JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When the 2017 season began, the Jaguars were 100-1 long shots to win the Super Bowl. Nobody gave Jacksonville a chance to win the division, much less advance to the AFC championship game. But they did.
Following the stinging 24-20 loss to the Patriots, Jaguars players were crushed, but many agreed that this special season was the start of big things to come.
"It's been an awesome season. It's been a lot of fun, despite what happened today," quarterback Blake Bortles said. "It's been a special ride to do this for an organization that hasn't done this in a really long time with a special group of guys. Our bar was set two weeks from now (at the Super Bowl) and we didn't get there. We fully expect to be back here again giving it another try next year."
Bortles will be one of the players on the list of decisions for the Jaguars. He is due a $19 million fifth-year option. His play in the playoffs and the high regard he is held in by his teammates, will mean that VP of football operations Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell will likely bring Bortles back. At that salary number, they will expect Bortles to continue to show the improvement he showed in 2017 and the postseason.
Head coach Doug Marrone had a hard time coming up with words to describe the Jaguars future. He was still dealing with the emotional loss after the game.
"A lot of pain. You just hurt inside," Marrone said. "I'm hurting, the coaches are hurting, the players are hurting, I'm sure our fans are hurting. I always think you have to start from scratch. A new year is a new year. That's how I view that step, which is down the road."
The defense won't be a surprise to anyone next year. the Jaguars' brass will have to make decisions on two key players on that side of the ball, linebacker Paul Posluszny and nickle back Aaron Colvin, who are both set to be free agents.
"Hopefully next year, we'll get another shot, and we'll play a more sound game," safety Barry Church said. "To be the Super Bowl champ, we have to play a more disciplined game."
The Jaguars were close. The closest they have ever been to making the Super Bowl. They needed one more stop or one more drive. The led by 10 with nine minutes remaining, but Brady turned in another vintage performance to lead the Patriots back to the Super Bowl.
"You know how it is in this league, the margin for error is that small," said tight end Marcedes Lewis.
The team has a young nucleus, including key players who are still in their first contracts, like Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack, Yannick Ngakoue, Dante Fowler Jr., Leonard Fournette and Cam Robinson. They are the building blocks for a future that the Jaguars hope will see the team take the next step and earn the franchise's first trip to a Super Bowl.
"It's tough, especially for the city. We definitely want to bring a Super Bowl back there," Jack said. "We'll be back next year and I think we'll definitely surprise a lot of people."
Many of those decisions and the planning for next year will start almost immediately for the front office. But for the players, perhaps wide receiver Allen Hurns summed it up for everyone in the Jaguars locker room.
"Right now, it hurts," Hurns said.