Bob Sparks - 3/59 - SaintPetersBlog

Bob Sparks

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

Larry Robinson a good choice for FAMU, Tallahassee

Florida A&M University is one of America’s most recognized Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). It is the only HBCU within Florida’s State University System.

Together with Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College, FAMU is a major presence in the Tallahassee community. Those of us who live here want a thriving FAMU that can make significant contributions to our culture, our history and, of course, our workforce.

While students, faculty, administration and alumni have a stake in a thriving university, so too do those who live and work here. Among those with no direct ties to the university, I am not alone in recognizing FAMU’s importance to the Big Bend region.

Florida A&M is again in need of another president. In the past, they have filled that role through promotions from within or from a national search following the service of an interim president.

Based upon recent history, the university does not need a national search. Someone who can do the job is already in it.

On three occasions FAMU has turned to Dr. Larry Robinson to bridge the gap between a departed president and that person’s successor. His current stint as interim president began with the ouster of the university’s first female president, Dr. Elmira Mangum, on September 15.

His first appointment came in 2007, but his most significant tenure followed the resignation of Dr. James Ammons in 2012 in the aftermath of the Robert Champion hazing tragedy.

Robinson’s interaction with the Board of Governors, his bosses, earned him high marks.

“Thank you for being so open in your affiliation with us,” said then-Chancellor Frank T. Brogan. “That has not always been the case. I know Florida A&M is going through a tough stretch. The only way you can address problems is to admit you’ve got them.”

Norman Tripp, a member of the Board of Governors, described Robinson’s resume as “astounding” at the time. Despite this, Robinson declared he was not a candidate for the appointment as full-term president. Mangum was selected following a nationwide search.

Robinson is in a different position in 2017. Last month he appeared before the Tallahassee Democrat editorial board. When asked if he was interested in the permanent position, Robinson responded with a declarative “who wouldn’t be?” He further added that he would be “honored” to serve.

He has the support of the presidents of the capital city’s other educational institutions. At a recent Martin Luther King Jr. tribute, Florida State University President John Thrasher threw his support behind Robinson.

“Larry Robinson is doing a superb job at Florida A&M University,” Thrasher told the crowd. “FAMU students deserve his leadership.”

TCC President Jim Murdaugh directed his comments to Robinson at the same event.

“I hope you get that job,” he said. “You certainly have my support. You have earned that job.”

Not everyone took the endorsements, especially from Thrasher, as a good thing.

In a column published in the HBCU Digest, Jarrett Carter Sr. wrote that Thrasher and Murdaugh’s support is “nothing good” for FAMU. He cites Thrasher’s role in advocating the splitting of the joint FSU/FAMU engineering program.

To be clear, the engineering issue divided members of the Legislature as well as supporters of both schools. However, it is difficult to see how Thrasher’s and Murdaugh’s support is a bad thing.

They not only represent their institutions, but also share with FAMU a leading role in the vibrancy of the capital community. It is in that sense, to use a legal term, that both have “standing” to do what they did.

This is the primary reason why this writer hopes that Robinson is selected. That and the memory of an opportunity I had to speak with him.

At a session-eve reception shortly before Mangum took over, Robinson was a humble, soft-spoken, advocate for his university. It did not take long to ascertain this was not only a brilliant man, but one who possessed the ability to connect with people.

Robinson is on a one-year contract as interim president. However, like sports coaches, contracts are torn up and extended when one does a good job.

Why not do the same for someone who has done so much for the university? Why not bring it up at the next board of trustees meeting?

Trustees cannot orchestrate this among themselves outside of public view, but there must be a growing sense they have their man in their midst.

Who will make the motion to make it happen?

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Florida schools’ in-state bowl wins will only help recruiting

We are less than three weeks from National Signing Day for college football. Florida’s power schools will, of course, do well, while South Florida is a finalist for the biggest remaining prize.

Florida, Florida State and Miami each posted impressive bowl game victories in their home state, something that can perhaps sway an undecided star player. Better yet, it can impress an in-state junior or sophomore enough to put your school on the list for a future signing day.

The Gators’ rout of Iowa in the Outback Bowl, Miami’s romp over No. 12 West Virginia in the Russell Athletic Bowl, and the Seminoles’ squeaker over Michigan in the Orange Bowl were huge for all three programs. It did not take the Hurricanes long to begin using their bowl trophy as a recruiting tool.

Before bowl season, all three were having good recruiting years. The 2017 Florida State recruiting class is ranked sixth by Rivals.com and seventh by ESPN.

Yes, Alabama has the top-rated class.

Florida is ranked 18th by both outlets, while Miami is 13th by ESPN and 14th by Rivals. None of the other Florida schools are ranked in the top 40, but Central Florida is rated 53rd by Rivals.

USF is a finalist along with FSU, Ohio State, Oklahoma and LSU for defensive tackle Marvin Wilson from Houston, Texas. He has already visited the first three, but will travel to LSU on Saturday and USF next Friday.

Statements from Wilson indicate LSU and FSU are currently his top two. Whomever Wilson selects, that school’s class ranking will rise accordingly.

Another top defensive tackle is Aubrey Solomon of Leesburg, Ga. He will visit Southern California on Friday, Auburn next Friday and Florida on January 27, only five days before he will make a decision.

The top remaining Floridian is defensive end Jarez Parks of Sebastian, Fla. He is visiting Florida on Friday and Auburn next Friday. His visit to Tallahassee came during the Florida State vs. Florida weekend.

There is plenty of competition for high school talent, but especially in Florida. The available talent is at the top of the charts.

National Champion Clemson always recruits Florida hard. Winning that championship in Tampa can only help their long-term prospects.

Former Gator Coach Will Muschamp is bringing a couple of Florida recruits to his new home at South Carolina. The Gamecocks have the 11th-best class.

For those that follow recruiting closely, this will be an interesting three weeks.

 

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Have we reached the point of ticket scalping for FSU basketball?

It is January, when the Florida State faithful like to talk about the impending National Signing Day for football or spring practice, which is nearly three months away. We have breaking news. People are actually talking about basketball in the state capital.

The FSU men’s basketball team has the attention of Seminole Nation. It took a top ten ranking (No. 9), a packed house and a spanking of seventh-ranked Duke, but the FSU bandwagon is now fully loaded.

Going into Tuesday night’s showdown with the Blue Devils, interest had piqued sufficiently to actually have students and fans eagerly anticipating a basketball game in January. The conversation among Seminoles’ sports fans may have gone something like “it’s great that 5-star running back Cam Akers committed to FSU, but I need two tickets to the Duke game on Tuesday.”

People go to movies, attend plays, and go to concerts because they like the entertainment. Basketball teams can find ways to win games, but do not necessarily look good doing it.

These guys are truly entertaining to watch. (So, too, is the FSU women’s team, also ranked in the top ten).

The best comparison of the FSU style is to the “40 minutes of hell” storm employed by then-Arkansas Razorbacks’ Coach Nolan Richardson. The constant pressure defense carried out by superb athletes led the Hogs to the 1994 NCAA Championship.

That is unquestionably how FSU opponents feel after each game. Just ask Duke.

Wave after wave of either quick or long (or both) athletes coming at you has an effect. Coach Leonard Hamilton uses 10, 11 or even 12 players during a game to facilitate the attacking style.

Opponents, meanwhile, may have only six or seven players they can count on. By the second half they begin to wear down while the Seminoles keep their foot on the accelerator.

The result is a 16-1 record, their best start ever. They would be 17-0, but let an 18-point lead slip away against Temple on November 24.

At that point of the season, Florida State was playing something like “10 minutes of heck.” Since buying into Hamilton’s pressure defense scheme, they have won 12 consecutive games, a school record.

Hamilton has recruited several quality players to Tallahassee during his tenure at FSU, but his teams have not been able to put everything together. They won the ACC Tournament in 2012, but were an early exit from the NCAA Tournament.

They have not returned since.

Hamilton had even more success on the recruiting trail over the past two years. Dwayne Bacon was a highly-regarded player out of Lakeland, who had a sterling freshman season last year and has improved upon that.

Jonathan Isaac from Naples was a top-15 national high school player, who has already demonstrated his talent this year. Trent Forrest and C.J. Walker are other freshmen adding depth. Sophomores Terrance Mann and PJ Savoy add quickness and a shooting touch, respectively.

Junior Xavier Rathan-Mayes is dynamite when he’s focused while graduate student Michael Ojo has improved enough to make solid contributions at center. Plus, Ojo is so big (7’1”, 305 lbs.) he seemingly blots out the opposing basket. One could literally list a dozen players that have made contributions to this team.

FSU is in the middle of a brutal stretch of games where they play six consecutive ranked teams. With the win over Duke, they are now 3-0 in those games.

A big test looms on Saturday when they face No. 11 North Carolina in Chapel Hill. They have already proven they can win in tough places with their 60-58 victory at eleventh-ranked Virginia. Hardly anyone wins there.

During FSU’s NCAA Tournament drought, Hamilton has heard several cries calling for his ouster. No one wants to fire Hamilton now.

After this six-game stretch concludes, the basketball world may know not only whether Florida State is a candidate for the tournament, but whether they are Final Four material. Or better?

Following the North Carolina game, No. 20 Notre Dame and No. 14 Louisville come to the Tucker Civic Center.

Barring significant injuries, they will be in the conversation. But as coaches like to preach (correctly), it’s one game at a time.

Two months ago, which would have been the most unlikely to occur? Donald J. Trump elected President or basketball ticket scalping at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center?

Tough call.

 

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Clemson, Alabama overshadow Jaguars personnel moves

The College Football Playoff Championship Game was a victim of bad scheduling. When news emerged that the Jacksonville Jaguars had hired Doug Marrone as their Head Coach and Tom Coughlin as Executive Vice-President of Football Operations, who cared about a silly college football game?

While Deshaun Watson and company were upsetting Alabama on Monday night, didn’t much of the nation miss part of it because they were glued to the NFL Network?

The answer is, of course, an emphatic NO.

This little exercise in sarcasm is designed to question the Jaguars’ timing, not the wisdom, of this all-important announcement for their fans and community.

Not that these are anything but quality hires. That will be determined later, but the rollout does cause a bit of head scratching.

Why would you make such an announcement on a day football fans are focused on the college championship? Yes, things were beginning to leak out, as they always do, but that does not mean the team had to comment unless they wished to do so.

“We cannot confirm those rumors,” is a line that always works, because it is always true.

The hiring of Marrone, Coughlin and the extension of team general manager David Caldwell represent the biggest moves the team will make until draft day. Jags.com described them as “eye-opening changes.” You bet they are.

On the other hand, by the time Hunter Renfrow caught the championship-winning pass for Clemson, how many were unaware – even in Jacksonville – about these eye-openers before closing their eyes to sleep early Tuesday morning?

By participating in the story on Monday, the Jaguars have allowed others to control the narrative until Thursday’s official introductory press conference. Owner Shad Khan said the right things, including the introduction of the three, but those things could have been said on a day where competition for news coverage was far less intense.

“I have confidence that one day soon, we’ll look back on today’s news as the moment that inspired and ultimately established the Jacksonville Jaguars as a football team that wins, week to week and season to season,” Khan said in his statement. “The results will speak for themselves in time, but with Tom coming in to join Dave and Doug, there is no question the Jacksonville Jaguars are a stronger football team today.”

These moves are not likely to be fully embraced by what is left of Jaguar Nation. All three, in some aspects represent the past and the present. Only winning will win them over.

Those buying the tickets wanted change. Make the Jaguars Great Again!

Or at least 10-6!

On Thursday, the Jaguars will be the center of attention in their community. It is then the questions will come about the circumstances behind Marrone’s departure as Head Coach of the Buffalo Bills, and will Marrone be intimidated by Coughlin hovering over him?

Hopefully the leadership team will be asked for their plan to make the Jags winners again.

Hopefully things will go well on Thursday. In the end, success will first be measured in season ticket sales before the team ever takes the field.

Confidence in the team’s direction will go a long way to putting people in seats at EverBank Field. The drive to make Khan’s statement come true begins now.

Correction; It began on Monday night.

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Rick Scott should call Richard Doran before appointing next AG

There seems little doubt that within the next few days Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi will add the word “former” in front of that title. The all-but-certain appointment to join the staff of President-elect Donald Trump will likely be leaked to the media, then, no doubt, made official via Twitter.

While we wait, there are administrative matters requiring attention. Among the most important for the Office of the Attorney General is to be prepared for the re-stoking of the Trump Foundation donation to Bondi’s re-election campaign.

The issue is bogus, but Bondi and her successor will again be answering those questions.

Speaking of her successor, the identity of that person has already drawn significant speculation within the political circles. Several names are tossed around, including Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz of Miami also appears on several lists.

Two factors go into appointing the next Attorney General. Competency and the ability to win the election in 2018, hopefully in that order, are paramount.

I have a suggestion for Governor Rick Scott as he contemplates his most important appointment. He should consult with Richard Doran.

While Doran’s name would not ring a bell with most around Florida, those within the circles of state government know him well. For what is about to happen, he is the only Floridian who has “been there and done that.”

While there are some differences in the circumstances, Doran, a Republican, was appointed Attorney General on November 5, 2002, by then-Gov. Jeb Bush when Bob Butterworth resigned to seek election to the state Senate.

Doran spent 19 years in the Attorney General’s office. In addition to leading the office for a brief time, he also knows what it takes for it to be successful from the other side.

As a shareholder in the prestigious Tallahassee law firm of Ausley McMullen, he is content doing what he is doing. But, he would be an invaluable adviser to the governor.

Doran believes the governor has a good process in place to make a good selection. He speaks of the current situation involving Bondi as “if” she joins Team Trump, not “when.”

“Because one of the roles of the governor is to evaluate attorneys for judgeships, Gov. Scott and his staff have had the opportunity to evaluate a number of very fine attorneys over the past several years,” Doran said. “To me, the process of selecting a new attorney general would be similar.”

Precious few of those attorneys would have the experience of the mission and inner workings of what amounts to one of Florida’s largest law firms. While others will advise Scott on issues of electability for 2018, Doran can offer his advice on running the ship.

While there are similarities between his situation and the one about to develop in Florida, he recognizes that his two-month stint as Attorney General is different from someone who will serve for two years.

“This would be uncharted territory for a Florida governor,” he said. “I would look for him to identify individuals of the highest integrity, commitment to public service, as well as an understanding and respect of the notion of separation of powers and an ability to run a large organization.”

That sounds like someone who is not thinking much about 2018. Which is exactly why the governor needs to talk to him.

Among the many possibilities out there, there will be a few who can both handle the legal responsibilities as well as possess the necessary political skills to be successful. Butterworth, with whom Doran served, and Charlie Crist, with whom I spent four years in the Attorney General’s office, are perfect examples.

Gov. Scott, you and the people of Florida would be well served by making that call.

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Steelers send Dolphins home for the winter

The Miami Dolphins’ stay in the NFL playoffs was brief, but at least they got there. On Sunday afternoon, the Pittsburgh Steelers had their way with Miami in a 30-12 rout at Heinz Field.

Despite the score and the fact Steelers’ running back Le’Veon Bell set a franchise playoff rushing record with 167 yards, Miami had their chances. Three costly turnovers and a devastating penalty proved fatal, however.

Early on, the Dolphins looked like they did not belong. If Bell wasn’t running crazy, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was playing pitch and catch with Antonio Brown for long (60 and 52 yards) touchdown passes.

It was 20-6 and looking to be a lot more. While Bell was piling up the yards, Dolphin running back Jay Ajayi was getting piled on. After running through the Steelers for more than 200 yards during a 30-15 Dolphin win in October, Ajayi managed on 33 yards on 16 carries on Sunday.

“Last time, we felt we didn’t play well,” Bell said. “Those guys got after us, they jumped on us early.”

Not on Sunday. Pittsburgh scored touchdowns on their first three possessions to put Miami on their heels.

“The defense played great today, stopping their run game, making it tough on (Ajayi) their side; he’s a great runner,” Bell said. “On the other side, we wanted to control the ball, score some touchdowns and we did our job today.”

They certainly did, but the door did open for Miami just a bit.

The Dolphins’ big chance came near the end of the first half and the start of the second. With Matt Moore hooking up with receivers Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker, the Dolphins reached the Steelers eight-yard-line in the final 30 seconds of the half.

With the Dolphins set to receive the second half kickoff, Coach Adam Gase believed his team could tie the game early in the third quarter. That plan was blown up by linebacker James Harrison.

As Moore dropped back in the final 30 seconds, Harrison, who was unblocked, got a clean shot at Moore, who fumbled and the Steelers recovered. On the first series of the second half, Moore was again sacked in Pittsburgh territory, he again fumbled, and the Steelers again recovered.

After a Steeler field goal, Moore was picked off on the first play of the next series. Miami held Pittsburgh to a field goal attempt, but Tony Lippett jumped offside, giving the Steelers a first down. Three plays later, Bell was in the end zone, making it 30-6.

These kinds of things can’t happen during the playoffs. You can get away with stuff like that against Cleveland or the 49ers.

Game over.

It’s not time for excuses, but it is fair to point out this is the Dolphins’ first playoff game since 2008. There is every reason to believe there will be more and they can become playoff veterans like so many of the Steelers are.

The trick is to get a playoff game at home. That will mean beating the New England Patriots to win the AFC East.

Tom Brady won’t be there forever. Even if he is around another two or three seasons, Gase is building a solid foundation in south Florida.

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Former Lightning Coach John Tortorella poised to make history

Tampa Bay Lightning fans will remember John Tortorella. In 2004, he coached the Lightning to their one and only Stanley Cup, defeating the Calgary Flames, four games to three.

Trailing three games to two, Tampa Bay won Game 6 on the road and Game 7 at what was then the St. Pete Times Forum. Calling the games for ABC was Sarasota resident Gary Thorne, Bill Clement and John Davidson.

Davidson and Tortorella would join forces in Columbus, Ohio a decade later to form a partnership that would change both of their lives. On Thursday night, Tortorella and the Columbus Blue Jackets will try to do something only one other team in history has accomplished: 17 straight wins.

A lot has happened to Tortorella between the historic night of June 7, 2004 when the Stanley Cup was hoisted over the head of the coach and his jubilant players, and today. He won the Jack Adams Award as National Hockey League Coach of the Year in 2004 and is favored to win it this year, but it has been a long road for him.

His tenure in Tampa Bay was winding down when he told a New York Post reporter to “get the **** out of here” in 2007. One year later he was fired and moved on to the New York Rangers.

During his five years in Gotham, the Rangers were respectable, but made it to the conference finals only one time. Unfortunately, he is best remembered for an incident in Washington where he tossed a water bottle and brandished a hockey stick to a taunting Capitals’ fan.

After he was fired in New York, Tortorella spent one disastrous season in Vancouver, where the Canucks missed the playoffs in 2014, their first absence in seven seasons.  Tortorella again made the wrong kind of news when he tried to get into the Calgary Flames’ locker room between periods of a game. The brawl that ensued led to a 15-day suspension.

By 2012, John Davidson was President of Hockey Operations for the Blue Jackets. After firing Todd Richards just seven games (all losses) into the 2015-16 season, Davidson hired Tortorella. The Jackets showed some promise, but did not make the playoffs.

Tortorella was tapped to coach Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey event last fall. True to his nature, he made news, but what he did earned the support of many Americans who were aware of it.

He said if any of his players sat during the national anthem, they would be “benched.” That turned out to be the least of his worries as Team USA failed to win a game.

This year’s Blue Jackets team got off to a respectable 11-5-4 start. On November 29, the Lightning came to Columbus and left with a 5-1 defeat. That was the first in a string of 16 consecutive wins for the Blue Jackets.

On Thursday, Tortorella and Columbus will try to match the consecutive wins record held by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins. That team was led by Mario Lemieux and coached by the legendary Scotty Bowman.

While Tortorella has eight fewer Stanley Cups than Bowman, a win on Thursday would have him standing next to hockey royalty for good reason. No one, other than Tortorella, Davidson and a few others saw this team come together this fast.

He has instilled a strong work ethic in a team devoid of superstars. He likes to call them a “group of focused businessmen.”

“They’ve accepted the thought of coming to work every day and worrying about that day, worrying about that game and not worrying about what happened, what’s ahead of us,” he told local media. “That’s where we are right now. We’re becoming pretty good pros.”

If the streak continues for another week, the Lightning would have the chance to be the ones to start and end it. The Blue Jackets visit Amalie Arena on Friday the 13th.

Thirteen years after winning a Stanley Cup, it appears John Tortorella has come full circle.

 

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Did participants in epic Rose Bowl deserve spot in CFP?

Sometimes adjectives are often overused when describing sporting events. Epic; classic; legendary; incredible.

All of those and more describe to the 2017 Rose Bowl. The words seem insufficient to define Monday’s back-and-forth between Penn State and Southern California, which the Trojans won 52-49 on Matt Boermeester’s 46-yard field goal as time expired.

Are there better words to paint a picture of a game that featured Penn State coming from 13 points down to take a 15-point lead early in the second half? How about USC roaring back from that deficit to score 17 unanswered fourth quarter points to steal the win?

It would take thousands of words to describe all of the twists, turns, scrambles and runs. The game was that good.

The quality of play between two top caliber teams no doubt caused some to wonder if either of these teams belonged in the College Football Playoffs. I am one of those and must and must answer in the affirmative.

Both teams defeated their conference’s representative in the playoffs. Penn State gave Ohio State their only regular season loss, 24-21 in State College on October 23.

USC went to Seattle and gave Washington their only regular season loss, 26-13 on November 13.

The Nittany Lions had a better case than the Trojans. By beating Ohio State, they prevented the Buckeyes from even competing in the Big 10 Championship Game, which Penn State won over Wisconsin. Penn State finished 11-2, while Ohio State was 11-1.

Despite beating Washington, the Trojans did not qualify for the Pac 12 Championship Game. They were 9-3 on the season, including a 52-6 beating from Alabama. After a switch to Sam Darnold at quarterback, USC won their last nine games.

For all of the criticism of the Bowl Championship Series (BCS), this year proves that the process of determining a college football champion is still a work in progress. The noise level and Twitter commentary would have been reduced had Ohio State not looked as bad as they did against Clemson on Saturday. 31-0?

Give Clemson credit for most of that, but a strong case can be made that on the day the four playoff contenders were announced, Penn State was a better football team than the Buckeyes. Plus, they defeated Ohio State head-to-head. Plus, they were the champions of their conference.

Again, USC could not make the case for inclusion that Penn State could, but it is fair to say that on the day the CFP four were chosen, they were the best football team in the Pac 12.

Didn’t we get rid of the BCS and the system before that because polls and computers were deciding who would have the chance to win the title? Well, in the case of these two teams, Penn State lost out because of polls and computers.

Sure, Penn State lost on Monday, but they lost to a team with which they were evenly matched. They may have fared no better than Ohio State did against Clemson. However, I believe they would have given the Tigers a much better game.

Hopefully, the NCAA will tweak the system and mandate the four representatives in the College Football Playoffs must be, at minimum, conference champions. That is why little controversy surrounded Pac-12 Champion Washington.

In the end, Alabama and Clemson, clearly the two best teams in the country, will be in Tampa next Monday for the championship game.

We can only hope that game is half as good as the Rose Bowl featuring two championship level teams.

 

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Jags drop season finale to Colts; coaching search to begin in earnest

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ 2016 season came to an end Sunday in heartbreaking fashion. After Jason Myers kicked a go-ahead 41-yard field goal with 1:33 to play, Andrew Luck drove the Indianapolis Colts the length of the field to take a 24-20 win at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

It was certainly a different way to lose. Jacksonville led 17-0 at one point, but could not close the deal. It was the second time this season the Jaguars had a 17-point lead on Indianapolis. The other occasion came in early October when the Jags were able to hang on for a 23-20 win in London on October 3.

The game brought back memories of the December 19 game in Houston, when the Jags held a two-score lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Texans scored late to win the game, 21-20, after which Head Coach Gus Bradley was fired.

It is always difficult (exhausting when talking about the Jaguars) to find the upside after a painful loss, but there is actually is one: the play of quarterback Blake Bortles.

Since Bradley was dismissed two games ago, Bortles has looked like the quarterback the Jaguars management and fan base hoped to see. On Sunday, he was 25 for 39 passing for 301 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

Over the last two games under interim coach Doug Marrone, Bortles has completed two-thirds of his passes for 626 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. That is no coincidence.

There can be little argument that Bortles regressed this season, but his recent play shows there is still a strong upside.

Corey Grant was given the nod at running back on Sunday and he responded with 122 yards rushing. He had the play of the day with a 57-yard scoring run. Jacksonville, who struggled all year on the ground, rushed for 182 yards on Sunday.

With all of that in mind, this was still a devastating loss. Jacksonville finished the season with a 3-13 record, the six straight year of double-digit losses.

“I told the players at halftime, you are either going to be the hunter or the hunted,” said Marrone. “You’ve got to learn to hunt, you really do. We had an opportunity at the end of the half to go up by three scores and we didn’t do that. We didn’t answer in the third quarter when they got themselves back in it.”

As Marrone closed his second and final post-game interview as head coach, attention will now shift to the search for a new head coach. It could be a familiar name or one not on many people’s radar.

The Jaguars need another version of Adam Gase. One year ago, the Miami Dolphins hired the Offensive Coordinator of the Chicago Bears to take over in south Florida. He got the Dolphins into the playoffs in his first season.

Other coaches will be fired this week and some of those will likely be interviewed for the job. Former Jags’ and New York Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin has already had one interview.

The rumors will begin in earnest starting Tuesday morning.

 

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Dolphins fall to Patriots; prepare for playoffs

The New England Patriots will not be traveling for the 2017 NFL playoffs. Thanks to their 35-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, the Patriots will host any playoff game in which they are involved.

Future Hall of Famer Tom Brady showed why he earned that moniker. He completed 25 of 33 passes to seven different receivers for 276 yards and three touchdowns.

Despite the fact New England had the Eastern Division of the AFC wrapped up, the Patriots still needed the victory to guarantee home field advantage. They treated it like a playoff game.

Another incentive was the fact New England had lost their last three visits to Miami. Brady made sure that would not happen again.

“This has always been a challenging place for us, for one reason or another,” he said. “But we just found a way to be a good football team.”

The final score does not accurately reveal that Miami was in the game until late in the fourth quarter. After falling behind 20-0, Miami came back on two touchdown passes to from Matt Moore to Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry.

Even after Brady hooked up with Julian Edelman for a rally-killing 77-yard catch and run touchdown, Miami again came back. With the Dolphins in the red zone attempting to get back within one score, Damien Williams was stripped after a catch at the 13 yard-line.

After a 69-yard return by Shea McClellin set up the Patriots, LeGarrette Blount put the game out of reach with a one-yard plunge. The entire sequence of events perfectly describes the Patriots.

As the GEICO commercial says, “that’s what they do.” The victory gave the Patriots a perfect 8-0 record on the road this season.

There is a bright side for the Dolphins. They took on a New England team that was not holding anything back and stayed with them for the most part.

Moore shows that he can make plays against a championship team as he fills in for Ryan Tannehill. He threw for 205 yards and two touchdowns.

This game was a good indicator that Miami has an opportunity to perform well in the playoffs. While the Pittsburgh Steelers, next week’s first-round opponent, is a battle-tested team, they are not the Patriots.

Depending on weather conditions in Pittsburgh, Moore should be able to make some throws and Jay Ajayi will have opportunities to run. The Steelers are a fitting opponent. Miami began their incredible season-ending streak of nine wins in their last 11 games with a 30-15 thrashing of Pittsburgh on October 17 in Miami.

The Dolphins (10-6) will be looking for their first playoff victory since December 30, 2000 when they beat the Indianapolis Colts.

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