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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — There was a gorgeous performance by the NFL‘s best defense. And another fourth quarter of splendor by Russell Wilson. And the Jaguars‘ emergence as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. But it was all marred Sunday by one of the most disgraceful endings to an NFL game this season.
The Seahawks aren’t used to getting punched in the mouth. The Jaguars did so repeatedly to them in their 30-24 win at EverBank Field. It was one of the first times in recent memory the Seahawks have been physically manhandled like that. And they didn’t like it. Chaos ensued, culminating in a genuinely scary moment as defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson was walking off the field after being ejected.
Jefferson was heading to the Seattle locker room when fans began jawing at him. One threw a cup of beer at him. Whoever it was should never be allowed into an NFL stadium again. Buying a ticket doesn’t give fans the right to do things that would get them arrested or say things that would get their asses kicked outside the stadium.
Jefferson was also dumb. He approached a group of Jaguars fans, and an argument ensued. No one—not security or anyone else—intervened soon enough. Things got more heated, to the point that Jefferson attempted to climb into the stands. Security and other officials pulled him into the locker room.
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“He kinda lost it,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said afterward.
“I’m not going to let someone disrespect me like that,” Jefferson said of the fan.
As Jefferson sat speaking at his locker, teammate Michael Bennett told the media Jefferson no longer wanted to talk to reporters.
“He’s not an animal,” Bennett said. “No one should be throwing anything at him.”
Bennett is right. It’s also true no player should ever climb into the stands.
This was almost the Brawl at Duval. It nearly became the NFL’s version of the Malice at the Palace, when the Pistons and Pacers infamously got into an epic fight that spilled into the stands in 2004. That incident changed the NBA forever.
We were seconds away from that happening in Jacksonville.
It was a continuation of the ugliness that began in the final two snaps of the game. The Jaguars were in victory formation when Bennett rolled into the legs of Jacksonville’s offensive line. Running back Leonard Fournette then went after Bennett, and both were penalized. Defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson threw a punch, which earned him an ejection, and Jefferson was ejected on the next snap. Carroll was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after he ran onto the field.
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The Seahawks tried to intimidate the Jaguars, but the Jaguars would have none of it.
“They try to bully and intimidate everyone,” Fournette said. “We’re not a team that gets intimidated. We fight back.”
The back-and-forth continued after the game, when safety Earl Thomas said the Seahawks lost to a “subpar quarterback.”
By that point, the game itself was the last thing on anyone’s mind. But what Thomas said brought it back.
The main takeaway is that this Jaguars team can win this type of game. And this defense, specifically, is 100 percent legitimate. It has flaws, but it’s still the NFL’s best.
Blake Bortles doesn’t matter. He can stink. Or not. Whatevs.
The Jaguars’ receivers don’t matter. The offensive line. The running game. None of it matters.
All that matters is this Jacksonville defense. This nasty, physical, bloody-nose giving, in-your-face defense. It’s the defense that has cornerback A.J. Bouye, who picked off the normally clinical Russell Wilson twice. It’s the defense that forced Wilson to have a 36.8 passer rating in the first half.
This Jaguars defense is far from flawless. It confused and frustrated Wilson for three quarters and then gave up two huge touchdowns for 61 and 74 yards. Wilson is the NFL’s best fourth-quarter player, and it showed even against this Jacksonville defense.
But as Wilson heated up, the Jaguars still did enough to shut him down when it counted.
If Bortles plays as well as he did against the Seahawks, the Jaguars will be difficult to stop. But even if he doesn’t, this defense can win without him.
At times,, the Jaguars look like the 2000 Ravens. That was perhaps the most one-sided Super Bowl team of all time. That team had Trent Dilfer, who was the quarterback equivalent of non-spicy mustard on a bologna sandwich. Dilfer was almost totally irrelevant, and though Baltimore had an impressive running game, the defense was all that really mattered.
The Jaguars aren’t as good on defense (only the 1985 Bears were better than those Ravens), but they are shockingly good.
What’s so good about this defense?
The Jaguars do something that we don’t see much of in today’s NFL. It’s unusual. It’s gorgeous. It’s striking. It’s almost unrecognizable.
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This is not a simple feat in football now, where the rules are tilted toward the offense like an elephant and an ant on a seesaw. With the exception of several plays—namely, a few glaring blown coverages—when a Seattle receiver made a catch Sunday, he was tackled. Immediately.
It’s difficult to appreciate this when watching the Jaguars on television. The ability to cover tightly and tackle assuredly—not the sacks—is what makes the Jaguars defense almost impossible to beat.
The win over Seattle validates this Jaguars team. Not that they care how people see them.
“We really don’t care what people or anyone thinks of us,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “We just keep playing hard and keep fighting. We don’t need anyone’s approval.”
When asked what message this win sent to the rest of the NFL, defensive tackle Abry Jones said: “When you come see us, you’ve got to play.”
Beating the Seahawks is a statement game. It’s the biggest win for this franchise and city in years.
Even if, at the end—for a moment—it was a scary one.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.