Myles Jack, ruled down in his biggest moment so far, will be Jaguars' next breakout star
Jack didn't catch a break in the AFC title game, but the linebacker is a rising force on a defense full of talent
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There are craft-brewed beers named for it. An ice cream flavor, too. All over this city, the phrase has taken on a life of its own, getting printed on T-shirts, talked about in bars and something the wild, young Jacksonville Jaguars fan base won't let go.
The phrase: Myles Jack Wasn't Down.
That refers to a play from the Jaguars' loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game last January. Leading 20-10 with a 13:53 left in the game, Jack, the Jaguars' middle linebacker, made a sensational play to punch the ball free from Dion Lewis on a double pass, running clear across the field to do so.
Jack also recovered the fumble, got up, and was seemingly on his way to a touchdown with all 11 Patriots out of the way. But the play was whistled dead and the Jaguars had to settle just for possession.
"If Brady could have come back from that against us, it would have been truly special," Jack said.
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You can watch that play 1,000 times and not be sure if Jack was down, but it sure looks like he was not. The whistle should not have blown, and who knows what happens if Jack scores?
Do the Jaguars go on to beat the Philadelphia Eagles, who beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl? Does Brady consider walking away? Does the talk of the Patriots dynasty being dead heat up?
As it is, Jack and his teammates and the fans are left to continue to scream that he wasn't down.
"I definitely wasn't down," Jack said. "I made an acrobatic play and they just blew the whistle. Somewhere in an alternate reality I wasn't down, ran it back, and we won."
Jack said he's embraced the phrase and especially how the fans have taken to it.
"It's a movement," Jack said. "It's really cool. There are a lot of celebrities on this team, guys like Jalen (Ramsey) and Leonard (Fournette), so it's good for me, being a West Coast guy, to make a little noise and get the fans behind me. It's cool."
Jack should get used to the attention. He is a player on the verge of stardom. On a defense loaded with talent, Jack, entering his third season, appears ready to take a major step forward. In 2017, he played middle linebacker for the first time and had some growing pains.
As the Mike on passing downs – which is the majority of the snaps – he was required to make the calls. For a second-year player who had to know both the strong-side spot and the middle, it was a bit overwhelming at times.
"You are playing and getting tired and making the calls and I wasn't really focusing on myself," Jack said. "I had to tell the guys the calls, then break the huddle and tell them again. I had some growing pains early in the season. But I got more comfortable as the season went along."
"I could tell as the season progressed he got a lot more comfortable," Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell said. "When you're not used to it, it's tough. But he is such a smart guy, it became more natural for him. It's like second nature now."
It showed in the playoffs. Jack played his best football, becoming the play-making linebacker the team expected to see when it picked him in the second round of the NFL Draft in 2016. The speed he showed at UCLA was on display in all three Jaguars playoff games.
"I made a decision once we got into the playoffs that I was going to take more chances," Jack said. "I was going to try and get some turnovers and try and hear my name called on the big stage. I told myself before the Bills game that I was going to show why they drafted me. It gave me confidence going into this season. Now let's do it every game."
Said Campbell: "Myles Jack was the best linebacker in the league the last couple of games. I told him we need that every week. I want that same guy in Week 1 and throughout the whole season. He is the guy who can make us one of the best (defenses) ever."
Jack played last season at 230 pounds, but plans to play at 235 this season to better handle the power of the offense's running game. He said he doesn't think it will cut down on his speed, which is his calling card at the position. With Jack playing next to Telvin Smith, the Jaguars have two of the fastest linebackers in the league.
That speed and Jack's understanding now of the game are why I think by the end of this season he will be among the NFL's best middle linebackers, which means in the Bobby Wagner (Seattle) and Luke Kuechly (Carolina) range.
"That's the goal," Jack said. "I want to live up to that. You think about middle linebackers and you think about those two. I want to be in that stratosphere."
Jack hasn't tried any of the beers yet, but he said he plans to do so when the on-field work is done. His teammates have embraced it as well.
"I was going to make a rap song titled Myles Jack Wasn't Down," Campbell said. "I was right there and saw it firsthand. He's a running back. He's gone. At the end of the day, it is what it is. It's just funny to see what's come of it."
A star in the making had his moment – one the fans won't let go. But in five years, that will be a footnote to the rising career of a middle linebacker.
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