LONDON – OK, this one was tough.
And to be honest, although a San Francisco victory probably was widely expected considering the team’s records . . . 49ers 42, Jaguars 10?
That was tougher than expected.
Tough has been the story of the first half of the Jaguars’ 2013 season – from the first game of the regular season through Sunday’s eighth loss to start the season. The fact that the eighth game was in famed Wembley Stadium?
The fact that there was a lot going on outside the game in London that benefits the Jaguars?
That’s not much solace as you read this, because periphery events don’t mean much when you’re watching something as one-sided as Sunday and pulling for the short side.
But know this:
Overall, this London game – this London Week and this London Weekend – was good for the organization, good for the long-term, which of course remains the most important aspect of this very difficult season.
We’ll get to that stuff – the off-field stuff – shortly, but first the short term: a loss that didn’t in any way shake the Jaguars’ ever-optimistic head coach, Gus Bradley, but didn’t leave him anything close to happy.
Bradley said the defense will be revaluated over this week’s bye week. He wants an answer to the question of why the team allowed three extended first-half drives in a loss to San Diego Sunday and four more against San Francisco.
Those extended possessions have had a hope-sapping effect, leaving the Jaguars down double digits and then some, and out of realistic chances for their first victory.
“The bye week’s coming at a good time,” Bradley said afterward.
Those weren’t the words of a coach who has given up, nor did it sound like one not knowing how to approach the second half of the season. For Bradley, that’s easy, and he told London media that the goal remains the same – to continue to improve, and to continue to build on what has gone right.
Players echoed the same sentiment.
“We’re not discouraged,” running back
That being said, this was perhaps the most difficult matchup of a first half of the season that featured at least five games against the NFL’s top teams – Kansas City, Seattle, Indianapolis, Denver, San Francisco. The Jaguars had little answer for the mobility of Colin Kaepernick, and a defensive front that has struggled against the run in weeks allowed the 49ers to average 5.8 yards a carry en route to 221 yards rushing.
Kaepernick rushed easily around the Jaguars in the first half, and for a second consecutive game, the Jaguars were down quickly enough frustration would be logical.
Jones-Drew said that’s not the case.
“We’re competitors,” he said. “We’re never going to let anyone break our will. Out there, some guys (49ers players) were like, ‘Why are you guys still playing?’ I was like, ‘Why are you talking to me?’ We’re still going to try to get our jobs done. Obviously, the season hasn’t gone the way we wanted it to, but we can still turn it around.”
If there is a positive to be taken from the season’s first half, that’s it. If Bradley’s aim was to establish a culture, then that culture appears to at least being on its way to being established. That’s insignificant, even if it’s not much fun if not accompanied by success.
And London Week I draws to an end, you can’t talk about significance if you don’t mention the most significant part of the London trip, and that’s the focus on the long-term. In the long-term, there remains reason for hope.
Long-term off the field emerged from London in good stead, too.
Jaguars Owner Shad Khan said Friday night that the team and the city will experience successes from this week for years to come. On Saturday, he and most of the Jaguars’ organization – players, coaches, staff, team leaders – appeared at an NFL Rally at Trafalgar Square that highlighted a weekend in which Khan interacted with not only local and international fans, but local and international business leaders. Shortly before the game Sunday Khan spoke briefly and casually with a few media close to the team and said as positive as he expected the week to be, it exceeded his expectations.
Game day off the field was more of the same, with Jaguars flags in each Wembley seat because of the Jaguars’ status as London’s designated home team. And for most of the game, the crowd most definitely was behind the Jaguars.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Jaguars quarterback Chad Henne said. “The fans were into it. It was great. It was a really good experience for us.”
And more than anything, that’s the takeaway from this week.
Yes, the Jaguars lost Sunday, and this remains a tough season. That stinks. That makes Mondays no fun, and it makes the rest of the week long, too. But all of that is temporary. All of that goes away.
What doesn’t go away is the foundation being built.
The football side is a long-term proposition of drafting, developing and faith in a vision, but what we saw this week was the beginning of a connection between Jacksonville and the UK, between the fans and business in both places, and it had the look of something big, exciting and important.
So, yeah, Sunday was tough – probably not unexpectedly. But the week itself?
Well, that was pretty darned good, and in the long run, there’s every reason to think it bodes well for a very good future.