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Jags still in the playoff race


SAN FRANCISCO—Here's what we know to be true: The Jaguars don't play their best football on the West Coast. Now here's the good news: The Jaguars are not scheduled to play another game on the West Coast this year.

Sunday's 20-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers was the proverbial slap in the face for a team that had won six of its previous eight games and began earning praise last week as the AFC surprise team of the year. You won't hear a lot of praise this week.

As the Jaguars prepare to begin a three-game home stretch of schedule that will decide the fate of their season, it will be to their advantage that they no doubt have fallen off the radar once again as the result of a lopsided loss. This is a good thing because off the radar is what the Jaguars do best. Just look at their record following big losses.

They lost to Arizona, 31-17, then won two in a row. They followed a 41-0 shutout in Seattle with a win at home, then won three in a row following a 30-13 defeat in Tennessee.

Hey, that's something else we know to be true about the Jaguars: They bounce back from defeat and that's exactly what they'll have to do this week or they will have run out of playoff hope. Yes, we have reached the point of win or else.

"We have to figure out and fix what went wrong today or we're going to keep losing games," Maurice Jones-Drew said.

What went wrong? That was every reporter's favorite question in the postgame locker room. The stock answer, of course, is that the Jaguars didn't execute well enough to win. Really? Who would've ever thought that was the reason?

If I never hear the we-didn't-execute reason again, and I almost surely will because I've been hearing it for 38 years – it's coachspeak that transcends time – it will be sooner than I'd like. Being the probing, hard-charging reporter I am, I asked a few of the team's more introspective members to give me their interpretation of what "we didn't execute" means.

"We couldn't get off the field on third down and didn't get enough pressure on the quarterback. It's that simple," defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison said.

Bingo! Those, indeed, are the two reasons for the Jaguars' failures on defense, which also included a penchant for not making big plays at big times.

So what were the reasons for the lack of execution on offense?

"We just had too many three-and-outs and couldn't give our defense any rest. They're going to break down when they have to stay on the field that long," offensive tackle Eben Britton said.

You bet they will. Any defense will. Britton may be a rookie, but he has a veteran's command of postgame analysis.

Now I'd like to give you a veteran reporter's analysis of the damage the Jaguars' playoff hopes sustained as a result of their loss to the 49ers: very little.

The bottom line is this: Sunday's game was inter-conference, therefore, it won't count in the wild-card tiebreakers. It's just a loss, not a loss and a tiebreaker setback. That's what Houston suffered in its loss to the Colts. The Texans' late-game collapse against the Colts is probably the kill shot.

Truth be known, the Jaguars are still in great shape to make a playoff run. All they have to do is win at home, which they've done four times in five tries this year, and win once on the road, say, at Cleveland.

They'll start by hosting the Texans, who are likely a demoralized lot after having lost a big lead to the Colts. The wolves will be howling for Gary Kubiak this week and the 5-6 Texans could be ripe for the picking.

Miami will follow Houston into Jacksonville. The 5-6 Dolphins are coming off a shellacking at the hands of the Bills that pretty much ends any playoff hopes the Dolphins had.

Then comes the big Thursday nighter against the Colts, who clinched the AFC South title on Sunday and are likely to have homefield advantage for the playoffs locked up by the time they come to Jacksonville. Can you say Jim Sorgi?

The season ends in Cleveland. Do you see where I'm going with this? Win the three at home and the one in Cleveland and that's 10 wins and that'll usually get a team into the playoffs.

Now here's the big question: Based on the way the Jaguars played in San Francisco, does it really matter?

Getting into the playoffs will be meaningless if the Jaguars don't start playing as a playoff contender should. They didn't do that at any time against the 49ers.

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