JACKSONVILLE – Let's get the obvious out of the way: This wasn't pretty, it wasn't close and it wasn't what anyone wanted.
Not Gus Bradley. Not David Caldwell. Not anyone in the Jaguars' organization.
Eighteen yards of offense midway through the second quarter?
A 19-point halftime deficit?
A 26-point margin of defeat?
This was the regular-season head-coaching debut of Bradley – the first regular-season game of a new era – a sun-splashed day on the banks of the St. Johns River, a day that promised the start of something new and became a 28-2 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in front of 59,416 at EverBank Field.
"They were better than we were today," Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said immediately afterward.
Better days lie ahead, and the people turning this team around – Caldwell, the team's first-year general manager, included – know that to be true, but still, this was tough. This was disappointing.
"Obviously, we would have liked to have played better," Bradley said afterward.
Bradley wasn't being sarcastic, or flippant. That's not his way. At the same time, he didn't display panic, or shock. The people building the Jaguars know this is a process.
The phrase, "Work in progress?" That applies to this team, and it probably will all season.
The team has a new coaching staff, and 26 new players, and this was a team that spent the offseason very much in building mode. Building means young guys playing, and young guys playing means a lot of young-guy mistakes, and there was an element of that Sunday afternoon.
Bradley during his postgame news conference talked a lot about just that, how what was seen in practice didn't become what he saw in the game.
"I think there are some things that show inexperience at playing in games," Bradley said, adding that the subject was indeed a topic in the team's talk Saturday night. "We have some new guys and we have some rookies that are playing for the first time and that's what our talk was…
"Last night we used our older guys to help our younger guys, to say it is exciting the first NFL game but you really have to simplify. You can't go into the game thinking, 'Now I have to try to do this.' No, you just stay true to yourself and I think that's the learning curve we're going through."
The Jaguars started fast, with a blocked punt giving them an early safety and a 2-0 lead. But the offense was stagnant early, and when the Chiefs registered a pair of point-blank touchdowns in the first quarter, a 14-2 lead entering the second quarter seemed bigger than that.
The Jaguars managed just 49 total first-half yards, with quarterback Blaine Gabbert throwing an interception that led to a 21-yard touchdown drive.
Gabbert, a game-time decision because of a thumb injury, didn't play well. At the same time, he wasn't helped. The Jaguars' receivers dropped passes throughout the first half, and when they didn't drop passes, they weren't open often enough. The offensive line, expected to be a strength, wasn't. The unit allowed six sacks, and the Jaguars rushed for 71 total yards.
The expectation was the offense would be up a tick from the last two seasons. On Sunday, playing without tight end Marcedes Lewis and wide receiver Justin Blackmon, it did not look like the unit that improved throughout the preseason. That was disturbing.
Encouraging was tougher to find, but the defense – despite a pass rush that struggled to pressure Alex Smith – played well enough to keep the Jaguars close. Had the offense been better, the defense probably could have kept the team in the game.
The locker-room mood was as expected: surprise, but a resolve that it won't happen again.
"I feel like we can work to get better," Jones-Drew said.
"You never expect that," linebacker Russell Allen said. "We don't talk about score, or winning, but it obviously didn't go the way we wanted it to today. That's kind of the way it is. We've got a long way to go, but we're going to continue to get better."
Bradley talked afterward of continuing to work to find an offensive identity, and that can happen. Get Lewis and Blackmon back, get the blocking up front shored up, and the offense that showed progress in preseason can be a reality. It won't happen overnight, but it can happen, and Bradley said Sunday he believes it will.
"We'll continue to dig deep to find out the things we do best," Bradley said.
Jones-Drew afterward was philosophical.
"I don't think anybody has been undefeated in college, so everyone understands that there are some times you lose," he said. "You have to handle it the same way with a win; you come back to work."
That's what you expected the players to say, and that's what they should say. That's the approach this team should take, too. Remember: it's still early in this process – like, *Square-One early." This season was and still is a work in progress, and the idea from the start was to compete, improve and be better at the end of the season than at the beginning.
Work in progress means just that – work in progress, and such work isn't always easy. But with work, improvement can come. The Jaguars still very much believe that will happen.
That's true even if the start wasn't what anyone wanted.