Jaguars players said goodbye to EverBank Field on Monday, a day after they concluded an 8-8 season with a disappointing, 34-17 loss in Houston. They spoke of the season's successes and acknowledged its failures.
Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton spoke positively of the future and vowed the team would be in the playoffs next season, but he also found himself having to explain why the Jaguars' run-defense collapsed late in the season.
"We'll be playing at this time next year, I'll tell you that," Knighton said.
The Jaguars might still be playing this weekend, however, if they had played better against the run in a week-15 loss in Indianapolis that was the defining game of the 2010 season. A win would've clinched the AFC South title for the Jaguars. Their 34-24 loss, it would turn out, clinched a third consecutive non-playoff season.
"It seemed like whenever we were out of our gap or missed a tackle, it turned into a big play. It was disappointing," Knighton said of the Jaguars' failure to stop the run in the final four games of the season. The Colts, one of the league's worst rushing teams, ran for 155 yards in their win over the Jaguars.
Sunday, in the loss in Houston, the Jaguars were steamrolled by Arian Foster for 180 yards and two touchdowns, as Foster won the NFL rushing title. The Texans rushed for 244 yards, the fourth–most by an opponent in Jaguars history.
"We'll see Foster twice a year next year and we'll definitely remember this game," Knighton said.
Knighton was the anchor of a defensive line that was making significant gains over its performance in 2009, until the final month of the season. In the final four games, the Jaguars allowed 157.5 yards rushing per game.
What happened? That's a question that has to be answered as the Jaguars head into the offseason.
It didn't help the Jaguars' cause that they lost star defensive end Aaron Kampman to major knee injury at midseason. Kampman has since undergone knee reconstruction and will begin a second consecutive offseason of intense rehab.
"Same deal, trying to get back to where I can begin football activities again," Kampman said. "You climb another mountain. I learned I'm a pretty impatient person."
The Jaguars needed Kampman the most in that rematch with the Colts on Dec. 19. They needed his pass-rush against Peyton Manning and company. Kampman might've made the difference.
"That was a huge hurdle to get over and one we struggled with the last two weeks of the season," Kampman said, suggesting that the loss in Indianapolis had a lingering negative effect on the Jaguars' psyche.
Star running back Maurice Jones-Drew toughed it out against a season-long knee injury that will require an offseason clean-out procedure. Jones-Drew was on a six-game, 100-yard rushing streak when, in Indy, the knee injury became too much to overcome. He then missed the final two games of the season.
Jones-Drew refused to answer reporters' questions on Monday about his knee injury. He did offer his perspective, however, on the season.
"All we kept hearing is that we were going to be 4-12. It's good that we raised expectations," he said.
Another important player on the offseason mend is quarterback David Garrard, who enjoyed the second-best season of his career until a finger injury on his throwing hand caused inconsistent performances against the Colts and Redskins and required surgery last Thursday. Garrard said the recovery period for his surgery is two months.
General Manager Gene Smith has said more attention needs to be paid to the defense during the offseason, as evidenced by its 28th league ranking, which includes being 22nd against the run and 28th against the pass.
"We have a core we can build on. We'll have changes that'll make us better," Knighton said.