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Another challenging October


Last week at this time, the national media was singing the Jaguars' praises. The Jags were being called the best team nobody knows and Jacksonville was buying up teal t-shirts in preparation for all-teal Monday and the co-celebration of town and team.

It was supposed to be our night. It was supposed to be our coming-out party. Jacksonville was going to say hello to America's football fans and introduce to them the NFL's newest contender to elite-team status.

What the heck happened? Well, I guess that's a stupid question. You know what happened.

The Jaguars began preparations on Wednesday for this Sunday's game in Tampa with the most daunting task of any team in the league. It will begin the league's only three-game "road trip" this season with a quarterback who will be in his first-ever start.

Yeah, that's how quick it all can change in the NFL. It can and has changed that quickly for the Jaguars, and it wouldn't be any different for the undefeated Colts or Patriots if they were facing the same circumstances. It doesn't get any tougher than three on the road without your starting quarterback.

"It's an uphill battle. It's another stepping stone. This is another of those obstacles you try to prepare yourself for in the offseason because you know they're going to happen," middle linebacker Mike Peterson said of the 1-2 punch the Jaguars are facing.

This three-game "road trip" marks the fifth time in team history (1997, '98, 2001 and '05) the club will play three consecutive road games. In the entire league since 1990, there have been 100 road trips of three or more games and only seven of those resulted in a 3-0 sweep.

Here's the good news: The Jaguars own two of those seven sweeps. Yeah, the Jaguars have won their last six games in three-game "road trips" ('01 and '05).

No coach wants this. I guarantee you that when Jack Del Rio first looked at his team's schedule last spring, his heart sank when he saw three "ats" in a row at midseason, because "at" is often another way of saying "loss." The coach, of course, won't admit as much, but he knows it to be the truth.

It is the curse of curses. There's no other way to say it. The NFL schedule-maker obviously hates the Jaguars. He hates them because he's tired of the same old request the Jaguars make to the league every year: Hey, guys, remember that we can't play at home the final Saturday of October because the stadium is being used for an outdoor cocktail party.

No problem, the schedule-maker says. We'll just schedule you for a road game that day, and they do; and the week before and the week after, too.

Excuse me for being cynical and suspicious, but I am a sportswriter and those, of course, are traits of the trade. My cynicism and suspiciousness tells me the schedule-maker is annoyed by such a request – since his job of balancing TV's requests are difficult enough, let alone having to accommodate a college football game, too – that he metes out a little punishment to the boys from Jacksonville.

This is a terrible month for this football team. It almost always has been.

The Jaguars are 22-30 lifetime in October. It is the only month of the season in which the team has a lifetime losing record. Why? The answer is obvious: The Jaguars have played more games on the road than at home.

October is a month that has had an uncanny way of ruining Jaguars seasons. It flat out ruined each of the 2000 and '01 seasons, as the Jaguars posted a combined 1-7 record in those two Octobers. It's the month that may have cost Tom Coughlin his job in 2002.

Del Rio has fared better in October than his predecessor. Del Rio is currently 9-10 in October.

In a conversation with the head ball coach last week, he acknowledged that his team has a murderous finishing schedule, but he said he was OK with that because his team has always played its best football when it has been challenged. Applying that logic, the Jaguars should be on top of their game this Sunday.

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