By Adesina O. Koiki
If the saying is true that misery loves company, it’s only fitting that the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills will both end long playoff droughts on Sunday afternoon by sharing the same field.
Jacksonville, winners of the AFC South, not only will play in its first playoff game when it takes on the Bills, the Jaguars will contest the game at EverBank Field, the team’s first home playoff game since the end of the 1999 season, a span of 6,568 days by the time Sunday rolls around.
The 1999 season was also the last time the Bills played in any playoff game, and that particular game happened to be the contest that ended up going down in NFL history as the “Music City Miracle,” the last-second win by the Tennessee Titans on their way to the Super Bowl XXXIV.
Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone, who used to coach the Buffalo Bills for three seasons, knows the frustration that had built up with the fan bases of both franchises, and realizes that the patience of the fans was as important in helping the teams reach the postseason as any other factor.
“I look at it for our fans, and their loyalty and resiliency through difficult times,” Marrone said. “Not having been in the playoffs for 10 years and not having a home game since ’99, I’m excited for our team and I’m excited for our fans. They’ve been through quite a bit.”
Many of the Bills fans may not remember Marrone too fondly, as he was Buffalo’s head coach in 2013 and 2014. It seemed as if the New York City-born Marrone was leading the Bills to brighter days after his second season, guiding the Bills to a 9-7 record in 2014, but he opted out of his contract at the end of the campaign, with most reports suggesting he was about to take the vacant New York Jets job.
A number of Bills players expressed their frustrations publicly about Marrone leaving the team, and the negative press generated by that helped to cause the Jets to move in a different direction, eventually hiring Todd Bowles. Marrone, a hot coaching commodity before the nature of the Bills departure, ended up taking an assistant coach job with the Jaguars as the offensive line.
Knowing the focus of this game would naturally be about his time in – and exit from – the city of Buffalo, Marrone was quick to let the media know that the past is just that: the past.
“I’m going to shoot everyone straight: This stuff happened so long ago,” Marrone said. “There obviously has been a lot of stuff out there. That stuff is done. It’s over. I can’t put it any simpler than that. I’m not going to take away [from] my primary responsibility to look back on a situation that occurred three years ago. If I do that, I shouldn’t be the coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“Anytime you leave or go back, people make stuff bigger than what it is,” Marrone continued. My job is to coach this team. It’s plain and simple.”
As far as on the field, Marrone has a few concerns when he leads the Jaguars to the field on Sunday, most notably the slump of the team’s dominant run game. Jacksonville ended the season leading the league in rushing yards per game at 141.4, but only rushed for over 100 yards as a team twice in the last six games, a span in which the team went just 3-3.
“That’s who we are. There’s no doubt about it,” said Jaguars receiver Allen Hurns, who returned to the lineup in the season finale against Tennessee after missing six games with an ankle injury. “Yeah, there’s been some games where we’ve passed the ball pretty well, but our run game is who we are as the offense. Of course we want to be balanced, but in order to be balanced you’ve got to get the running game going, no matter what it is.
Sunday’s game might be the perfect tonic for running back Leonard Fournette and the rest of the Jaguars, as the Bills finished 29th out of 32 teams in the NFL in rushing defense. Buffalo’s decision to trade noted run-stuffing defensive tackle Marcell Dareus to Jacksonville on Oct. 27 surely played a part in the Bills’ decline on defense.
As porous as the team’s run defense is, the Bills finished second in the AFC, right behind Jacksonville, in rushing offense, as running back LeSean McCoy ran for 1,138 yards, third in the conference. McCoy is day-to-day after spraining his ankle last week in the win in Miami against the Dolphins.
Sunday’s game between the Jaguars and Bills kicks off at 1:05 PM EST and will be televised on CBS.