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Hope surfaces in defeat


No one offered the words "moral victory," for the obvious reason of professional dignity, but it was in their hearts. And it was visible in their postgame demeanor.

Fred Taylor talked of being especially distraught as he left the field, and Damon Gibson faced the longest and most painful postgame interview session of his football life, but, very honestly, the air in the Jaguars' clubhouse had been heavier following wins than it was in the moments immediately after Sunday's 28-25 setback to the Indianapolis Colts.

Why? Because there was an undeniable feeling that something good had happened on the Alltel Stadium turf, and that it was something on which this team could build a better tomorrow.

"This one hurts because we pride ourselves on starting the right way here and this time we didn't do it. We really needed a win to kick off this season," Mark Brunell told reporters.

Yeah, the Jaguars talked of their disappointment, and there was no questioning their despair, but there was another stronger emotion in the Jaguars locker room, and it was all about hope for the future. Very frankly, they played better than most people thought they would.

No, you say? Your expectations were greater than what the Jaguars delivered on day one? Hmmm, are you sure you're being realistic? After all, heading into today's season-opener, the state of the Jaguars seemed to present several major negatives. Where was the hope?

• Their first-team offense hadn't scored a touchdown in the preseason and their star pass-catcher was being saddled with the responsibility of changing the team's fortunes, even though he would have only four practices under his belt.

• The defense would count only one returning starter among its front seven, and that player would be playing on a knee that was likely to limit his participation and contribution.

• Their kicking game was in the hands of a rookie who had yet to offer any reasons to have confidence in him.

And there more reasons to worry. But not now. Though in defeat, the Jaguars gave us reason to have hope for what this season might become. And don't forget, no one was giving the Steelers much chance when they left Jacksonville a 21-3 loser in last year's season-opener, but the Steelers won 14 of their next 16 games, all the way to the AFC title game.

"I came in here like this was a championship game. A couple of tears came to my eyes," Taylor said of his mood as he left the field and made his way to the cool comfort of the Jaguars clubhouse.

Taylor wiped the tears away quickly. Or maybe a return to logical thought dried his eyes.

As terrible a thing as defeat is, the Jaguars could point to:

• 343 yards of offense, a five-minute time of possession advantage, a 50 percent third-down conversion rate and a most impressive balance between run and pass,

• A record-tying, 17-play touchdown drive, during which the Jaguars ran the ball on nine consecutive plays and snow-plowed the Colts' defensive line with impressive ease.

• The emergence of wide receiver Bobby Shaw, who caught five passes for 48 yards and, at times, made it appear as though Keenan McCardell had never left.

• A quarterback who still has plenty of pop in his left arm.

All of that helped ease legitimate concerns for a defense that was not the equal of the Colts offense, the league's second-ranked unit a year ago and a group that includes three of the most feared stars in the game.

So, what did you expect? Did you forget what this team lost on defense during the offseason? Give it some time.

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