JACKSONVILLE – This felt a little different.
Maybe not different enough, and certainly not enough to feel really good. The Jaguars, after all, lost to the Arizona Cardinals, 27-14, on Sunday afternoon for their fourth loss in as many games at EverBank Field this season, and you don't feel really good after a loss.
Head Coach Gus Bradley didn't feel good; the players darned sure didn't.
Not after losing two first-half leads.
Not after another difficult running performance.
And not after not quite being able to get back into a game during a scrappy second-half when you thought once, twice – and maybe a few more times – that with one break, one turnover, one call going the other way, that getting back into it might happen.
But although it didn't happen – and while the Jaguars didn't get quite the home-field performance Head Coach Gus Bradley wanted – this loss didn't have the same feeling as two losses right before the bye.
After those two losses – 24-6 to San Diego and 42-10 to San Francisco – it was a challenge to look at any part of the game, and find something good. It was even a challenge for Bradley, who is by any measure pretty good at such things.
Bradley had no such trouble Sunday.
"What I liked was we weren't afraid to fail," Bradley said after the Jaguars lost a pair of seven-point leads en route to their ninth double-digit loss in 10 games this season.
"We were bold in our decisions. There were many situations where I felt like we were bold. I told our team, 'We need to take that personality on and reflect it.' We'll continue to build in that direction."
And you know what?
While people may not like hearing Bradley talk boldness after a loss, there was merit in those words. Because taking away the end result – and taking away an offense that struggled mightily throughout the second half – this was a pretty bold effort on a lot of fronts for the Jaguars.
The fourth-down gamble that paid off with a 62-yard touchdown from Chad Henne to right Danny Noble in the first half? A 60-yard field-goal attempt on the last play of the first half?
Bradley cited both as examples of the approach the Jaguars want to take, and just as much he talked of the stretch in the second half when the Jaguars twice were dealt difficult breaks on controversial calls by the officials.
First, there was Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson's muffed punt, a muff that seemed to all in EverBank to be recovered by the Jaguars only to have possession awarded to the Cardinals. Bradley challenged to no avail, and the officials reviewed – even though you can't find conclusive evidence under a pile and even though NFL rules state the play isn't reversible.
Second, there was Jaguars linebacker Russell Allen's apparent interception, an interception that took on the "apparent" tag when officials announced shortly afterward that the Cardinals had been awarded a timeout an instant before the play.
Fans, already irked with the replay/muff call, added more lust to their already lusty booing at that point, but what Bradley spoke about later wasn't the lust or that there were replays that proved the officials made the correct call on the timeout.
What Bradley said he liked was how the Jaguars responded.
"I thought it was a lot of adversity with a fumble recovery that we thought that ended up not being, the time out where we had, interceptions … all those things and I didn't think it took the spirit away from the defense which is all good signs," he said.
And you know what?
If you cut through a lot of the fuzz of the short-term, he's right about that, just as if you cut through a lot of the fuzz of the short-term, this one felt a little different.
This didn't feel like the first month of the season. In those games – the loss to the Chiefs, to Seattle, to the Colts at home, to the Chargers and the 49ers – there never seemed a time when the Jaguars were in it. On Sunday, there was energy.
For a half, the Jaguars played with a team that is very much in the NFC playoff chase.
They not only led 7-0 after the Henne pass to Noble, they responded to a quick drive – a drive that Bradley said disappointed him as much as anything else Sunday – with another touchdown drive to take a 14-7 lead.
That it didn't last probably is indicative of just where this team is right now – in the first year of a build and still needing a lot of improvement.
The Jaguars have averaged less than two yards rushing in their last two games. They have played each of those games without wide receiver Justin Blackmon, and the combination is sort of a spiraling effect. No Blackmon means teams can bunch up against the run. Teams bunching against the run puts more pressure on the passing game. And so on.
Sunday was maybe the first of the six games Blackmon missed this season where you thought, "If they had Blackmon, maybe it's different." One big play here or there – the sorts of plays Blackmon can either make or help create with his presence – and maybe it's different.
That's where the Jaguars are right now. They're not where they want to be offensively, and they're not where they want to be on the defensive front. In Year One, they're not where they want to be in terms of personnel.
But they're a little closer in terms of the style Bradley wants to play, and while Sunday wasn't a victory, it was an example of that. Maybe not everywhere, but here and there, in spots – and certainly in a lot more spots than we were seeing in September.
And because of that, Sunday did feel different. Even if it didn't feel real good.