Mark Brunell: Jaguars laid a foundation this season for a bright future

Jaguars finish remarkable season with tough loss to Patriots

By Mark Brunell

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The 2017 season has come to an end. The Jaguars finish their remarkable season with a loss to the Patriots that will be tough to get over for some time.

This was a game that obviously could’ve been a victory. But Tom Brady and crew were simply too much.

Of course, there was every reason to believe that the Jags could be getting ready for the first Super Bowl in franchise history; our defense was absolutely dominant all year, we had beaten the Steelers 45-42 last week and the Jaguars running game was best in the NFL.

But Sunday wasn’t our day.

Like I said, this will be difficult to get over. However, it's important that at some point we forget about what could’ve been and start celebrating what was.

This was undoubtedly one of the most thrilling seasons in Jaguar history. It was a season that reminded us of “the good ol’ days.” Those were days of good defenses, high scoring offenses and big plays being made all over the field. Those were also the days of our fans and this community excited about our football team.

Folks, we are there once again. And we have every reason to believe that this season was the beginning of what can and will be something special. This team laid a foundation. And the future looks very bright.

So before we get to the future, let's talk about what was so good about the 2017 campaign.

Well, for starters, we all were surprised by the turnaround. To go from 3-13 to 10-6 and getting to the AFC Championship game was incredible. It simply doesn’t happen that often.

Our defense far exceeded our expectations as they ended up second in the NFL in total yards and led the league in multiple categories. Our running game was vastly improved as Leonard Fournette and crew led the NFL. And our QB enjoyed the best season of his career. Blake Bortles’ numbers reflect that. He was more accurate, had more big plays and most importantly his turnovers diminished big time.

In a nutshell, if you have a dominant defense, can run the ball and your QB doesn’t throw too many picks, you’re going to win a lot of games. And that's what happened in 2017.

OK, so what about 2018 and beyond? One thing is for sure: It's not going to get any easier.

Have you seen next year’s schedule? It's tough! It will be critical for Tom Coughlin and Dave Caldwell to keep this group together -- on both sides of the ball. We obviously have our key guys locked up, but there will be some tough decisions that need to be made as far as
personnel. You hope that you can keep everybody but that’s just not realistic. Some will be free agents. Some guys are getting up there in years. But by and large, next year’s team will look very similar.

The big question entering these playoffs was what to do at the quarterback position. In my opinion, that question was answered. Bortles needs to be and will be the Jaguar quarterback for years to come. He’s earned that. His incredible performance against the Steelers made me a believer. On one of the biggest stages in sports, Bortles delivered. The plays he made with his arm and more importantly his legs, launched this team deep into the playoffs. While Sunday's game was a disappointment, I believe Bortles’ best football is in front of him. Don’t be surprised if this is the first of many playoff campaigns for #5.

Well done, Blake! Your mental and physical toughness were on display this season and you have proven to the Jaguar fans and the whole NFL community that you can be a special player.

Congrats to the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars! You have made all of us very proud. Thank you for making Sunday afternoons exciting again.

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