HOUSTON, Tex. – After a while, it just got to be too much.
That's the story of the Jaguars' 24-14 loss to the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium Sunday, and really, it's the story of the 2011 season to date. While you give the Jaguars' defensive players credit Sunday for saying the right things, that didn't make the reality any less real.
Once again, the defense played very, very well.
Once again, it was good enough in normal circumstances to win.
Once again, it wasn't enough.
Not that the Jaguars' defense took that tact. And not that Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio took it, either. When the game ended Sunday, when the Jaguars' chances to move to within a game of the AFC South-leading Texans had become a three-game deficit and an uphill climb, Del Rio was asked if, in fact, the defense had played well enough to win.
His response was what it should have been, that the loss was a team loss, and that the defense had chances to make plays to win the game.
He pointed to a would-be interception by safety Dwight Lowery. He pointed, too, to a 30-yard pass from Texans quarterback Matt Schaub to tight end Owen Daniels on 3rd-and-5 with just under four minutes remaining.
Make those plays, Del Rio said, and you have a chance.
True, but what Del Rio didn't say and couldn't say was that while the Jaguars' defense could indeed have made those plays it's not realistic to ask the defense to make every play.
To ask that is to ask perfection. That's not possible in today's NFL. You get it occasionally, and on those occasions a team ranked 32nd in the NFL in offense can beat a team such as the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football with four field goals.
That's what the Jaguars did Monday, and for a week, the talk around the Jaguars was of a vastly improved defense. The talk was of hope, and there was talk of a post-season run.
On Sunday, the Jaguars returned to earth.
They found themselves there for the same reasons they lost five consecutive games before the victory over Baltimore – that while the defense is indeed improved, the offense is asking too much on a weekly basis.
The script Sunday was familiar. The Jaguars fell behind early, 7-0 after the defense allowed a touchdown on the opponents' first possession for the fifth time in seven games. Then, the defense fought and clawed and stayed in a game while the offense sputtered.
On Sunday, the defense even did what it hadn't enough this season, creating opportunities for the offense. In the first half, linebacker Clint Session blitzed and forced a fumble. Defensive end Matt Roth recovered and two laterals later, the Jaguars had a first down on the Houston 8. Rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert's five-yard pass to Jason Hill tied it.
The Jaguars then had a chance to take the lead on the next possession, but Gabbert's pass was deflected and linebacker Brian Cushing intercepted.
Gabbert took the blame for the interception, and took the blame for a second-half interception, too. Gabbert's a stand-up guy and even though it's hard for him to control a tipped pass, he accepted responsibility. He also said after the game he doesn't want to talk about rookie growing pains. Those are excuses, he said, and excuses are for the weak.
That's good stuff. What's not good is 10 completions in 30 attempts for 97 yards. Two interceptions against a touchdown and a 26.7 passer rating isn't good, either.
There's no sugarcoating it. Gabbert is struggling, big-time, and although that's to be expected from a rookie, the offense isn't going to get better until that's not true.
How long will that take?
Only time will tell, and until the time comes, they will be games such as Sunday, games when it seems no matter what the defense does, it's not enough. Even after Gabbert's interception near the end of the first half, the Jaguars had a chance, but after entering the third quarter tied 7-7, the second half took on a frustrating, familiar feel.
The Texans' two second-half touchdown drives came on short fields – one of 44 yards after a 33-yard punt return by Jacoby Jones and the other of 40 yards after Gabbert's second interception. Five plays after the interception, Texans running back Arian Foster's four-yard run made it 21-7.
Still, the defense fought. A fumble return by Lowery and a 15-yard penalty set up the Jaguars' final touchdown, but with 3:48 remaining, Schaub turned 3rd-and-5 into a game-clinching first down when he found Daniels wide open over the middle.
There will be those that say the defense should have made that stop, and maybe they should have, but at some point, you can't win every game 16-14 or 12-7. The Jaguars have yet to score more than 20 points, and when they scored 14 Sunday, it raised their average for the season.
After a while, that wears on a defense, because after a while in the NFL, an offense is going to get things figured out against even the best defense. After a while, given enough 40-yard fields, even weak offenses score and offenses as good as Houston's darned sure do.
After a while, you can't ask for perfection. After a while, it just gets to be too much.