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Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville Jaguars

Going from worst-to-first in the NFL’s AFC South division and a deep run into the playoffs was bound to boost ticket sales for the Jacksonville Jaguars. But the impact on the team’s fortunes is getting gaudy.

“We have more than three times the total number of deposits that we received all of last year” on potential season ticket sales, said Chad Johnson, senior vice president of sales and services for the Jaguars.

The “deposit” campaign asks for fans to make a $100 non-refundable deposit for general or $250 deposit for prime season tickets they want to purchase for the 2018 regular season. It’s usually an indicator of how well ticket sales in general will go for the upcoming season and after nearly a decade of slumping sales due to repeated losing seasons, Johnson said the turnaround is substantial as the Jaguars prepare to play the New England Patriots for the AFC Championship Sunday.

“The spike really started to happen when we solidified a home playoff game [versus the Buffalo Bills Jan. 7],” Johnson said. “It’s been pretty consistent day by day from that day on. We’ve been doing about similar numbers each day from the time of our first [home] playoff game until now.”

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But Sunday’s NFL AFC Divisional game that saw the Jaguars defeat the Steelers in their home stadium in Pittsburgh brought an even bigger spike in deposit season ticket demands. Not only were Jaguars fans excited about that game, but the franchise launched what Johnson called probably the most intense marketing campaign in team history with advertisements inundating television, radio and digital outlets.

There was a spike in deposits on Sunday afternoon and Monday said Johnson, who declined to release specific numbers of deposits on season tickets..

A phone call to the number for deposits and ticket purchases listed on the Jaguars.com ticket information led to a sales representative who said ticket prices haven’t been fixed yet. The sales representative said, “We are expecting a slight increase” in ticket prices prior to the regular season games.

“We have a fully integrated marketing campaign that includes radio, television and digital,” Johnson said. “You typically will see that we will increase our marketing efforts around the game….

“This is the strongest market push we’ve placed. Excitement is at an all-time high. The schedule for next year is great. It’s our opportunity to capitalize and continue to allow our fans to support this team,” Johnson said.

Kristi Sweeney, associate professor of sport management at University of North Florida, said she’s not surprised there’s a huge increase in demand for Jaguars season tickets. But she’s more impressed that the franchise went into advertising blitz mode and didn’t presume fans would automatically sign up for seats.

“Kudos to the Jaguars,” Sweeney said Tuesday. “Winning is a key driver in ticket sales and attendance and that’s one thing the Jaguars were lacking with over a number of seasons… .

“It’s a blitz [in advertising]. But it’s also an opportunity. So, when the opportunity presents itself, you really can’t overdo it,” Sweeney said.

Other NFL franchises such as the Steelers or Green Bay Packers routinely make the post-season tournament so they don’t have to gear up ticket campaigns such as the Jaguars did this playoff season, Sweeney said. The Jaguars still could have blown the opportunity.

“Was it overkill? I wouldn’t say it’s overkill. I think it’s taking advantage of the timing and the opportunity. When you think of how many people were watching the games, clearly they have seen a return on that investment, at least with those deposits. When people are watching those games, they think, ‘I have to buy now,’” Sweeney said.

Johnson said priority of season ticket options still rests with current season ticket holders. But those putting forth the deposits are in a position to get the next best choices.

“The timing is unique right now in that the first thing we have to do is have season ticket renewals and those typically launch two weeks after the season ends and we haven’t launched that piece yet,” Johnson said.

“What we’ve been doing now is we’ve been taking deposits for our fans who would like to purchase season tickets next year,” Johnson said.

But even if the deposit is not used to buy season tickets for the entire season, the money stays on the customer’s account so they could use it during the season to apply to group ticket purchases or mini-packs for a limited number of games which usually go on sale toward the end of the season depending on the schedule.

Current season ticket holders can renew or upgrade to different areas of the stadium, increase the number of tickets along with other options.

Then fans making the deposits get to weigh in on the purchases but only after the current season ticket holders get their choice.

“They key for the deposit and the timing is what’s most important. If you give us a deposit saying you’ll buy season tickets next year and give a financial commitment now, that will put you in line for selecting your actual locations once they are made available,” Johnson said.

The renewal process of current season ticket holders get priority. But Johnson said after that, those making deposits on potential season tickets get their bid on seats based on the time they made their deposits and it will be in that chronological order.

“After we go through that entire list [of current season ticket holders], then we will open it up to the general public,” Johnson said. “What’s most important right now, based on the volume of transactions we have and the inventory that we will have available, we anticipate that there will not be any 100 or 200 level [closest to the field] inventory season tickets remaining after we finish this deposit campaign.”

The current season ticket holders will have the chance to renew and review their options about two weeks after the last Jaguars game to be notified of their choices. Then the franchise will give those season ticket holders about a month to finalize their decision. Following that, the Jaguars open up choices for the deposit customers.

“The time line of that will fluctuate based upon the volume of deposits we have,” Johnson said.

While the Jags are one game away from going to the Super Bowl, Johnson said ultimately the windfall for the franchise from what has been a Cinderella season will be profound.

“We’re most grateful for the fans. There’s definitely an increased excitement in our office. We have no doubt that we will sell additional season tickets and that there will be a financial impact on the organization,” Johnson said. “Most importantly, we are focused on Sunday’s game. But this has been a lot of fun.”

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Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles

Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles

After the Houston Texans were blown out 45-7 by the Jacksonville Jaguars, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was asked if Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles is improving. The defensive end replied to reporters, “He’s trash.”

On Sunday, Bortles completed 21 of 29 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns. He finished with a passer rating of 143.8. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Bortles became the first quarterback in Jaguars history to throw multiple touchdowns without an interception in three straight games.

In the month of December, Bortles has thrown for 903 yards with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Last week, Seattle Seahawks safety Earl Thomas told reporters that the loss to the Jaguars was tough because they lost to “a subpar quarterback.”

In the Jaguars’ locker room after the game, Bortles’ teammates praised his recent play.

“His reads are sharp,” tight end Marcedes Lewis said. “He knows pre-snap what he wants to do. You can see him out there. He’s just playing ball. If there’s a rush coming he’s just sliding over a little bit, getting in position, making the throws, not panicking. He’s doing his thing.”

Added Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson: “I’m just glad he’s able to turn it around and I’m glad he’s doing what we knew he could do and I’m glad he’s proving himself that he can do it. He chose one hell of a year to pick it up, so I’m happy.”

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Cam Newton

Cam Newton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on Sunday shrugged off the impact of a thumb injury on his throwing hand and how it impacted his accuracy in a 35-27 victory over the New York Jets.

But coach Ron Rivera reiterated Monday that the injury that landed Newton on the injury report for two days last week could have been a factor in his quarterback completing a season-low 39.3 percent of his passes.

“That’s possibly why a few of the balls sailed on him,” Rivera said of Newton, who completed 11 of 28 pass attempts for 168 yards.

Rivera said the thumb is getting better, and he didn’t express concern it would be a factor heading into Sunday’s showdown at 8-3 New Orleans for first place in the NFC South.

Offensive coordinator Mike Shula also didn’t express concern, although he admitted early last week “it was a little bit of an adjustment” for Newton throwing with the injury.

Wide receiver Devin Funchess, who caught seven of eight targets for 108 yards, said the “funky weather” could have been a factor in Newton’s struggles.

“The wind was stopping it. It carried some of them,” Funchess said of Newton’s passes. “We all got injuries. You’ve got to play through ‘em. So that’s what he did, as well.

“But the wind was out there carrying the ball, too. You can’t blame it all on his thumb.”

Newton’s previous low completion percentage this season was 53.8 against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Jets game dropped his season average to 60.3, putting him behind his career-best average of 61.7 in 2013.

Newton completed 65.4 percent of his passes in a 34-13 loss to New Orleans in Week 3 but had no touchdown passes and was intercepted three times.

He ran the ball only three times for 16 games against the Saints. It wasn’t until the fourth game at New England that the 2015 NFL MVP was turned loose in the running game. He carried eight times for 44 yards against the Patriots.

He’s averaged 8.6 carries over the last eight games, including nine carries for 28 yards and a touchdown against the Jets.

That, more than the thumb, could be a factor on Sunday.

“Always his threat, I think; teams have to account for that,” Shula said. “We give him a little freedom, and he does a good job with that. He understands that teams have to respect what he can bring to the table running-wise as well.

“As long as he does it with a sound process in mind, that’s going to be helpful.”

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Ross D. Franklin

Ross D. Franklin

One, sure way for the sun to set on Pete Carroll’s shiny disposition?

Ask him how his Seahawks are going to replace Richard Sherman for the rest of this season.

“I don’t know. I don’t even know how to address that right now,” the coach said in the stunned aftermath of Seattle losing its three-time All-Pro cornerback to a torn Achilles tendon during Thursday night’s win at Arizona.

When the Seahawks (6-3) host Atlanta (5-4) next Monday it will be their first game without Sherman since 2010. That was the season before he entered the league as Seattle’s fifth-round draft choice.

The Seahawks have played 105 consecutive regular-season games, 12 more in the playoffs–including two Super Bowls and the franchise’s only NFL title–with Sherman there. He’s started every one of Seattle’s games at left cornerback since Oct. 30, 2011.

Now there’s a gaping void there.

“He’s just been a bastion of consistency, competitiveness and toughness through all of the stuff that we’ve worked through. It’s been awesome,” Carroll said. “It’s been hard. It’s been challenging. And he’s been extraordinary. Almost an iconic player in this league.

“He’s going to have to sit. I’ll try not to go overboard on this, but that’s just the way I feel. We’ll miss the heck out of him. He’ll been with us every step of the way when he can, but we’ll miss the heck out of him.”

Opponents for years have usually avoided throwing to Sherman’s side of the field, often leaving the rest of the Seahawks’ defense only having to defend 75 percent of the field.

Those days and weeks are over. At least for this year. And Sherman’s beyond isn’t exactly set, either.

Good thing Rick Smith likes John Schneider. If not, the Seahawks wouldn’t have a veteran starting cornerback ready to replace Sherman, although not at all near Sherman’s level.

Jeremy Lane replaced Sherman for the final 1½ quarters in the win over the Cardinals. Seattle traded him to Houston a couple weeks ago while acquiring left tackle Duane Brown. But Lane had a bruised thigh and strained groin at the time and had missed two of the last three games when he failed his trade physical with Texans doctors.

Smith, Houston’s general manager, could have walked away from the deal and taken Brown back. Instead, he agreed to the contingency plan Schneider, Seattle’s GM who has consulted with Smith for years, proposed. The Seahawks got Brown and a fifth-round choice of Houston’s in 2018, and the Texans got a third-round pick in 2018 from Seattle plus a second-round choice in 2019.

Lane, 27, has started 19 games and played in 62 during his NFL career, all for Seattle. He’s been the Seahawks’ primary nickel back inside in recent seasons, and that role is why the team signed him to a four-year, $23 million extension before the 2016 season. He had a poor ’16 season in coverage and penalties.

He began this season as the starter at right cornerback, opposite Sherman. Then Lane got ejected early from the opener Sept. 10 at Green Bay for a pushing altercation with Packers receiver Davante Adams. On Oct. 1, after four starts, he strained his groin during the win against Indianapolis. Rookie Shaquill Griffin took Lane’s right-cornerback job, and Justin Coleman his nickel spot.

Now, Lane’s healthy—and Sherman’s immediate replacement.

The Seahawks have other options. Again, none are nearer to Sherman’s level of performance or reputation.

DeShawn Shead, the starting right cornerback, could be an option. Eventually. He remains on the physically-unable-to-perform list following reconstructive knee surgery in January and a follow-up procedure this summer.

The Seahawks have until a week from Tuesday, the day after week 11 of the NFL season ends, to decide whether Shead is healthy enough to practice. If that answer is yes before or by Nov. 21, Seattle has three weeks to either add him to active roster or put him on injured reserve for the rest of this season.

Byron Maxwell is available. Another former Seahawks starting cornerback opposite Sherman, Maxwell got released by Miami Oct. 24 and is a free agent. The 29-year old began his NFL career with Seattle the same season Sherman did, in 2011. He started 17 regular-season games and all six postseason ones for the Seahawks in the 2013 and ’14 seasons, including Super Bowl 48 and 49.

Then he signed a six-year, $63 million contract with Philadelphia before the 2015 season. That was the only one he played for the Eagles. He started 13 games for Miami last season and two this season before the Dolphins cut him.

At 6 feet 1, 198 pounds, Maxwell has the size and length the Seahawks like in cornerbacks, and he obviously knows Carroll’s step-kick technique off the line of scrimmage and coverage system many Seattle imports (remember Cary Williams?) can’t grasp. Expect the Seahawks to at least call—or to have already called—to see how Maxwell might be able to fit.

Sherman turns 30 before next season, the last one of his contract. His salary for 2018 is scheduled to be a non-guaranteed $11 million, with a $13.2 million salary-cap charge.

Any idea the Seahawks might offer Sherman another extension before next season is a more remote possibility with his injury. The Achilles tear also greatly reduced his and Seattle’s leverage for any trade, which the Seahawks so publicly entertained last offseason.

For now, the Seahawks seem more likely to welcome Sherman back for 2018 at his current pay, to offer the opportunity to earn the extension and be motivated for a strong rebound season–plus possible free agency riches in the spring of 2019 at age 31.

And for now, there’s gaping hole on the left side of the Seahawks’ defense that hasn’t been there since 2010. One that Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the Falcons will be spending all this week preparing to target next Monday night.

NFC WEST WATCH

The Rams smacked Houston at home 33-7 on Sunday, keeping Los Angeles (7-2) one game ahead of the Seahawks atop the division.

The Rams have won six of their last seven games. The one loss was last month to Seattle.

The Seahawks are currently the fifth seed in the NFC playoff picture, ahead on tiebreakers of Carolina (6-3) with seven games remaining in the regular season.. The top six in the conference make the postseason.