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A view from the O-Zone: A month and a half that matters


JACKSONVILLE – In one sense, perhaps the season cannot be saved.

If you entered this season thinking playoffs, or talking winning season … if you had those expectations – which were certainly lofty and perhaps premature – then as the Jaguars exit the bye week perhaps the season is indeed un-savable.

For the more realistic among us, six games remain in the 2014 season.

And those six games matter. Very much.

The season can be reshaped. The storyline can change.

The Jaguars in six weeks can leave the 2014 season feeling a whole lot better about the immediate past – and therefore a whole lot better about the future.

So, in that sense … yeah, the season can be salvaged. It can be saved.

That essentially was the message Head Coach Gus Bradley sent players Monday when he gathered the team for the first meeting of the week, the initial meeting after the bye. He sent it clear, and in one way or the other, he has kept sending it this week.

There is plenty for which to play in the final month and half – as a team and as individuals.

And to see players still working enthusiastically this week, to hear them still talking about goals and improving, it's apparent the message was heard.

There will be naysayers at this point. There will be those who take up the annual call to lose games to secure a few draft slots come May. One-and-nine, after all, is disappointing and disturbing because this 1-9 start follows similar starts the last two seasons. And the naysayers will say, "Nay, the season is a loss."

Let them nay and let them say, but let them also go off by themselves, because not only won't the Jaguars do that – professional sports doesn't work that way, and this team under Bradley certainly doesn't – this team shouldn't do that.

This isn't the time to talk draft, because the last six weeks still represent a chance to remember this season in a very different light, and as a step forward not a step back.

Can it happen? Sure. Look no further than last year.

Last year, the Jaguars by any definition limped into the bye. They had lost all eight games by 10 or more points, and then during the bye they lost their most dynamic player when Justin Blackmon was suspended indefinitely.

They responded in a way that at the time seemed somewhere beyond improbable and really close to impossible. They won four of the next five games.

Is that doable this year? Well, it's less likely. The schedule is less favorable and features more teams fighting for playoff positioning.

But the record over the last six games isn't that critical. Yes, you'd love to see the Jaguars get some tangible, won-loss improvement to go along with the improvement players, coaches and many fans have felt at times this season.

But just as much you want to see players improve, to grow, to show they belong, to show they can be not just good, but "winning good." The Jaguars believe there are young, core players on the roster, but the truth is most those young, core players haven't firmly established as such yet.

Luke Joeckel, and pretty much everyone on the offensive line. Johnathan Cyprien and Josh Evans. Dwayne Gratz and Demetrius McCray. Marqise Lee. Telvin Smith. All have potential, but all could stand to play better, more consistently, during these final six weeks.

The most high-profile example of this, of course, is Blake Bortles.

These last six weeks aren't make-or-break for the rookie quarterback. He's the future, and whatever late November and December bring won't change that.

But the last six weeks matter. He can play better. He can reduce mistakes. He can add big plays to the resume. The storyline right now on Bortles this season is that he hasn't played nearly as consistently as hoped, and that the last few starts haven't looked as good as the first few.

Six games can change that storyline significantly, and if the same six games can't change the storyline of the team as a whole quite so dramatically, they still can change it.

Winning a game or two would help. Winning and playing well in four or five games would help even more. Something within that formula – looking tangibly better in the next six weeks than in the last 10 – would turn the energy of Bradley's message this week into something that makes the final six weeks matter.

Those six weeks may not save the season in a postseason or winning sense, but in the where-do-we-go-from sense they absolutely can.

And in that sense, that means the next six weeks are just about as vital as you can imagine.

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