peyton Manning & Drew Brees https://t.co/9EJ6SGsXqc2017-12-10 23:13:49
The Chargers defense deserves a great deal of credit for the team's turnaround from its 0-4 start to now standing at 7-6. But Philip Rivers does, too.
6. A Staggering Loss of Talent
Just take a look at some of the names lost to injury this year: Aaron Rodgers, Eric Berry, Carson Wentz, J.J. Watt, Andrew Luck, Odell Beckham Jr., Julian Edelman, Richard Sherman, Joe Haden, Kam Chancellor, David Johnson, Sam Bradford, Ryan Tannehill, Spencer Ware, Joe Thomas, Jason Peters.
There are more, but when you sit back toward the end of the year and survey the carnage, it puts into perspective just how brutal the sport is. No other sport experiences attrition like this.
7. Would the Eagles Show Kap Some Brotherly Love?
The Eagles could sign Colin Kaepernick.
Stay with me here for a second. Signing Kaepernick would solve a lot of issues. It would give him the job that the NFL stole from him after he protested for social justice causes. It would show that the NFL isn't colluding to keep him out of football. And it would give the Eagles an experienced plan B in case Foles flames out.
Granted, there are at least a dozen teams for whom Kaepernick would be the best quarterback on the roster, and yet, he remains unsigned. Philadelphia likely won't sign him, either.
But he should be on a roster somewhere.
8. Something Is Rotten in Oakland
The Raiders are among the most disappointing teams of the year. They're now 6-7 after a number of "experts," myself included, thought they were a Super Bowl contender. I also thought quarterback Derek Carr was going to have a superb year.
I was W-R-O-N-G.
Former Raiders QB Rich Gannon, now working for CBS Sports, put that game—and the Raiders' season—in perfect perspective on NFL Monday QB on the CBS Sports Network:
"Absolutely an embarrassing performance on the part of the Raiders. I mean, they didn't even get off of the bus. That game was over at the half. It's beyond me how you could be unprepared for essentially what was a playoff game.
"They had the chance to be at the top of the division. They laid a big goose egg. Derek Carr was terrible. They didn't run the football. They weren't good on defense. The coaching was bad. It's inexcusable to me. And they've got problems right now in Oakland. And this has been festering for a while."
9. The 49ers Chose Wisely
After watching San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo this season, a scout told me: "I saw him make throws that only three or four quarterbacks in this league can make. I wasn't always sold on this move, but I am now. If the 49ers can keep him long term, they're set. He's a huge get for them, and I think the [49ers] have a special player."
10. To My Dear Friend, Josh Gordon...
This week, I discovered you blocked me on Twitter. This saddens me. I cried.
I feel like a chump. I mean, I am a chump, but now I really feel like one. I'm not sure why you blocked me, but I would like to submit an appeal to the court. I have not made any dope-smoking jokes. Smoke all the pot you want. I'm cool with it. It's better than pumping yourself full of painkillers.
I'm with you, Josh. I respect your journey. I'm serious.
Please unblock me. I will be your best friend.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.