JACKSONVILLE – This wasn’t just one more loss.
Not to Head Coach Gus Bradley and not to the Jaguars’ players, either.
So, if the seventh loss of the 2013 season felt similar to the first six, and if it has been difficult to see a difference from one week to another throughout this season...
Well, maybe that’s true outside the team. But it’s not that way to players, and it’s sure not that way to Bradley.
That’s what made the aftermath of Chargers 24, Jaguars 6 at EverBank Field on an otherwise perfect October Sunday afternoon notable, significant. What happened Sunday wasn’t progress, wasn’t improvement.
And the normally positive, upbeat Bradley didn’t speak with that vibe Sunday.
Because this wasn’t acceptable. Not even close.
“That’s not what getting better looks like,” Bradley said during his postgame comments.
Bradley said a lot more, but that was the money quote, the one you couldn’t miss, because as defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks noted later, what Bradley is all about – and particularly what this season is about – is just that:
This was the first year of a build. From the start, it was evident it would be difficult. Bradley has focused not on victories or losses but on a more philosophical approach of improvement through competition, with the idea that if improvement came steadily, then eventually winning would take care of itself.
The Jaguars didn’t get better Sunday. More than that, they were flat from the beginning.
“It felt like that at the beginning of the game,” Marks said. “We came out flat, like he (Bradley) said and we can all agree with it: we didn’t get better. That’s our main focus and that’s our culture. We dropped the ball on it and we didn’t get better.
“We have to point the finger at ourselves and figure out why that happened.”
The Jaguars haven’t scored a touchdown at home this season, and they have lost three home games by a total of 89-11. The reaction in the locker room was as you might expect, and as it should be when there are statistics like that to be cited.
“We’ve got to get better,” Jaguars tight end
“You can’t be sitting back thinking that it’s supposed to come to you.”
Bradley didn’t say that’s exactly what the Jaguars did against San Diego, but he was strikingly candid late afterward when asked if he thought he saw a lack of effort.
“Yes, I did,” Bradley said, adding, “But I think they (the players) would admit that. They know in that locker room that that’s not how we play for whatever reason.”
Bradley didn’t take back the comment about lack of effort, didn’t scramble to sugarcoat it. He has talked often this season about liking the effort, about liking how the team played with spirit. He has said after most of six losses that there were things from which to build. He said there were good things Sunday, too, but not as many as before, and he sure didn’t focus on the positives.
“To have any credibility with you (media) and our fans, I can’t say those things today,” Bradley said. “That would be inaccurate and it would not be credible.”
Now, Bradley’s words don’t mark an overall change in approach. It’s very unlikely you’re going to hear him suddenly start criticizing players by name, and assigning blame. That’s not the approach to take with a young, growing team, and it won’t be his way. But to those who criticized Bradley for being too positive too often after too many one-sided losses, it does show that in the long run Bradley won’t accept what happened Sunday.
So, where does that leave the Jaguars?
In the big picture, not much different than last week. The record in a season that was never about the record is a game worse. That hurts and it’s frustrating, and fans understandably want improvement fast, but improvement on a dramatic scale may not come fast. Not in a week or not even in a month.
This team must play very, very well to win. It must play very, very well to be competitive. It played a bit better at times against the Rams two weeks ago, and played a bit better a few more times against Denver last week. The results were a couple of results that were better than what came before.
The result Sunday was not better than what came before.
But while week-by-week improvement is a great goal, it, too, is probably unrealistic. Growth and development often comes in stops and starts, in peaks and dips. The idea of this Jaguars season from the start, after all, was to be able to look back at the end of the season and see overall progress.
That can still happen. It probably will still happen. So far, after all, the starts have outweighed the stops this season, even if those starts haven’t resulted in a victory. By season’s end, there’s little reason to think improvement in the long-term won’t be evident.
But in the short-term, EverBank Field was not a happy place Sunday, and there were few positives to be found.
Because in the short-term, as far as Bradley was concerned, this dip wasn’t acceptable.
Not even close.