JACKSONVILLE – This one had the right look, the right feel, the right effort, the right …
Well, the right everything.
That was true for the Jaguars for 30 impressive, scrappy, uplifting, encouraging minutes Sunday, and for those 30 minutes, you felt that uplifting, encouraging stuff a whole lot more than the drizzling cold winds off the St. Johns River.
Then, came the second half.
And in the second half, it all went away.
The Jaguars on Sunday lost to the Houston Texans, 27-13. They lost because the Texans dominated the second half. They lost because what worked in the first half did not work in the second, and they lost in one-sided enough fashion that all that seemed good about the first two quarters was difficult to remember by game's end.
"We missed the opportunity to capture momentum," Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said.
That was Bradley's quote to remember from Sunday, and a dismal Everbank Field locker room reflected the same feeling.
"We need to find a way to get better in the second half," wide receiver Cecil Shorts III said afterward. "I'm not sure what happened the second half but we've got to figure out a way to get things going. We can't have one good half and one bad half. We have to play a full game, together."
Players throughout the locker room said roughly the same thing, but as much as anyone, the head coach summed this one up afterward.
Bradley said this past week he considered the Jaguars a momentum team, largely because as a young team it has fed this season off positive plays.
"I think that's who we are," Bradley said Sunday.
Bradley said he thought entering the game the Jaguars had a chance to build momentum after rallying from a 21-point deficit last Sunday to beat the New York Giants, 25-24, at EverBank Field.
And through the first half Sunday, that momentum stayed real:
Blake Bortles, the rookie quarterback who led his first game-winning, fourth-quarter drive against the Giants, was solid if not spectacular in the first half, completing 12 of 24 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown while using his legs to extend plays. Bortles is far from a perfect quarterback at this early stage of his career, but he has strengths and early Sunday he was using them.
Marqise Lee, the rookie wide receiver who has played with increasing confidence in recent weeks, kept increasing. He caught six passes for 60 yards in the first half, and his 31-yard leaping reception in the second quarter was as impressive an offensive play as the Jaguars have had this season.
Defensively, if the first-half effort wasn't as dominant as the past two weeks it was very good, with the result of all of that good a 13-10 halftime lead.
"I thought coming into this game it would be interesting to see do we (could) do that (maintain momentum?)," Bradley said. "To come into the first half and we did that and to not be able to finish it in the second half … I think that's the part that was frustrating for all of us."
And that's the word of the day, isn't it? Frustrating.
The fans at the 'Bank on Sunday felt it, and Bradley felt it, and the players sure felt it. Because this game was like a lot of games this season in which the Jaguars for a significant stretch showed the improvement that players and coaches talk about each week. It was also like a lot of games this season in which the Jaguars only did it for a half.
Bortles showed improvement in that half. So did Lee. So did the offensive line.
The team overall showed improvement in the first half, and it did so in difficult circumstances. This was a game Sunday against a team fighting for the playoffs, and a victory for the Jaguars Sunday would have been significant for that reason. The Jaguars thought that was possible, and for a half, it was indeed possible.
"We had a lapse in the second half and never got anything going," Bortles said. "It's really frustrating."
Yeah, it is, and that frustration could be heard in a post-game locker room with a familiar tone and familiar themes …
A play here and a play there hurts …
What's needed is consistency …
There's still a lot to play for the rest of the season …
If you're reading this, you probably read a lot of post-game jaguars.com coverage, and if so, you're probably tired of reading about a play here or there, and about consistency. That's understandable, but that doesn't mean the last part isn't true.
For this team, in the context of this season and this building process, there still is much for which to play this season. Young players such as Bortles and Lee need to keep developing, and cornerback Demetrius McCray and linebacker Telvin Smith do, too. Players such as Luke Joeckel and Johnathan Cyprien – heck, most of the roster – needs game experience. The team needs to figure out what's next for an offensive line that has struggled too often this season, and overall, there's just too much growth to be done for the rest of the season not to have meaning.
How to define growth? That's not easy, and it's not easy for a team so young to play for an entire game the way it did in the first half Sunday.
But while it won't be easy it darned sure would be a good start.