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Disappointment – not despair

Posted Dec 15, 2013

EDITORIAL: Loss to Buffalo ends winning streak, but this wasn’t a shattering loss in terms of the Jaguars’ big-picture.

JACKSONVILLE – This wasn’t a day for despair. Not the soul-crushing kind, anyway.

And certainly not the long-term kind.

No matter how much Sunday hurt and no matter how infuriating the costly mistakes may have been, this wasn’t a crusher. It wasn’t a day for helmet-smashing or post-game tirades, either. That wasn’t how it was for the Jaguars following a 27-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills at EverBank Field.

Marcedes Lewis, the Jaguars’ veteran tight end and a player with eight years NFL perspective, fittingly had the best perspective following a game that the Jaguars could have won but didn’t on a cloudy December afternoon.

Yes, the day was a loss on the scoreboard.

But overall, the season continues to be anything but a loss. And the short-term hurt of a what-could-have-been day aside, the feeling around EverBank Field remains a pretty good one.

“With the kind of start we had, we’re in a good place right now,” Lewis said. “We’re going to keep chugging along.”

Now, make no mistake:

This loss still very much a loss, and there was no happiness in the Jaguars’ locker room. When Head Coach Gus Bradley called it a game of missed opportunities, he was right. He was talking about both the offense and defense, and because the ones on offense came in the red-zone and in critical situations, they stood out.

A third-quarter fumble by Denard Robinson

A fourth-quarter, end-zone interception thrown by Chad Henne

No question Robinson has to fix his ball-security issues. His fumble on the one-yard line that bounced through the end zone for a touchback was his third of the season. Fumbling was an issue for the rookie in the offseason, and on Sunday it was an issue that cost the Jaguars big-time.

No question Henne’s late interception hurt, too. Particularly tough for Henne was it erased what to that point had been perhaps his most impressive drive with the Jaguars.

He had driven the Jaguars from their 20 to the Bills 1. He’d scrambled two yards and taken a hit on third-and-2 to pick up a first down. He’d converted third-and-7 with a 16-yard pass to Kerry Taylor. He’d run 11 yards on a read option – and yes, you read that right. Finally, he’d thrown a touch pass to tight end Clay Harbor, and after Harbor had matched the throw with a spectacular catch, the Jaguars had first-and-goal at the Bills 1.

And don’t discount that Henne did it without Maurice Jones-Drew and without Cecil Shorts III, either, and with third-team guard Jacques McClendon playing because first-team guard Will Rackley was out with a concussion and next Mike Brewster was out with a fractured ankle. This had potential to be a big-time memorable moment.

Then, the drive and the day went awry.

A toss to running back Jordan Todman lost four yards. Bradley later said with Jones-Drew out the coaching staff decided before the game the perimeter made more sense in that situation than trying the middle. He also said later the staff might reconsider that approach.

On third-and-goal from the 5, Henne looked left. He said later he saw wide receiver Mike Brown getting held. Brown also said he was held. Seeing that, Henne threw high into the end zone.

“If you don’t throw it then they don’t call it,” Henne said. “My job is to throw where he’s supposed to be and obviously they didn’t see it.”

No, they didn’t. Cornerback Stephen Gilmore made the interception in the end zone. No flag.

The end came a few minutes later, when Henne’s final pass fell incomplete with 53 seconds remaining, but however it ended, this game felt a lot worse looking at the small picture as opposed to the big.

In the short term it was a loss, and the Jaguars’ very slim playoff hopes indeed ended a few minutes earlier when Tom Brady was intercepted in the end zone in Miami. And in the short-term, the Jaguars’ longest winning streak since 2007 indeed ended.

And in the short-term, sure, there are still warts. A run defense that hadn’t allowed 100 yards since the bye allowed that many in the second quarter, and as defensive tackle Roy Miller put it, “We all kind of took turns messing up.”

“But you have to give it to the backs,” Miller said of Bills running back Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. “They’re two of the hardest-running backs in the league. We didn’t play our ball until the second half and it showed.”

But here’s the thing: that the Jaguars have warts wasn’t a mystery. They’re a team with a long way to go. They’re a team that still must add players. They’re a team that must still improve. A lot. That they had won four of five didn’t change that.

Remember that what the Jaguars want from the final eight games this season is progress. When framed against the first half of the season, the Jaguars continued to show that Sunday.

On Sunday, they had a chance to win a game without MJD, without Shorts. Safety Johnathan Cyprien was out defensively. They were down to their third offensive guard. And still, the Jaguars moved offensively in the second half. And still, they had 100 yards rushing.

“It’s all progress,” Lewis said.

And if you step back from the short-term, you see that the veteran is right. The Jaguars lost eight games before the bye by double digits, and when bad things happened they often kept happening.

That’s not what this team is anymore, and for all of the things the Jaguars still must do to improve, they are a team that competes to the end of games, whatever the circumstance. Since the bye, they have been a team with a chance to win every game.

They didn’t win Sunday because, as Bradley, said, they missed too many opportunities. But they keep playing well enough to have a chance.

For now, anyway – for the final two games of this first season of the build – that’s enough to keep a disappointing, cloudy day from being a dark day of despair.

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