JACKSONVILLE – They searched for answers and answers proved difficult.
Doug Pederson and Jaguars players early this week discussed the 2023 season – specifically, losing five of their last six games to miss the postseason. Pederson, in his second season as the Jaguars' head coach, focused on urgency. Too often, he said, it wasn't there.
Making sure it's there moving forward is critical.
"You can't let things slide, you can't let things slip and that sense of urgency is important to the success we have," he said.
If there was a theme to Pederson's season-ending press conference Monday, that was it. Team leaders the same day spoke of the difficulty of finding the difference between a team that won five consecutive games to clinch the AFC South title in 2022 and one that started 2023 8-3 before finishing 9-8.
The Jaguars on Sunday lost to the Tennessee Titans, 28-20 at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. A victory would have clinched a second consecutive AFC South title.
"I think there was too much expectation of, 'We're going to figure it out,' or, 'It's going to happen,''' wide receiver Christian Kirk said. "It's hard in football to just be able to pinpoint one certain thing, 'This is the reason why we started winning games,' or, 'This is the reason why we started losing games.'
"Everybody wants to talk so much about last year, how we all of a sudden switched our season and became a new team and got into the postseason. Nobody could still give you an answer of why that actually happened."
Kirk continued, "Even statistically, factually, you can't go and look and say, 'Oh, this is why.' There's a sense and a nature of, 'At some point it's going to happen.' That's not how football works. You have to go out there and have to take it.'
Eventually, it will expose you. The NFL is hard, and we just weren't ready. Christian Kirk
Pederson throughout the season spoke of the need to eliminate pre-snap penalties, turnovers, missed assignments and other self-inflicted errors. He discussed these issues Monday, too, also emphasizing the need for a constant high level of preparation and attention to detail.
"It's fuel and motivation for how we move forward," he said of the final six games. "It has to fuel everybody's desire to want to win and to be great. You just can't let your preparation slip. You can't let a rep in practice go by without making sure it's done properly. That's me, that's all the coaches, all the players, it's everybody, all together making sure that doesn't happen."
Pederson added, "I think you get down the road during the season and as coaches, sometimes we say, 'You know what, we'll get that in the meeting. We'll fix that in the meeting.' You do, you fix it, but I want to fix it on the field. If [quarterback] Trevor [Lawrence] makes a poor decision on the field with a throw, let's (do) positive reinforcement. Let's let him get it again, even though he knows exactly where to go with the ball, let's let him make that decision differently. I think sometimes we get caught up too much, 'Let's fix it in the meeting, let's fix it tomorrow,' when in reality, we need to fix it right then. That's just ownership by everybody involved and making sure that we stay on top of those situations."
Pederson, too, said the approach to next season started in exit interviews Monday in "private conversations that I have with the" players.
"Just to feel them and get a gauge … I think that gives you pretty good insight," he said. "One of the things I feel like is a strength of mine is gauging our players and I felt the same way with some of the conversations I've had already. I think I know the 'whys.'
"It's all correctable and fixable moving forward. It's good information for me as I lead the team in the future into the offseason and into the offseason program, and how I can begin to construct messaging and leadership and all of that kind of stuff to help us not be in the situation again."
Players throughout the locker room Monday spoke of the need to turn this season’s disappointment into next season’s motivation and success. And while the disappointment in the season that just ended was real, so was the optimism for the future.
"It essentially has become part of our story," Jaguars tight end Evan Engram said of the second-place finish. "It has happened. It's the cards that we're dealt. It's ultimately what we earned. So, I think moving forward this has to be a part of our story. We have to let the ending of this season enable us to truly become who we aspire to be, who we work to be, and understand that nothing is ever given to us.
"Everything is earned. What you put in is what you get out of it. So, it's reality, it's what it is, it's part of our story, and the leaders of this team, the foundation of this team are guys that will be back in here. It's up to us, and how act it on it to allow it to never happen again."
Time to move forward. The Jaguars ended their season and Nashville, TN. Swipe through top frames from the 2023 regular season finale ➡️