The Jaguars began the season talking of making it to the Super Bowl. Five weeks later, their expectations have been reduced to improvement.
That's the major effect of the Jaguars' 24-13 loss to the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday afternoon. The Steelers so completely dominated the game physically that the Jaguars have been reduced to a humble approach to the remainder of their season.
"It's the most critical time because it's now. You can't have a November or December if you don't win now. This is the gut-check part of our schedule," coach Tom Coughlin told reporters prior to meeting with his team today.
The 2-3 Jaguars will host the AFC Central-leading Baltimore Ravens (4-1) this Sunday, then will go to Tennessee for a Monday night game, back home to face Washington, then travel to Dallas. It's a schedule that could leave the Jaguars out of playoff contention before their bye week.
"A low point in the franchise?" Coughlin asked in repeating a reporter's question. "Certainly, it's not fun. There have been no times in recent history that I've felt like this."
A week ago, Coughlin spoke of embarrassment. Today, worry was the emotion. There is great concern that the Jaguars' season will crumble before it reaches the halfway mark.
Are his players suffering from a lack of confidence?
"They're searching," Coughlin admitted.
The coach is left to search for players who can block and tackle. Those were the two aspects of the game in which the Jaguars were completely dominated by the previously-winless Steelers.
"We're seeing teams play us with very little regard for the run. I always say it starts up front because it's the physical nature of the game," Coughlin said. "You don't want to get into a pure passing game, and we have week in and week out."
The Jaguars' offensive trio of quarterback Mark Brunell, wide receiver Jimmy Smith and running back Fred Taylor were completely ineffective against the Steelers. Smith and Taylor combined for only 44 yards, while Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart scrambled for 61 yards.
Pittsburgh ran the ball 44 times and threw it only 16 times, but was able to hold the ball more than 10 minutes longer than the Jaguars.
Now, the Jaguars face a Ravens team that is considered to be significantly better and more physical than the Steelers, though the Jaguars scored 36 points against the Ravens in a week-two loss this season. Of course, the Jaguars did all of that with their passing attack.
"Is this a must-win game?" Coughlin was asked.
"I'm not going to use that word. We need to improve … and then somehow find a way to win," Coughlin said.