A month ago, 3-1 and tied for first place in the AFC South would've been just fine. So why isn't it just fine now?
That's really not such a difficult question to answer. The Jaguars' expectations and their fans' expectations for them have risen. Over the first three weeks of the season, this team became accustomed to winning. All of a sudden, losing has become an especially bitter pill to swallow.
Coach Jack Del Rio and his players talked encouragingly of the team's 3-1 start. They nodded their approval of the team's position and place at the quarter pole of the NFL season, but their words were spoken through clenched teeth. The 24-17 loss they suffered to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday hurt this team.
"We finish the first quarter 3-1 and tied with the Colts. We'll see them in three weeks," Del Rio told reporters following the loss.
Marcus Stroud said he was "happy about the start," but then he said something about not being able to say what he really felt, and it was clearly with a look ahead to the two teams' rematch in Indianapolis on Oct. 24.
Statistically, the Jaguars did enough to win. They out-gained the Colts 408 yards to 337. Statistically, Byron Leftwich out-played Peyton Manning, 318 yards to 220 and a 101.5 passer rating to Manning's 99.8. Statistically, the Jaguars held the ball an unbelievable 11 minutes longer than the Colts.
Hey, wait a minute. On an 85-degree day in Jacksonville, you'd think the Colts would've wilted and the Jaguars would've won this game, right? Yeah, but they didn't and they didn't for a couple of reasons that eat at the heart of this team.
• They didn't convert critical short-yardage plays that could've turned the game decidedly in the Jaguars' favor.
• They didn't stop the Colts at crunch time.
That's why this team is hurting. Short-yardage and crunch time are macho things. They are aspects of the game on which these new-era Jaguars have built their reputation. The Colts are about finesse offense. The Jaguars are about power football and defense. It didn't play out that way on Sunday.
The Colts out-rushed the Jaguars, 117 yards to 97. That was the source of the Jaguars' first disappointment, and it was emphasized most dramatically by the team's failure to convert on third-and-two and fourth-and-one in the first quarter, on second-and-goal from the two-yard line early in the fourth quarter, on third-and-one a series later, then, finally, on fourth-and-one as the Jaguars attempted to rally to tie the game.
These were the dead-last-in-defense Colts. This was a defense the Jaguars pushed around in their upset win last season.
Then there's the matter of a proud Jaguars defense, that should've been rested and ready to protect a 17-17 score with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. At first, it appeared the Jags defense had done its job, but a late flag for holding against Dewayne Washington nullified a third-down incompletion, and that gave the Colts new life.
Down the field they charged. Manning cut through the Jaguars defense with ease, moving 74 yards in 13 plays, Edgerrin James scoring the game-winner on a three-yard run that was way too easy.
"We tell them, 'Don't blink. Whatever happens, don't blink. (The Colts) made the plays in that drive. We've got to do better when the outcome isn't in our favor. That's what it's all about," defensive coordinator Mike Smith said.
"You can only run over so many guys," Del Rio said of the short-yardage plays that resulted in Fred Taylor getting snuffed out as though he was just another running back, which he is not. "We did not execute at the point of attack," Del Rio added of his offensive line's failure to block the short-yardage plays.
The Jaguars will wrestle with the loss. Del Rio will invoke his 24-hour rule, which will forbid his players to wrestle longer than mid-day on Monday, but how do you order a mind to stop hurting? This one is going to eat at this team. All of a sudden, 3-1 really isn't good enough.
What does that say?