Week 2: Jacksonville Jaguars
It speaks volumes about Jacksonville’s media market status (and my poor geography skills) that it took a Google search to remind me in which state the Jaguars play. Despite having the largest population of any Floridian city (at 821,784) and the largest area of any city in the United States, Jacksonville has had trouble getting people to come to games. Perhaps all that area means a city with incredibly low density. Whatever the case, starting in 2005, team officials took to covering 10,000 or so seats with tarp in order to avoid media blackouts.
On-field, the Jaguars have had mixed results in the 2000s. In 2007, they rode the arm of back-up quarterback David Garrard to the divisional round of the playoffs, where they lost to a then-undefeated Patriots team. The next year, however, losing several key players to injuries, the Jaguars staggered to the end of the season, finishing 5-11.
In response, Gene Smith was brought in as general manager and the team began rebuilding. Despite clawing their way to 7-9 in 2009, attendance plummeted. That year, 7 out of 8 home games were blacked out.
Last season, in response to the depressing attendance the “Team Teal” effort was launched to try to keep the team in Florida. The stadium’s naming rights were sold to Everbank for $16.6 million. The city's efforts seemed to have worked, as attendance was up 36.5% that year.
Part of that may have had to do with the team’s performance, though, as they entered a week 15 game against the Indianapolis Colts, their division rivals, with an 8-5 record and the top spot in the AFC South. Then, in a December freeze that may seem all too familiar to Jets fans, they lost their last three games to end their season 8-8, watching the Colts march into the playoffs (only to lose to the Jets at home).
Even so, 8-8 was an improvement on the previous year. On the offensive side, the Jaguars had Maurice Jones-Drew, who finished second in the league in rushing. As preseason ended, 2011 seemed promising. Then, in a surprise move, quarterback David Garrard was cut from the team, putting itinerant back-up Luke McCown in the starter’s spot. The team managed to hold it together in week 1, winning 16-14 against the Titans (with Dwight Lowery making an interception with 30 seconds less to ice the game), but the Jets will be a much stouter challenge for a team in a bit of a disarray.
With so much uncertainty surrounding them, today’s game seems like the perfect opportunity for the Jaguars to make themselves known in the league. John Oesner, writing for the team’s official website, warns against Jaguar fans considering this a “statement” game while also saying this:
A victory Sunday would make the Jaguars 2-0 for the first time since 2006, and would give them a reasonable chance for a very, very good start. It would also excite the fan base, and sure, it would do a bit to alter how people nationally are viewing them.As Oesner's post points out, both teams boast strong run defenses, and will be looking to shut each other down. Against Revis, Cromartie, and the Jets secondary, McCown will be given a chance to prove himself on a very large stage. And with Peyton Manning out indefinitely, the Jaguars could have a shot to lift themselves up this year. However, some fans are not too confident about their team’s chances, at least against the Jets. Andrew Hofheimer of Black & Teal had this to say in an interview with Marc Greenberg of The Jets Press:
For the final score, I’m going to say 20-13 Jets. The Jaguars are pretty banged up and will be missing some key players on Sunday – namely CB Derek Cox, DE Aaron Kampman, and most likely, RT Eben Britton and TE Mercedes Lewis, as well. I think to the eyes, it will be a very close game, though. These teams are well matched and have a similar identity (at least ideologically) of run the ball and have a dominating defense (Jags are still building back to that). I think it will be tough for the Jaguars to score and I think we’ll give Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene plenty of trouble, but ultimately, the Jets are a premier team and I think they’ll find a way to nudge out the win.