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The danger signs were there


HOUSTON—It was a bad week, right from the start.

All of the signs of trouble ahead were evident, but all along the belief was that they were good enough to overcome their irritants and beat a one-win team that was ranked near the bottom of every meaningful statistical category.

As it turned out, they couldn't, and the age-old NFL dogma about "any given Sunday" held true, again. As unthinkable as it was when the week began, the Jaguars did, in fact, lose to the Houston Texans. They lost bad to the Texans, 27-7.

Let's go back to Wednesday, with a team coming off a bye week of rest. The news was not encouraging.

In Jack Del Rio's press conference, he painted a dismal picture of the team's physical state. He referred to a long injury list and told reporters the bye week hadn't been long enough to heal his team's hurts.

Most discouragingly, two key players, Marcus Stroud and Matt Jones, remained injury report headliners. By week's end, of course, each would be downgraded to "out." Del Rio's injury report, however, would become an even greater concern as the days passed.

On Friday morning, the coach reported to work thinking the state of his team was stable and it was in the final stages of preparation to score a win that would put the Jaguars into solid playoff contention nearing the midway point in the season. At 10 o'clock on Friday morning, however, Del Rio was told his starting quarterback was hobbled.

Byron Leftwich missed practice on Friday, as he spent the day in the training room acquiring treatment for a mysterious ankle injury. Leftwich had left Alltel Stadium on Thursday without a limp. Nobody knew why Leftwich awoke on Friday with a sore and swollen left ankle.

Their troubles just wouldn't quit.

When Jaguars players drove to Alltel Stadium on Saturday morning for a brief practice before heading to the airport, they were greeted by roadblocks that prevented them from getting into the Alltel parking lot. A road race event caused some players to be unable to report for meetings on time, which caused Del Rio to have to push his schedule back.

No big deal? Wrong. Football teams are very fragile commodities. The most minor of distractions can damage their routine and focus.

Del Rio's Saturday morning got a bad start when he picked up the newspaper and read that his star running back was complaining about his contract. It was, yet, another distraction; the kind coaches especially dislike.

Forget about the bogus terrorist threat from earlier in the week. You don't scare these guys with that stuff. Their flight proceeded smoothly and uneventfully to Houston and the hope was that maybe, just maybe, they left all of their troubles behind in Jacksonville.

They apparently did not. Some players acknowledged that they had spent a wakeful night in a noisy hotel. Party noise from the street filled several rooms on the street side of the hotel. One player spoke of finally being able to fall asleep, only to be awakened at five in the morning by loud sounds within the hotel. His night was over. It was time to play.

Good football players don't complain. They don't make excuses and the Jaguars made none following their loss in Houston. They upheld the highest standards of post-defeat conduct.

"I'm not going to look back on the week. That's looking for excuses," Kyle Brady said. "We played poorly. They played well."

"We've overcome adversity before. We were pretty confident in our scheme and in our players to get the job done. There's never an asterisk to explain why you won or why you lost. We have to make sure we get the job done," Donovin Darius said.

They played poorly and that has been duly acknowledged, but there's no denying that the Jaguars were battling forces other than the Texans. Every way they turned, trouble dogged them.

"We've had better weeks," Del Rio said.

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