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Putting '04 in perspective


They finished one win away from making the playoffs. Yeah, you can look at it that way because it's the truth.

If only the Jaguars hadn't collapsed in the fourth quarter against Tennessee, or stopped Pittsburgh when the game was on the line, or converted in short-yardage against Indianapolis; where do you want to stop? How painful do you want to make this?

We can play the if game and delude ourselves into believing a play here or a play there kept the Jaguars out of the postseason, and you'd probably be right. How far do you want to take it?

You could even get wild and claim this was a team that could've gotten hot in the playoffs, won a couple like those 1996 Jaguars had and then who knows what would've happened. Teams can get hot at the right time, you know.

Let's get really wild. The Super Bowl is in Jacksonville, right? One more win and the Vince Lombardi Trophy would've stayed right here.

Well, if that makes you feel good, then go ahead, get wild. Or you could be sensible about what this team did and what it didn't do this season. If that's your bent, then let's begin with this: Almost all of us agreed when this season began that our expectation for the Jaguars was that they would be playoff contenders on the final Sunday of the season.

They were.

"We had some highs and lows; more highs than lows but it wasn't enough to get us into the playoffs," Byron Leftwich said in capsule review of 2004.

Leftwich had called the reporter over to ask him a question. "When was the last time the Jaguars had a winning season?" Leftwich asked. "It was 1999," the reporter said.

A hint of satisfaction flashed in Leftwich's eyes. He wanted the winning year, badly, and he got it. The Jaguars are 9-7; winners for the first time since Mark Brunell led them to 14-2 and the '99 AFC title game.

Leftwich was clearly weighing it all. He was torn.

"In the situation we were in, it's a disappointment," he said, referring to the fact that the Jaguars faced a win-and-in situation a week earlier against Houston and failed to score a point. "At the same time, we made a lot of strides as a team."

What tack should you take? Regret and disappointment? Satisfaction and encouragement?

How about acceptance?

It is what it is, folks. When you've played 16 games in 17 grueling weeks, what you are is probably what you should be. The Jaguars lost a couple they should've won; should've beaten Tennessee and Indianapolis at Alltel Stadium. By the same token, you could make a point they were very, very fortunate to have beaten Buffalo and Denver.

If you're one of those fans who needs to put this season into perspective before you close the book on it and put it on the shelf, you might do well to look at it in these terms: They were good enough to be almost good enough. That's how history will record this team.

They were good enough to get within one win of making the playoffs, but they had three chances to get that win at home in the second half of the season and they came up short in all three games. What does that say?

Maybe it says more work has to be done. More players must be added in the offseason, but a team a win away from making the playoffs should have every reason to believe one more offseason should close the gap.

That's the expectation for this offseason. Close the gap. Do what it takes to get this team over the hump. It's a realistic demand. This team is close; only a win away. A player here or there could make the difference.

"It's our fault we're not in it," Leftwich said, not willing to part company with lament, just yet.

And what is his greatest regret?

"That I got a concussion. If I could've played better last week (against Houston), we'd be sitting in the playoffs getting ready to go up to Indy," he said.

Yeah, you could look at it like that, or you could yield to acceptance. Two years into a new era that began 1-7, 9-7 and one win away from the playoffs is a definite step up. It says something good about what's happening in Jacksonville.

"We're going to continue to build this thing and work on being in the playoffs next year instead of being close," coach Jack Del Rio said in his postgame remarks.

It's the proper perspective. More work has to be done.

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