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Low-point requires new determination


It may be the most demoralizing regular-season loss in their history. The Jaguars' postgame locker room was the football equivalent of a morgue.

The reasons were obvious.

• They had lost to a previously-winless Buffalo team, and scored just 10 points against the league's worst points-per-game defense.

• The 2-0 start to which the Jaguars had staked themselves has faded into the reality of a 2-3 record. Even worse, now the schedule gets tough, with seven of the final 11 games on the road and three of the next four games to be played in Baltimore, Tennessee and Pittsburgh.

• They dare not claim to be a playoff contender. No one is considering them as such this week, not after Thursday's pathetic performance on national television.

• No one is saying it, but who among the Jaguars isn't considering the possibility that time has passed this team by? The increasingly undeniable fact is that this team missed its turn, and there may be no turning the clock back.

The Jaguars have been through hard times in the past. They were there a year ago, but they believed in their hearts that they had been sabotaged by injuries and that their fall from the ranks of the elite was a one-year thing.

Their owner and head coach agreed, so they went forward with a plan to keep the team's core players together, re-structuring contracts roster-wide. Everything, including another slice of the future, was compromised to take one more swing at a championship. That's what makes this most recent loss hurt the most. It came at the hands of a team that had taken the opposite approach to its salary-cap problem.

The victorious Buffalo Bills are the Jaguars of the next couple of seasons; five rookie starters attempting to establish theirs and the team's future. Last night, in Jacksonville, the rag-tag Bills took the first step into that future.

Meanwhile, some would say the Jaguars merely took another step toward their winter of inevitability. Does this team have enough left in the tank to recover from this loss and make one last dash at the playoffs?

"You work too hard during the week to lose to a team that hadn't won a game; at home and on national television," wide receiver Jimmy Smith said.

He admitted to an inner pain. For this, he had come back from triple abdominal surgery last spring. It doesn't seem fair, but it's no less real.

"What do you do?" Smith asked, looking up with eyes softened by hurt.

Different players used different emotions to deal with their disappointment. Defensive end Renaldo Wynn's mood was similar to Smith's. Linebacker Kevin Hardy displayed a kind of self-accusing resignation. Hardy Nickerson, the old pro, laid his cards on the table.

"It is a low point," Nickerson said, choosing to accent the word "is." "The way we played tonight was embarrassing," he added.

At no point did any player in the Jaguars' postgame locker room refer to those in their ranks who were missing from action, which is to say Fred Taylor and Tony Boselli, two of the biggest and most irreplaceable stars in the game.

"I'm tired of using injuries as an excuse. We have to go with what we've got," Smith said.

It was noble sounding, but illogical, if it was to suggest this team can play without Taylor and Boselli and not expect a fall-off in offensive production. An excuse? No, just reality. This is a battered team that has been physically compromised and, as a result, finds itself in sharp decline.

What would the Ravens defense be without Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware? How much are Eddie George and Jerome Bettis worth to the Titans and Steelers?

Unfortunately, Taylor is not expected to be in the lineup in Baltimore a week from this Sunday. Of course, Boselli is gone for the season. Help is not on the way.

"Yeah, it's a legitimate concern. We start off on fire and then we lose three in a row. I would see it as a real concern," Hardy said sternly.

"I'm in a state of shock," Wynn offered. "Words can't explain how I feel right now. We didn't get it done. Those are the ones that hurt the most. But I will tell you this, we will bounce back."

At some point this week, all of Wynn's teammates must develop the same determination. It is all that can save what remains of this season.

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