There was a disturbing theme to several of the Jaguars' nine losses last season and, at times, that same theme showed itself in a few of the team's seven wins.
That theme was a penchant for second-half or late-game collapses. They collapsed in the second half in losses at Baltimore and at Indianapolis. The Jaguars even failed to protect late-game leads against lesser teams such as Seattle and Cincinnati, allowing long, late-game drives. They did the same in Dallas, but managed to win in overtime. The Jaguars took a 10-7 lead into the fourth quarter against the Giants, then collapsed in the face of a 21-point outburst.
Even after fighting back to even their record at 7-7, the Jaguars sagged in the final two games of the season, posting the team's first losing record since its inaugural season, 1995.
Theories were offered. One of those theories was that the Jaguars never fully recovered from their AFC title game loss to the visiting Titans in the previous season. Some thought the Jaguars' enthusiasm was sapped by that loss, and that it remained lost for a whole season.
Jaguars veterans from the '99 season dispute that assertion, but they admit that something was wrong. "We just got into a funk and couldn't get out of it," wide receiver Jimmy Smith said following practice today. "We're not in a funk now. That was last year. The only thing we can't have is injuries. We don't have any depth, but who does?"
This is the best the Jaguars have felt about themselves since halftime of that '99 AFC title game loss, when the Jaguars held a 14-10 lead. What followed was a 23-point barrage by the Titans. Get the theory?
"I hope we are. We better be," wide receiver Keenan McCardell said when asked if the Jaguars are recovered from the trauma of '99, when the Titans handed the Jaguars their only three defeats of the season.
"If you're not, you bring up ghosts from the past," he added.
The chief ghost from the Jaguars' past is that they had put themselves into perfect position to reach their goal, the Super Bowl; that they had no one to blame, not even fate, that they didn't reach that goal.
"When you set the deck the way you want and you know you have the upper hand, and you see it slip away, it just hurts," said McCardell, who admits to an offseason of regret following the '99 season.
There is a new energy in the Jaguars' locker room this year. The disappointment of last season may have had a purging effect on the team's psyche. As this Sunday's big game against the visiting Titans approaches, the Jaguars are a relaxed and confident lot. They have a greater degree of energy than they appeared to have last season.
"I think we're eager to see if we can expand on the Pittsburgh game," cornerback Fernando Bryant said. "We look at it as we have to win the division to get into the playoffs," he added, referring to the possibility the NFL will decrease its playoff field to eight teams.
"There's going to be some down-to-the-wire football, especially if they go to four teams (per conference) in the playoffs," McCardell said.
One of those "down-to-the-wire" games may occur this Sunday, in just the second game of the season.
Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.