Jags ‘threw a tantrum’ when Marrone started making changes

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Jacksonville’s locker room was abuzz late last season. Four guys played table tennis while others crowded around a small table for dominoes. Two 80-inch televisions were tuned to a sports highlight show, and music blared from one corner of the room.

Doug Marrone, the team’s offensive line coach at the time, walked through and shook his head.

“Can you believe this?” Marrone whispered.

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The Jaguars were in the middle of a nine-game losing streak that would ultimately cost coach Gus Bradley his job. Marrone had watched from afar for two years, witnessing an atmosphere he felt was too loose, too laid-back and too lenient amid losing.

So when Marrone was hired to replace Bradley last January, high on his to-do list was to change the culture in Jacksonville. His success is one reason the Jaguars (12-6) are in the AFC championship game against New England (14-3).

The ping pong table was the first to go. Dominoes followed. The locker room stalls were overhauled, too, with Marrone mixing and matching position groups and putting certain players next to veteran leaders and/or NFL role models.

“We definitely threw a tantrum,” Pro Bowl defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. “Went in there and talked to him about it. Definitely wasn’t happy. I learned just to be quiet, you know, and go with the flow. He’s been at it longer than I have, and I’m just the football player. He says do this and I go do it. Just learn to follow him, and I’m glad I did.”

Marrone saved the most significant changes for the practice fields.

Marrone, top executive Tom Coughlin and general manager Dave Caldwell wanted a much tougher and more physical team. They drafted bruising running back Leonard Fournette and fiery left tackle Cam Robinson to complement a defense that was significantly beefed up in free agency with the addition of All-Pro pass-rusher Calais Campbell, Pro Bowl cornerback A.J. Bouye and veteran safety Barry Church.

They also designed an offseason program that was more grueling than most players had experienced. Marrone’s message was clear: Go hard or go home.

“You remember guys in camp talking about this took a few years off their lives,” Jackson said. “It’s pretty funny just to see us now. I guess he does know what he’s doing.”

The Jaguars were in full pads nearly every day during training camp, a tortuous stretch in draining heat and humidity that left rookies and veterans questioning the process and wondering if it would pay off. It was the NFL’s version of boot camp. Break them down, then build them up.

It ultimately brought players closer, making them accountable to each other and causing them to care more for each other. Winning was the final piece, and thumping Houston 29-7 in the season opener was all the proof players needed.

“It was the toughest training camp I’ve ever been a part of,” said linebacker Paul Posluszny, in his 11th season. “Coach Marrone would talk to us and say, `Listen, I have a plan and you have to trust me.’ With that, guys were able to say, `OK, we haven’t gotten what we wanted in years past doing things a certain way, so we have to buy in, trust the head man and know that that’ll bring us success when it’s time.’

“It was difficult just because of so many changes from what we were used to. I think the most important thing is we always said, `Well, if it helps us win, then it’s all good.'”

Jacksonville had lost 63 of 80 games over the previous five seasons – the worst record in the NFL during that span – and had been through two coaching changes.

Coughlin’s return was a key part of the team’s revival, and although the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach with the New York Giants gets much of the outside credit for the team’s turnaround, the reality is Marrone was the one pushing all the right buttons.

Marrone has been other places where players resisted, prompting personnel moves that would slow progress. That wasn’t the case in Jacksonville, and he credited his players for being open to change.

“They gave our staff the opportunity to say, `This is what we want to do. This is what we believe in as coaches or as an organization. This is how we want to handle ourselves,”‘ Marrone said. “We are still working toward that. It is not perfect by any means.”

It’s clearly working, though. The Jaguars are in the title game for the third time in franchise history, one victory away from their first Super Bowl appearance.

“They say (stuff) rolls downhill,” Jackson said. “Well, the good stuff rolls downhill, too. … It’s all worth it when you win.”

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Titans beat Jaguars 15-10, end playoff drought with AFC spot

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Marcus Mariota threw a touchdown and used his legs to help the Tennessee Titans end an eight-season playoff drought by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 15-10 Sunday to clinch an AFC wild-card berth.

The Titans (9-7) snapped a three-game skid in a game they needed to win or get some help with losses elsewhere to advance. They also posted their first back-to-back winning seasons since 2007 and 2008.

Mariota ran a season-high 10 times for 60 yards, the biggest a 13-yard scramble on third-and-5 at the 2:00 mark . Mariota also threw for 134 yards.

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Derrick Henry took a screen pass from Mariota 66 yards for a TD in the second quarter, and Ryan Succop kicked three field goals.

The Titans also sacked Blake Bortles twice and forced four turnovers, two interceptions by Kevin Byard.

The Jaguars (10-6) clinched their first AFC South title a week ago when Tennessee lost to San Francisco. Coach Doug Marrone promised they came to win. Only left tackle Cam Robinson and wide receiver Marqise Lee were scratched – both were on the injury report this week.

Yet they head into the postseason having lost two straight.

The Jaguars had a chance to win after Mariota lost his first fumble this season in the fourth quarter. Henry collided with Mariota on a handoff, popping the ball in the air. Yannick Ngakoue picked it up and ran 67 yards for a TD, pulling the Jaguars within 15-10 with 10:48 left.

But Byard got his second pick with 10 seconds remaining to seal the win.

The Titans led 6-3 when they forced two turnovers 42 seconds apart just before halftime.

Jaguars returner Jaydon Mickens signaled for a fair catch only to try blocking Taywan Taylor of the Titans as the ball arrived, and Phillip Supernaw recovered the bobble for Tennessee. On the next drive, Titans rookie cornerback Adoree Jackson punched the ball loose from Keelan Cole and Jayon Brown recovered. Succop capped each drive with a field goal, his second a 39-yarder as time expired for a 12-3 halftime lead.

HENRY’S CHANCE

The 2015 Heisman Trophy winner got his fourth career start and first this year with DeMarco Murray scratched with an injured right knee. Henry struggled in the first quarter and was tackled for too many losses. But Henry gave the Titans’ their lone TD when he took a screen on the second play of the second quarter for a 6-0 lead.

It was Henry’s first TD catch of his career. It was his third TD of 60 yards or longer this year, second in the NFL to Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill who has five.

INJURIES

Jaguars safety Barry Church hurt a hamstring, but he returned.

Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan left for a play when officials stopped action in the fourth quarter for an injury. He also returned and finished the game.

UP NEXT

Jaguars: Host AFC wild-card game for their first playoff game in Jacksonville since the AFC championship game in January 2000.

Titans: Hitting road for first playoff game since January 2009.

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Garoppolo leads surging 49ers past Jaguars 44-33

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Jimmy Garoppolo threw two touchdown passes and ran for a third score against one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses and the San Francisco 49ers won their fourth straight behind their new quarterback, beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 44-33 on Sunday.

The day wasn’t a total loss for the Jaguars (10-5), who clinched their first division title since 1999 earlier in the afternoon when Tennessee lost at home to the Rams. But the defeat dealt a big blow to Jacksonville’s hopes for a first-round bye. The Jaguars need to win next week and hope Pittsburgh loses twice to get a bye.

The 49ers (5-10) saw their playoff hopes die a long time ago during an 0-9 start but the mood and play around the team changed dramatically after Garoppolo was inserted into the starting lineup earlier this month following a midseason trade from New England.

He has led San Francisco to four straight wins but this one might have been the most impressive, considering the quality of Jacksonville’s defense. The Jaguars came into the game having allowed the fewest points and yards passing in the league, while recording the most sacks.

Garoppolo carved Jacksonville up, completing 21 for 30 passes for 242 yards with TD throws to George Kittle and Trent Taylor as San Francisco pulled away in the second half. Garoppolo improved to 6-0 in his career as a starter.

Blake Bortles threw three interceptions for the Jaguars, including one returned for a touchdown by Dontae Johnson in the first half, after going three straight weeks without one in the best stretch of his career . Bortles threw for 382 yards and two touchdowns but it wasn’t enough for the Jaguars.

FAST START

Garoppolo got San Francisco off to a fast start by completing five of six passes for 75 yards on the opening drive that was capped by his 1-yard TD sneak . That marked the first time the Niners scored a touchdown on their opening drive since Dec. 11, 2016, against the Jets and the first time Jacksonville allowed one this year.

BAD TEMPERS

San Francisco scored on its first two drives, leaving the Jaguars frustrated on the sideline. Defensive lineman Malik Jackson and cornerback Aaron Colvin got into a heated argument near the bench that eventually was broken up by teammates. Jacksonville then committed two personal fouls by Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue on a TD drive in the second half. Jackson then committed a personal foul with 1:43 remaining to give the Niners a first down.

MOMENTUM CHANGER

The 49ers appeared in control when Dontae Johnson returned a deflected interception 50 yards for a TD to put San Francisco up 16-0. But the Jaguars blocked the extra point attempt and Colvin returned it for two points. Bortles then led two straight touchdown drives to close the half, while Garoppolo was intercepted in the end zone by Barry Church after getting hit on the pass to leave the game tied at 16 at the half.

INJURIES

Jaguars left tackle Cam Robinson (abdominal strain) and linebacker Blair Brown (concussion) left the game in the first half and didn’t return.

UP NEXT

Jaguars: Visit Tennessee on Sunday.

49ers: Visit Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.

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