JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One year ago, the Jaguars were an unknown commodity. Even worse, the perception of the team--they were known to be an easy mark. As the 2018 season opens, the perception of the Jaguars is completely different.
After making a run to the AFC championship game, the Jaguars are now a team opponents have circled on their schedules.
"The only thing that changes is the outside perspective," quarterback Blake Bortles said. "We thought, as a team, the same last year as we do this year. But for sure, it's less of an underdog story. More teams are prepared, and it's not the Jaguars of old where the team shows up and everybody assumes they're going to beat the Jags. That's not the team we have here anymore. Going into it, playing in the AFC championship game last year, there's a target on our back."
The Jaguars open the season Sunday at the New York Giants, a team that went 3-13 a year ago. Beating the Jaguars to start the season would send a substantial message to the rest of the league. The Jaguars are now a "trophy win."
"Coach Perry Fewell told us in the offseason that we've gone from being the hunter to the hunted, and that spoke volumes," free safety Tashaun Gipson said. "Last year we were just trying to go out and show that we weren't the same Jacksonville Jaguars. Now, this is a test that, 'If we can do something against the Jaguars, we can do it against anybody.' I'm sure those guys know on that side of the ball (the Giants offense), they want to gauge how this season is going to play out."
Especially on defense, the Jaguars are a proven unit. With 10 of 11 starters returning and several key backups also back, the Jaguars no longer have to prove what they can be. Now they have to prove that they are what the defensive players believe they can be: the best defense in the league and one that will be remembered as a historically great unit.
"It's respect," said linebacker Telvin Smith. "If you don't believe you're the best and you aren't speaking on it, then who is going to believe you? We have to say in every interview. We're the best team. We're the best defense. Then we have to go show them."