This wasn’t the night the Jaguars wanted. Not even close.
Playing on the road for a second time in six days, the offense struggled, the defense struggled, too, and a whole lot that had been going right for two giddy, excited weeks went really wrong.
The result on Thursday night was a 48-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, a loss that was as one-sided as the score indicated and one that showed why the Jaguars are a building, improving franchise and why the Ravens are Super Bowl contenders.
The positive from Thursday?
Here’s what Mularkey did emphasize:
This night? This loss? This awful feeling the Jaguars had after being outgained 571-268 and after watching Joe Flacco stand in the pocket for what seemed like forever and throw and throw and throw, then throw some more?
Those things aren’t what’s important, Mularkey said. It’s what happens next.
“This is why we play the preseason,” Mularkey said. “There’s no better things to teach off of than games like this. Hopefully, something positive comes from this. I think it will.”
That wasn’t Mularkey spinning anything. That’s not his way. He’s nothing if not honest when it comes to this team. Throughout his postgame comments, he stayed that way. He said the Jaguars didn’t give themselves a chance to compete. He said the rest of the receivers need to do what Blackmon is doing, which is to catch the ball and make plays when the opportunities are there.
He said the Ravens are obviously really, really good and against good teams, you can’t put yourself in difficult situations the way the Jaguars’ offense did early.
But what he said that was maybe the most significant is that even after a very ugly loss, he still likes what he has seen from this team, and that he suspects the team will respond.
It was hard to tell if Jaguars players were simply echoing Mularkey afterward, but to a man, that was what players in the locker room were saying.
Yes, this was ugly. No, this was not acceptable.
What was particularly disappointing was that this came in the third week of the preseason, which is considered the closest thing to a regular season game. If the Jaguars’ performance Thursday was what this team is, then the first two weeks were a little misleading.
But to a man in the Jaguars’ locker room, the feeling was not that.
Ugly? Unacceptable? Yes, Week 3 of the preseason was that, but in no way did players feel as if anything was defined in downtown Baltimore Thursday.
“We did not play nearly as well as we wanted to,” middle linebacker
“You don’t want to lose a game like that,” Gabbert said. “We’re just going to go back, look at the tape and move on to next week.”
Mularkey said the Jaguars’ starters likely will play about a quarter in that game. That’s the norm for the final preseason game, with evaluation of the roster more of an emphasis than winning or losing. The starters will play enough to get a few series, then they will be out.
That means Thursday’s loss to Baltimore will be the final extended time for the first team, and if there was a positive from that time, it clearly came in the form of Blackmon.
The rookie is good, better than many believed he would be this quickly. He appears to have a very real chance of making a significant impact sooner rather than later.
That’s something to build on, and that gives this offense a lot of hope.
That’s not a huge shock, of course. This was a guy, after all, who was the two-time Biletnikoff Award winner for college football’s wide receiver, who turned in as many highlights as any college football skill player in recent memory. But after his offseason and after a holdout, it wasn’t ridiculous to wonder if it would take time for him to be a go-to receiver.
So far, he has shown he can be that, and if that’s true, that’s a far more important development to take from Thursday night’s game than the one-sided score.
But Thursday night was not a time for emphasizing that. That’s not what Mularkey was talking about afterward. It’s not what players were talking about either.
What they were talking about was finding a way to turn this into a positive. They were talking about responding, and while it’s what you expected them to talk about, that doesn’t diminish the importance of doing it.
This team has built something this preseason. Losing momentum from that doesn’t change it, but there’s no question a response is needed.
If Mularkey gets it, then something good can happen from Thursday, even if the night wasn’t close to what the Jaguars wanted.