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Bigger issues matter now

Posted Dec 30, 2012

Jacksonville Jaguars' bizarre, season-ending loss in Tennessee means little compared to bigger questions.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Jaguars did something Sunday that is very difficult to do in the NFL.

They not only lost to a long-time division rival, they lost by a large margin in a game they dominated statistically from start to finish. But that wasn’t the hardest part.

The hardest part? As bizarre as the loss was – as much went wrong in a 38-20 loss to the Tennessee Titans at LP Field in nearly impossible fashion – the loss didn’t seem to matter a whole lot. Not in the big picture, or even in the small.

That’s not easy. The NFL, win or lose, is hard and emotional – enough so that losing almost always brings pain, and frustration and talk of what had just gone wrong.

There was some of that Sunday. There just wasn’t much.

No, thoughts around the Jaguars Sunday focused mostly on an uncertain immediate future, and what talk there was of Sunday’s events at LP Field focused on how the result just seemed...

Well, considering the first 15 games, the events of the 16th were just sort of fitting.

“I mean, typical, right?” Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. “At this point, you say, ‘Well, that figures.’’’

It did figure, in a way. The Jaguars on Sunday outgained the Titans 375-221. When you dominate like that, about the only way to lose is if something weird happens.

Weird did happen, with the Titans scoring four touchdowns on returns in a five-minute stretch to end the first half and start the second. The Titans’ offense never touched the field and watched a 14-7 deficit become a 35-14 lead.

On a normal day, that would be the focus of the post-game editorial, but this was not a normal day. Instead, this was the final game of the worst season in franchise history, so the editorial isn’t about how a team can return two punts for touchdowns and two interceptions for touchdowns in a five-minute span.

The talk in the locker room afterward wasn’t about that, either.

What happens now? What happens Monday?  What is the long-term future of the organization?

That’s the focus, as it has been all week and as it has been for much of the last month. That is as it must be for a 2-14 team, and that’s why it came as little surprise that there was a report on ESPN Sunday before the game that General Manager Gene Smith will be fired Monday, and that the future of Head Coach Mike Mularkey will depend on the new general manager.

Smith afterward addressed the report, saying he had met with Jaguars Owner Shad Khan Thursday and expected to meet with him again Monday.

 “I’ve not been notified of that,” Smith said in the Jaguars’ locker room Sunday. “That’s a decision Shad has to make. Certainly we haven’t fulfilled expectations.”

Smith added, “This has been a challenging year. I know this was a game for pride and certainly, it wasn’t anything anyone would be proud of.”

Mularkey didn’t address the reports directly post-game, but as he has done throughout the season, he praised the effort of the team.

“We all take everything personally where we’re at,” Mularkey said. “We all work extremely hard. Everybody has – from Gene on down. Not to have any reward at all has been the most disappointing thing. The players have done everything we’ve asked and to have no reward has been disappointing.”

How true are the reports? We won’t know for certain until Khan speaks publicly or issues a statement on the matter. What needs to happen?

Well, that’s up to Khan, too, but players afterward expressed support for Smith, and the direction of the franchise.

“We are headed in the right direction,” veteran linebacker Daryl Smith said. “We have some pieces in place. It’s just going to take some time.”

Smith’s not alone in that belief, but while Posluszny agreed, he also said, “On the field we didn’t perform. We didn’t live up to what we were capable of, so if changes come, we don’t have anybody to blame but ourselves.”

And really, as much as anything, that was the tone of the locker room Sunday. It was quiet, mostly, with players talking to reporters and cameras about an uncertain future. They will watch in the coming days to see the changes, knowing that at 2-14, change is almost certainly coming and that the time to prevent change has long since passed.

“Things have not gone our way for a lot of different reasons,” Posluszny said. “That is all season long. Anytime you have a record like this, there’s more than just players not making players. Things have just not gone our way and this game was a true example of that.

“As players, we just want to know what’s going to happen, who our leaders are, who we’re going to be playing for. We just want to know.”

Soon enough, they will know. Soon enough, we all will know.

How black will Monday be? Will it be black at all?

As of this writing, we just don’t know, but the specter of it dominated Sunday, and made a very strange, fitting game not seem to matter that much at all.

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