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Jaguars' next step


Jack Del Rio has preached a consistent message from the start of this season: Be steady, focus on getting better, take it one game at a time. This past Monday, less than 24 hours after a very emotional loss to the Colts, Del Rio described his team's next game as another "business trip."

These are not the kind of words on which great sports stories are built, but they are words that have long served as the foundation of championship teams.

This is not college football. NFL teams don't have the luxury of surrounding a couple of rugged opponents with a schedule full of patsies. You don't make it into the "BCS" on the strength of two big games. In this league, your next big game is this Sunday, every Sunday.

Laugh, if you wish, but it's the truth. The NFL is a league that's been leveled and diluted by a system of personnel gains and losses that forbids any team from cornering the market on talent. Look at any roster in the league; it's likely to have a player on it from the team it will play this weekend.

As a result of this system, the NFL has achieved its ultimate goal: absolute parity. It is here, except for a few teams every season that have been rendered incapable by unforeseen or unavoidable circumstances.

Last year, the Jaguars and the Chargers were two such teams. When they met in week five of the season, they were each 0-4. In each case, they appeared to have woefully inept rosters that would require long-term reconstruction.

Well, the two teams will meet this Sunday in a second consecutive week-five showdown, and their combined record is 5-3. Long-term? Nothing in this league is long-term any longer. Parity means being able to go from worst to first in one season.

The point to all of this is that Del Rio's boring Monday manifesto, you know, that one-game-at-a-time stuff that causes reporters' pens to slide off their notebooks, is, well, the proper approach. And it really goes to the heart of the Jaguars' task this Sunday in San Diego.

This team rode a high through the first month of the season. Focusing on the next opponent is no problem when you're undefeated and everybody is singing your praises. But what will this team do coming off a loss? Will it have the same energy?

Call it professionalism; the quality in a player that produces the same high standard of performance week in and week out. That's what Del Rio has attempted to promote each Monday in his day-after-the-game press conferences. In each case, he has attempted to move the conversation forward. He's announced enforcement of his 24-hour rule, which is a not-so-subtle hint that it's time to stop looking back and start looking forward.

Hey, the guy wasn't hired to entertain the media. He was hired to win football games, and the coaches who win in this league are the ones who achieve a very sharp focus on their next opponent.

This Sunday's game will give us a good indication of the Jaguars' ability to achieve that sharp focus. Has this team bought into its coach's message? Does it possess that quality of professionalism? On the heels of a disheartening defeat, can this team fly across the country, dig its cleats into the California soil and find a way to come home 4-1?

It is the next step in this team's evolution.

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