It wasn’t long ago, January 21st, 2018 to be exact, Dante Fowler and the Jacksonville Jaguars found themselves up 20-10 with 12:03 left in a game that would decide the AFC Champion and the representative in the conference to head to Super Bowl LII. Fowler had been unleashed in Foxborough. The Patriots simply do not lose playoff games at home but the Jaguars looked to potentially have them on the ropes with a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Fowler and his defensive unit had just forced a turnover prior to the Patriots drive but unfortunately, the Jacksonville offense went three-and-out. Punter Brad Nortman came out and was able to pin the Patriots down at their own 15-yard line and with their backs against the wall, Tom Brady and New England took the drive all the way to the end zone with a touchdown to Danny Amendola. All of a sudden, the Patriots were right back into it and even though the Jaguars had the 20-17 lead, it seemed like they were losing based on the amount of momentum swing that came from just that drive orchestrated by Brady. Blake Bortles and the Jags offense found a spark in Allen Hurns’ 20-yard reception but it was all for naught and the drive stalled. Nortman came back in to punt it inside the Patriots own 20-yard line. Once again, Brady and the Patriots offense had to go 80-plus yards to score the touchdown and take the lead. The Jags defense came through but shortly after the offense went three-and-out.
Jacksonville, this time, had run out of chances. Nortman’s punt was from his own nine-yard line and as he booted it back to the 50-yard line, Amendola brought it 20 yards back and set Brady and the offense up for an immediate field goal opportunity. With 4:58 remaining to decide who would head to the Super Bowl, the Patriots were looking at either sending the game to overtime or winning it all. The Patriots, led by Brady, chipped away at the yards and it led to a touchdown to Danny Amendola to take the lead 24-20 with just under three minutes left in the game. The Jaguars had one final opportunity, could Bortles dethrone the Patriots and five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady? Unfortunately for Fowler…no. Bortles and the offense went down the field but failed to convert on fourth down which ended the game and sent the Patriots to the Super Bowl to host the Philadelphia Eagles.
Since joining the NFL, that was the closest Fowler had come to taste the Super Bowl and unfortunately for him, the Jaguars wouldn’t come close next season. In fact, they would end up completely falling off the wagon. After going 12-4 the year before, the Jaguars biggest highlight of the season would come in the form of star CB Jalen Ramsey catching a receiving touchdown on offense in the Pro Bowl. In all seriousness, the season was awful, 5-11 after leading in the fourth quarter of the AFC championship game the year before. However, the Jaguars locker room implosion would cause them to trade away the talented young pass rusher Fowler and trade him to the Los Angeles Rams who had just won their eighth-straight game after beating the Packers in Los Angeles. For Fowler, this was a restart, refresh and a clean slate right before he becomes a free agent next year.
This was by no means an opportunity to get Fowler in the Super Bowl, this wasn’t a “nice gesture” because at the end of the day it’s a business and the 8-0 Los Angeles Rams in fact, had a weakness at the edge defender spot, a spot that Fowler had displayed serious potential and showed out the year prior when it mattered. The Rams quite simply needed Fowler’s services to be playing in Super Bowl LIII this weekend. General manager Les Snead knew it, Head coach Sean McVay knew it and Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips most importantly knew it. Fowler wasn’t going to set the sack record, but he didn’t have to. If he had one or two big plays per game the Rams would find him worth the payment of one of their 3rd-round picks this year and their 5th-round next year. It was a trade deadline deal that upgraded the Rams and for the moment, put a band-aid on one of their biggest deficiencies.
As the season went on, the Rams ended up with a 13-3 record and some flashes of brilliance out of the former Jacksonville pass rusher. Fowler had changed, for the better and under the tutelage of players like Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, Michael Brockers and Mark Barron, Fowler’s 180 change didn’t come as a shock to anyone. Fowler had his big-time moment nearly two weeks ago when he used a spin move to get right to Saints QB Drew Brees and get enough pressure to force the game-sealing interception made by John Johnson III that was one of the integral parts of getting to the Super Bowl. The same guy who watched on defense as his team was upended by Brady and the Patriots late in the game ended up being the guy to disrupt the QB and help send his team to the Super Bowl.
Fowler now has that taste. He got over the hump, his former organization gave him an opportunity by trading him to the Rams and the Rams gave him the opportunity by giving up assets midseason for this player. At the end of the day, the Jaguars melted after their loss to the Patriots in the AFC title game, but Fowler found a new fresh start and helped his new team get over that hump to claim the NFC title. It’s now onto Atlanta in one more game and of course, it’s Fowler vs. Brady again. The same Fowler that had two sacks and three hits on Brady in the last postseason game they met in. With Head coach Bill Belichick likely to gameplan to stop players like Suh and Donald, it will be up to someone like Fowler to create the necessary pressure on Brady to make sure he completes the cycle and gets his own measure of revenge this Sunday.
Over the years Brady has taken down many opponents, he’s ended potential dynasties, he’s broken up offenses, he’s tarnished defenses but Fowler is still here, he’s still kicking, he didn’t go down with the rest of Jacksonville like a snap from the fingers of Thanos, he’s here and he’s here starting for the Los Angeles Rams to help this organization get their own revenge on the QB that ended their golden years in a blink of an eye. Fowler is here for it all, this could even be his last game in a Rams uniform but make no mistake, even if it is, the trade the Rams made for the young disgruntled Florida kid has propelled the Rams to this point and number 56 could be a big part of how the Rams end up victorious in Super Bowl LIII.