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Jaguars: From Laughingstock to Brink of Super Bowl

From laughingstock to the latest team to pose a threat to the Patriots, plenty has changed in the last calendar year for the Jaguars.

Truly, the timeframe is even shorter than that. No matter how much of a threat Jacksonville is in reality, credit is due to a franchise that didn’t seem worthy of even sharing the same practice field as the Patriots back in August.

Bill Belichick meant what he said when he heaped praise on Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone, who in his first full season with the Jaguars has taken them from 3-13 to – at least – the AFC Championship Game.

“I think that Coach Marrone and the program they have down there will be good for us to work against,” Belichick said in August during the joint practice sessions between the teams.

Marrone oversaw a turnaround that required reshaping a culture of losing a decade in the making. The Jaguars hadn’t qualified for the postseason since 2007 and had finished with a non-losing record just once (8-8 in 2010) in the meantime.

Speaking with New England reporters on a conference call this afternoon, Marrone recalled the lessons of the three-day session prior to the team’s preseason opener at Gillette Stadium on Aug. 10. His biggest takeaway, Marrone said, was just how much farther behind the Jaguars were as a team than the Patriots at that juncture.

“I viewed that as, we really had a lot of work ahead of us,” Marrone said. “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 obviously, we were all new. I just felt like they were much further ahead than we were. I think it was good for me to point out to our players how much further we had to go.”

Aiding Marrone in Jacksonville’s rise is Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin, who is back for a second tour of duty with Jacksonville following 12 years as head coach of the New York Giants. Patriots fans need no introduction to Coughlin, who led the Giants to titles in Super Bowls XLII and XLVI – both against New England.

Devin McCourty, who was a member of the 2011 Patriots team that lost to the Giants, praised Coughlin as a “great coach,” but also took note of his different role in Jacksonville and reminded everyone that it’s up to the players to decide what happens in the games.

“He’s obviously a great coach; he’s won a lot of games in coaching, and now in a different role, I’m sure he’s out there trying to plan and help those guys out as best as he can,” McCourty said of Coughlin’s impact. “But, at the end of the day, players are always going to be the ones that decide the games. So, it’s going to come down to preparation and who goes out there and plays the best Sunday.”

As head coach of the Jaguars from their inception in 1995 through the 2002 season, Coughlin didn’t have quite the same impact against the Patriots. He did coach Jacksonville to its lone win in franchise history against New England, in the 1998 AFC Wild-Card game with Scott Zolak under center for the Patriots.

New England is 10-1 all-time against the Jaguars – 7-0 with Tom Brady at quarterback. Jacksonville is the last team left in the AFC that’s yet to defeat Brady.

Some of his very finest moments have come against Jacksonville, including an NFL postseason record 92.9 percent completion percentage in the AFC Divisional Round after the 2007 season. Brady and the Patriots also disposed of the Jaguars in the 2005 Wild-Card round; Jacksonville is set to join the Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers as teams Brady and Belichick have faced three times or more in the postseason.

Mitchell Officially Done for Season

The clock to activate wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell from injured reserve has expired.

The 4 p.m. deadline this afternoon came and went without the Patriots activating Mitchell, meaning his season is over before it even really began.

Mitchell appeared in one preseason game in August and was placed on injured reserve on Sept. 7 with a knee injury that wound up costing him his entire second season in the NFL. Mitchell returned to practice before New England’s Week 17 game against the Jets, a sign that he was progressing.

Instead, he’ll have to wait until Week 1 of the 2018 season to resume a career that began with much promise. Mitchell caught 32 passes for 401 yards and four touchdowns in the 2016 regular season, and played particularly well in Super Bowl LI against the Falcons with six catches for 70 yards.

Philip Dorsett is the likely beneficiary of Mitchell’s continued absence; he was active last week over Kenny Britt as the No. 4 wide receiver on the depth chart, although he didn’t play a single snap.

Cornerback/special teamer Jonathan Jones, who suffered an ankle and foot injury in Saturday night’s 35-14 divisional round win over the Tennessee Titans, was also not seen at the media portion of today’s practice.

Right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who exited Saturday night’s game with a knee injury, was seen riding a stationary bike at the media portion of practice. He was officially listed as a limited participant on the team’s injury report.

“You’ll see Sunday,” Waddle said when asked if he was good to go for the AFC Championship Game.

Waddle started the Tennessee game over Cam Fleming, who had started the final five games of the regular season at right tackle for the Patriots. Regular starter Marcus Cannon is out for the season with an ankle injury.

Defensive tackle Alan Branch and running backs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead were also listed as limited participants at practice.

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