NASHVILLE--The Tennessee Titans are to the Jaguars what the Jaguars used to be to the Baltimore Ravens. The Titans are the Jaguars' great tormentors; Jaguars killers who delight on every slash of their mythical swords.
Last January, it was the Titans who ended the Jaguars' run for the Super Bowl. Now, it would seem, the Titans' most recent victory has only served to rub salt in the Jaguars' still-open wound.
They are bookend games, the Titans' 33-14 win over the Jaguars in last January's AFC title game, and this most recent conquest of the Jacksonville club, 27-13. They are two games that define the Jaguars franchise: The Titans' win in January ended the most successful era in expansion franchise history; the Titans' win Monday night signaled the start of the Jaguars' reconstruction.
The players talk about 10 wins and winning-out, but logic would dictate that the Jaguars' thoughts must turn toward their long-term future. The postseason is no longer a logical consideration. The appropriate question is not: Will the Jaguars make the playoffs? Now, we wonder when will this team win, again? Will it win, again, this season?
And there are even more important questions that have nothing to do with this season, but everything to do with next season and when recovery might begin for this franchise. Before this team can begin thinking about the postseason, again, it must deal with overwhelming salary-cap problems, a roster that lacks depth, a quarterback job that is likely to be open, and the potential for re-ordering of the team's philosophy of operation.
It would be an understatement to say that much about the Jaguars is likely to change this winter. This team will never again be as we have known it for five-plus seasons. There will be a fresh approach, a different approach, and we will remember Monday night as the starting point. What happened Monday night was clear-cut enough for all of us to now understand that this team's losing ways are attributable to more than a breakdown here and a breakdown there, callous disregard for the ball, predictable play-calling, no fire or killer instinct, or a significant lack of execution.
What do you think of your team's execution, coach? John McKay would've said he was in favor of it.
Death would be the easy way out. No, the Jaguars must tough it out; find a way to deal with playing nine more regular season games minus the motivation with which they dedicated the season. Now, they play for their pride and professionalism.
No one would go on record as saying the season was lost, but there were subtle admissions. Quarterback Mark Brunell was asked if thought of making the playoffs was reasonable, and Brunell said it was, "but," he added, "that's not at the front of our minds right now. We need to get a win."
Coach Tom Coughlin was asked a similar question, and Coughlin spoke in vague representations. "There's time to get the thing straightened around. It's going to take a major effort," Coughlin said.
Maybe, the more appropriate question is: Define "straightened around." What does that mean for this team; 9-7, 8-8?
"Straightened around" is a debatable term. For those who are present-tense-only people, "straightened around" means salvaging a winning season. It means getting on a winning streak and somehow recovering to remain in the playoff chase beyond Thanksgiving. Coughlin is one of those present-tense people.
Then there are the big-picture people, who tend to focus on the future. Unfortunately, there weren't enough big-picture people in this franchise to discourage it from mortgaging its future salary caps for the sake of the first era of Jaguars football.
For the big-picture people, "straightened around" means finding enough promising young talent on the roster to make high-salaried players expendable, and give reason to believe that the rebuilding of this football team won't be of Cincinnati like proportions. We had come to believe the Jaguars won because they were of a higher order than the league's losers. Now, we'll find that losing is a disease that afflicts all teams.
Owner Wayne Weaver must be the franchise's big-picture leader. The present can no longer run away with the future. Now, it is such that the future offers the Jaguars promises the present couldn't keep. The present betrayed the Jaguars. Now, all efforts and all considerations should be in favor of the future and the quickest and most long-lasting recovery possible.
Now, the rules are simple:
Youth must be served.
Player development is the key.
The salary cap is the boss.
The Super Bowl is the goal, but not this year.