The New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars hosted joint practices together during the 2017 preseason as a sign of respect between head coaches Bill Belichick and Doug Marrone. For the Patriots, it was an opportunity to practice against a diverse group of players and skill sets. For the Jaguars, it was a measuring stick to see how far they had to go before they could compete with the Super Bowl champions.
“I think it gives us a good feel for where we are,” Marrone told reporters back in August. “There are so many positives to coming and working with another team. I thought we got a great day done today. When you practice like this, obviously, against a great football team, it’s going to make our team better. That was the goal in coming up here.”
“I think we look at the history - everyone understands where they [the Patriots] are, what they’ve done, and like I said before, we have a great deal of respect for their coaches and players,” Marrone added via NBC Sports. “It’s a fact. I don’t think you have to talk it up. Everyone knows.”
The Jaguars were coming off one of the worst stretches in recent NFL history, failing to record more than five wins from 2011-16 and going 3-13 in 2016, so few expected that preseason week to represent a preview of the AFC Championship Game. But here we are, with Jacksonville deservedly considered one of the top two teams in the conference.
And back in August, the Jaguars players definitely recognized and appreciated the opportunity to see how far they had to go to compete for a championship.
“It’s a great opportunity to practice against the defending world champs and see where we’re at,” Jaguars LB Paul Posluszny said after a practice. “It’s a great opportunity for us to play against the best quarterback in the world, and to compete against guys that we know compete at a high level at all times.”
“I just told them [my teammates] when we’re not on the field, watch how their [the Patriots] defense practices, watch what they do, watch how they run to the ball and everything with their technique,” Jaguars CB A.J. Bouye told the Boston Globe.
All of that watching and learning paid off, likely with an assist from VP of football operations Tom Coughlin, as the Jaguars grinding offseason led them to their first winning record since 2007 (the Jaguars were eliminated in that postseason by the Patriots).
Leading up to the AFC Championship Game, Marrone noted that he took a lot of lessons away from those joint practices in August, including how much harder his players needed to practice.
“[Hard practices were] what I was really focused on when we started out when we were practicing in the beginning,” Marrone said, “and then obviously when we came up there to New England.”
“I viewed that [joint practices] as we really had a lot of work ahead of us,” he added. “I think that’s the one thing that I learned from practicing up there for those three days of how much stuff that we were behind on and how much ground we needed to make up in a short period of time because we were just trying to, obviously we were all new.
“I just felt like they were much further ahead than we were and I think it was good for me to point out to our players how much further we had to go, how long we had to go and how much work we had to put in. I think that’s what I had gotten out of those three days.”
Whatever the Jaguars for practice for the rest of the year certainly did pay off as they finished 10-6 in the regular season and won their first two playoff games. Jacksonville joined the Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, the #1 seeds in their respective conferences, as the only teams in the NFL to finish in the top five for both points scored and points allowed, and tied with the Los Angeles Rams for third in point differential.
Jacksonville worked extremely hard to become one of the best teams in the NFL- and they might have had a different season if they didn’t measure themselves against the Patriots that week in August.