The Greatest ‘What If’ in Jaguars History: Myles Jack and the 2017 AFC Championship
In the 25 seasons the Jacksonville Jaguars have spent in the NFL, the young team has already captured a number of "what if" scenarios.
What if Tony Boselli didn't suffer shoulder injuries?
What if the Jaguars could beat the Tennesee Titans in 1999?
What if the Jaguars drafted J.J. Watt instead of Blaine Gabbert?
But perhaps the greatest "what if" in Jaguars history — the one which stings fans and the city the most — is the most recent one. What if referees didn't rule linebacker Myles Jack down in the Jaguars' 24-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the 2017 AFC Championship?
With 13:53 left in the fourth quarter and Jacksonville leading New England 20-10, the Patriots pulled out a trick play to try to find a hole in the otherwise sturdy Jacksonville defense. Quarterback Tom Brady threw a pass to wide receiver Danny Amendola behind the line of scrimmage and Amendola then threw the ball to the other sideline to set up a screen for running back Dion Lewis.
Lewis caught the pass and had blockers in front of him. At first, it appeared as if he was about to pick up a major gain and shift momentum back toward the Patriots. That was until Jack stepped in, however.
Jack sprinted to the ball, tackled Lewis from behind and forced a fumble before recovering it himself. To say it was the biggest and most impressive play of Jack's career would be an understatement, but that is a play most linebackers simply would relish making.
Jack got up to run with the ball. With few Patriots in front of him and a legion of Jaguars ready to pave his way, he could have walked into the end zone and made the score 27-10. Even with arguably the best quarterback and head coach in NFL history on the other sideline, a 17-point deficit would have been hard to squander.
But instead, Jack was ruled down by officials and the whistle was prematurely blown as he began to run. The Jaguars got the turnover, but the potential game-changing touchdown was impossible to score due to the down ruling. And in that decision, the rallying cry of "Myles Jack wasn't down" was born.
Jacksonville then went three-and-out on the following offensive possession, and the Patriots scored on an eight-play, 85-yard touchdown drive when they got the ball back. Momentum went to New England and it never left again.
New England would score once more with a little over two minutes left, making the score 24-20 in the Patriots' favor. The Jaguars would lose in heartbreaking fashion, and the play in which Jack was ruled down has lived in the minds of the team's players, coaches, executives, and fans ever since.
Why is this the greatest "what if" in the history of a team with quite a number of unlucky scenarios over the years? Simply put, this was the closest the Jaguars have ever been to the Super Bowl. Jacksonville had appeared in AFC Championships before, but they were never as close to actually winning the Lamar Hunt Trophy as they were on that January day in New England.
The blown call also created a ripple effect that has completely reshaped Jacksonville's franchise. For one, what if the Jaguars advanced to the Super Bowl and met the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017? Could the team's elite defense show up vs. backup quarterback and Nick Foles or would they fold like New England did in the 41-33 Eagles victory?
While Jacksonville's defense was far from perfect in 2017, especially considering they failed to stop New England on multiple occasions in January, there is still reason to believe they would have fared better vs. Foles than the Patriots would have.
That year, Jacksonville's defense led the league in forced fumbles (17), completion percentage (56.8), passing yards allowed per game (169.9), passer rating (68.5) and defensive touchdowns (7). They also finished second in sacks (55), interceptions (21), total takeaways (33), yards allowed per game (286.1) and points allowed per game (16.8). Meanwhile, the Patriots' defense ranked near the bottom of the league in a number of categories such as total yards allowed, average yards per play allowed, passing yards allowed and more.
This then begs the question: if the Jaguars beat the Eagles in Super Bowl LII, would they have ever signed Nick Foles two years later? Chances are, no. Jacksonville likely would have stuck by Blake Bortles a bit longer, while Foles would have been a far less enticing free agent if he didn't have his Super Bowl victory.
And if the Jaguars won the Super Bowl that season, would the roster have ever disintegrated in the immediately following years? Some players like Malik Jackson, Aaron Colvin and Dante Fowler would not have stayed regardless, but could players like Jalen Ramsey or Yannick Ngaoue have different relationships with the team?
The sobering truth for many is the fact that none of these questions could be answered. Perhaps Jacksonville could have scored on that fateful play vs. New England but still lose to the Eagles. Perhaps New England could have still stormed back, however unlikely the scenario may seem.
But this doesn't change the fact that for the foreseeable future, the greatest "what if" in team history is Jack's pivotal fourth quarter play. In that one play, the destiny of the franchise was forever changed and the impacts have continued to be felt years later.