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View from the O-Zone: Don’t panic

Posted Dec 31, 2017

Oehser: Sunday’s 15-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the 2017 regular-season finale undoubtedly will cause many fans to stress – but it’s not a reason to panic

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Don’t worry about it. Or at least, don’t panic.

You will hear that again in the coming paragraphs, because as a Jaguars fan you probably are finding plenty of reason to stress over what happened at Nissan Stadium Sunday. 

What happened was a 15-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans in front of 65,501 – and if you’re a Jaguars fan, the wrong end of a score to that team feels cruddy.

It felt cruddy to the Jaguars, too – and they said as much early Sunday evening because that’s what players and coaches say after losses, even meaningless ones – and this is a good time to remember that Sunday’s game absolutely was that to the Jaguars. Meaningless.

They’re still the 2017 AFC South Champions.

They’re still the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs.

What did we learn Sunday? What did it decide? Simply this: the Jaguars (10-6) will play host to the Buffalo Bills (9-7) in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game at EverBank Field Sunday at 1:05 p.m.

And that game immediately became the focus Sunday.

“I think we’ll be fine,” Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said after throwing two interceptions in a game that featured a slew of dropped passes, key special teams mistakes and missed opportunities.

Yes, the Jaguars lost two consecutive games to end the regular season.  Yes, the offense struggled Sunday in a big way.

But the playoffs are different, and the Jaguars firmly believe the first postseason game in 10 years will have a different tone than the last two games of the 2017 regular season.

“This is the playoffs,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “This is what we work hard for. We’re AFC South Champs. The opportunity is in front of us. A home playoff game? I can’t wait.”

Now, as a worrying fan you might think there is a good reason to worry, because now the Jaguars are going into the playoffs without momentum – not just losing to The Titans on Sunday but to the San Francisco 49ers a week ago.

They’re limping into the playoffs, the worrier in you might say.

They’ll be one and done, that same worrier probably is saying to your worrying self.

All of this is a very bad sign, that worrier undoubtedly will scream to all the other worriers worrying about these parts.

To which I repeat: Don’t worry about it. Or at least don’t panic.

Whatever happens next Sunday at the ‘Bank it won’t have anything to do with what happened at Nissan Stadium Sunday. Here’s one reason:

The NFL is a different game when a team needs to win compared to when it does not. And for all of the talk all week about playing to win and showing the Titans who really won the AFC South and all of the other pre-game storylines, the fact remained that the Jaguars did not need Sunday’s game.

The fact remained, too, that the Titans very much needed this game. They needed it to snap a three-game losing streak. They needed it to make the postseason. They needed it to salvage their season.

That’s a gulf of a difference, and that gulf helped swallow the Jaguars on Sunday.

There of course were things about Sunday’s loss that didn’t look good. Of that, there was no doubt.

They lost because the offense struggled to the tune of 229 total yards. They lost because they committed four turnovers and forced one. They lost because a young wide receiver corps that was a major reason for a three-game winning streak in early December dropped passes and lost fumbles and looked very much like rookies and young players.

They lost because Bortles didn’t have his best game, and they lost because they continue to struggle to run despite being the NFL’s top-ranked rushing offense.

Those things will be topics this week and they darned sure should be topics.

But this should be a topic, too:

The Jaguars’ defense on Sunday looked again like the Jaguars’ defense. The unit held the Titans over and over again, keeping the Jaguars in a game that could have been lost far earlier. The defense played with heart and passion and nearly was the reason the Jaguars lost a game they could have won.

And lastly, this should be a topic:

That no matter what went wrong Sunday this is a team most of the season that has proved remarkably resilient. They have yayed when the naysayers have nayed. They have played with something to prove, and have played for respect – and there is no stage to earn that respect than the postseason stage.

That’s a major difference – and in fact, there may be no bigger difference.

The Jaguars on Sunday lost a game that in reality was meaningless. Next Sunday’s game will have meaning that a packed EverBank Field will feel to its core.

Sunday in Nashville couldn’t have less to do with that, so don’t worry about it.

Or at least, don’t panic.

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