"There'd be players from different teams trying to recruit me. And I was an unrestricted free agent for the first time two years ago, and there were about four or five teams who really wanted me -- you know, you could see what it would be like playing somewhere else -- but, you know, Jacksonville is where my heart is, where the home is," Lewis told me Thursday. "Once you start somewhere with a team and you see the best of it, and you go through a rough patch, you know you still have an opportunity to do some really good things. And I wanted to be part of that."
While helping guide the Jaguars to a 2-1 start isn't the culmination of Lewis' hard work and loyalty, consider his place in the NFL universe before Sunday's emphatic 44-7 win over the previously undefeated Ravens in London -- a game in which Lewis scored as many touchdowns (three) as he logged in the prior three seasons combined.
Jacksonville has not been 2-1 (or better) to start a season since 2007 -- also the last time this franchise made the playoffs. Since Lewis, 33, was selected in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft, the Jaguars have had five head coaches (including interim Mel Tucker in 2011). Under general manager Dave Caldwell, who took the reins in 2013, the franchise enthusiastically stripped itself down to bare essentials, determined to commit to a lengthy and arduous rebuild that is starting to pay dividends.
If nothing else, Sunday felt good.
"I think, as a team, everything we put into it this summer, these were the days we were hoping for," Lewis said.
He added: "It's awesome. I'm the oldest guy on the team. I've seen more 53-man rosters than a lot of people, you know? I know what getting better looks like, and I'm just proud to be a part of it."
With a fortuitous trip to East Rutherford to take on the Jets (1-2) this Sunday, the Jaguars have a chance to shake up their division in a way they haven't been able to since Tom Coughlin was the franchise's head coach. The Titans (2-1) and Texans (1-2) are facing one another, while the Colts (1-2) head out to Seattle for a difficult matchup against the Seahawks.
The Jags come into the matchup ranked first in Football Outsiders' pass defense efficiency rankings and fourth in points per game. Given that Lewis is now playing for Doug Marrone -- and, by some extension, Coughlin -- he knows this is a week-to-week operation. He'll cast aside the desire to make playoff predictions for now, but just being in the conversation feels right.
"Well, look, that's why you play this game -- to win the championship," Lewis said. "To do that, you have to get into the dance. So everything we do every day -- all the hard work is to get to that point. So, I don't like making predictions and thinking ahead, but we want to put the best product out there every single Sunday to give ourselves the best chance to get to that spot."
Four more storylines that will define Week 4:
2) Tavon Austin jet sweeps: During the Jeff Fisher era, each new Rams offensive coordinator was confronted with the question of how to best use the team's 5-foot-8, 175-pound wide receiver. New head coach Sean McVay might have the answer, but he's only targeted Austin in the passing game three times in three weeks.
While Rams coordinators in the past have gotten Austin involved in the rushing game, McVay's use of Austin as a decoy on jet sweep or reverse plays fits in line with the next trend of deception in the NFL. Play action is evolving.
That also means Austin needs to get some carries to make it an effective fake. In each of the last two weeks, his rushing opportunities have risen to three carries per game (not as insignificant as it seems, with a running back like Todd Gurley in the huddle). In Los Angeles' "Thursday Night Football" win over the 49ers, Austin was averaging nearly 5 yards per carry before leaving the game with a concussion. (Austin has been practicing this week, but in a limited role.)
"That's one of the things that you mention, is when you have a player like him, it might not show up on the stat sheet, but he's contributing in a lot of ways that goes unnoticed, but it certainly doesn't in our building," McVay told reporters in Los Angeles on Wednesday. "He does a lot of different things, whether it's that, the eye candy or the threat where you look at when you give him the actual jet sweep in the tight red-zone area, and he gets it down to the 1-yard line. Those yards are so hard to come by in the red zone, when you can give it to him on the 9 and he gets it down to where they've got to review it to see if it's a touchdown or not. He's an excellent threat in that, and I think when you look across the league, going back a couple years, they did a great job of utilizing him in that way. That's become a real weapon for this offense, and that's certainly something that we want to continue to utilize in a manner that fits what we're doing, and he's done a great job. So yes, I absolutely think it has opened up the run game in a lot of ways."
3) The 0-4 hole: There are five NFL teams with a chance to end this weekend at 0-4 -- the Browns, Bengals, Chargers, 49ers and, stunningly, the Giants. This is not completely unfamiliar territory for Eli Manning, though -- the team went 0-6 to start the 2013 season and ended up finishing the year at 7-9.
Only one team since playoff expansion in 1990, the 1992 San Diego Chargers, has made the postseason after starting with an 0-4 mark. Back during that 2013 Giants season, I talked to numerous members of the '92 Chargers staff to find out how they were able to turn that team around. Their final prognosis? No way anyone does that ever again -- especially in a big market.
"I don't think things could be more different," Billy Devaney, the Chargers' pro personnel head in 1992, told me a few years back. "They're certainly a playoff-caliber team, Super Bowl contenders. They're in New York, the media capital of the world. We're in San Diego, nobody gives a rat's you-know-what about San Diego."
New head coach Sean McDermott has beaten the Jetsand Broncos and came within a Zay Jones drop of potentially stunning his former team, the Panthers, at the last minute during a Week 2 showdown. This can happen with teams that bounce from one type of leadership (the freewheeling Rex Ryan regime) to a far more structured outfit -- or vice versa, given how much success Ryan had with the New York Jets immediately following Eric Mangini.
McDermott was asked about his leadership secrets -- players in Buffalo praised his unifying tactics to local outlets throughout the spring and summer -- during a session with reporters on Wednesday.
"I'm going to take myself out of the equation for a second, if I could, and I'm going to put the focus and attention on how our players handled the situation, in terms of they were able to stay focused," McDermott told the assembled press. "I've seen them continue to do that, with respect to the game and the last couple of days. I'm very appreciative of that. I think that it really speaks to a team.
"Being able to communicate, certainly like I've talked about, is important. Being able to communicate on the field is important, and that's really where our focus needs to be this week as we move forward, and focus on our team and the Atlanta Falcons. I really appreciate that about our guys; they care about one another, they respect one another, and we're able to communicate about things that are important."
5) Speaking of McDermott, how are the Panthers faring without him on defense?: According to Next Gen Stats, the Panthers under defensive coordinator Steve Wilks are blitzing more than any team in the NFL. For the purpose of this statistic, NGS defines a blitz as sending five or more defenders at the quarterback on a given play, which Carolina does 45.4 percent of the time (just slightly more than Cleveland, which is at 45 percent).
Unfortunately, more pass rushers doesn't always mean better results. Carolina's opposing quarterback rating against the blitz is 116.2, which is by far the highest of any team sending extra rushers with that kind of frequency. The Titans, for example, blitz 40 percent of the time and have an opposing quarterback rating against the blitz of 68.0.