Perhaps it hit Ravens fans as they were watching the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, 45-42, at Heinz Field on Sunday in the AFC divisional round. Or perhaps they were too giddy about their archrival being knocked out of the postseason on their home field to even give it much though.
Either way, the Jaguars, who are preparing to play the top-seeded New England Patriots in Sunday’s AFC championship game, figure to conjure memories of the 2000 Ravens team that bullied its way to the organization’s first Super Bowl championship. From a highly scrutinized game-managing quarterback to a powerful and precocious rookie running back to a fast-playing and tough-talking defense, the teams certainly share a few prominent similarities.
It starts at quarterback, as the Ravens’ Trent Dilfer and the Jaguars’ Blake Bortles led a run-oriented attack and were tasked to minimize mistakes and play a ball-control game. Both quarterbacks endured plenty of criticism during the season and faced questions about whether they were good enough to lead a team on a deep playoff run.
The current Jaguars have a more productive offense and passing game than the 2000 Ravens did, but the various rules nowadays favor the offense and spur bigger numbers. During the regular season, the Jaguars ranked sixth in yards per game (365.9), 17th in passing yards per game (224.6) and fifth in points per game (26.1). The 2000 Ravens were 16th in yards per game (313.4), 22nd in passing yards per game (175.9) and 14th in points per game (20.8).
In both cases, their best offensive player was a first-year running back. Jamal Lewis, the fifth overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft, rushed for 1,364 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie while leading a ground attack that ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing yards per game (137.4). The Jaguars made Leonard Fournette the fourth overall draft pick and he delivered as a rookie this year, rushing for 1,040 yards and scoring 10 touchdowns while missing three games. Jacksonville led the league in rushing yards per game with an average of 141.4.
On defense, the 2000 Ravens were stingier, especially against the run. They ranked second in yards allowed per game (247.9), eighth against the pass (187.3), first against the run (60.6) and first in points allowed per game (10.3). They were also 22nd in sacks (35) and first in caused turnovers (49). By just about every measure, the Ravens had one of the best defenses in league history.
The Jaguars certainly can boast of having one of the top defenses this year, although they are susceptible to big plays. They finished the regular season second in yards allowed per game (286.1), first against the pass (169.9), 21st against the run (116.3) and second in points allowed per game (16.8). They also were second in the league in sacks (55) and forced turnovers (33).
Both defenses played a swarming, in-your-face style that was predicated on forcing turnovers. And like the Ravens’ unit that featured Ray Lewis, Tony Siragusa, Rod Woodson, Chris McAlister, Rob Burnett, Michael McCrary, Peter Boulware and several other standouts, the Jaguars are not afraid to tell everyone how good they think they are.
Star cornerbacks Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye, defensive tackle Malik Jackson, defensive ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue (Maryland) and middle linebacker Telvin Smith headline a brash and aggressive group. Ramsey has already predicted the Jaguars will win the Super Bowl
Of course, the Jaguars still have plenty of work to do. The 2000 Ravens won their final seven regular-season games and then blistered the playoff field, winning four games by a combined 95-23 margin. They allowed just one offensive touchdown in the entire postseason.
The Jaguars outlasted the Buffalo Bills, 10-3, in the first round before thwarting several Steelers’ comeback attempts Sunday. Now, the heavily favored Patriots loom.