The day after last season ended, Jack Del Rio raised expectations for the 2010 season, and then he raised them again in the spring to the lofty goal of winning a division championship. Almost nobody outside his team's locker room took the coach seriously.
Five weeks into the season, however, Del Rio's Jaguars are tied with the other three teams in the AFC South, all with 3-2 records, and the Jaguars are headed for a Monday Night Football showdown with the Tennessee Titans that could be a defining game for the upstart Jaguars.
"This team has a different feel to it," Del Rio said at his Monday press conference, 24 hours following a come-from-behind, 36-26 victory in Buffalo. Yeah, the Bills are winless, but the Jaguars and their fans are feeling awfully good about themselves and the resilience the team showed in rallying from deficits of 10-0 and 13-3.
"We have raised expectations around here. Part of the expectation is we expect to win," Del Rio said.That, it would seem, is what's different about these Jaguars from those of the previous two years. This team, possibly due to the unflagging faith Del Rio showed in it through the offseason and the unanimous last-place predictions that were showered on the Jaguars, and through two 25-point losses in weeks two and three, would seem to believe in itself.
"The team just has a good feel to it. When we were hit with adversity with those two tough losses, I felt zero finger-pointing," Del Rio said.
Del Rio was able to do some good finger-pointing on Monday. He pointed his finger at a dominant performance by defensive end Aaron Kampman, a five-field goal effort by Josh Scobee that kept him perfect on the season, a performance by the offensive line that should've resulted in no sacks allowed. Del Rio almost didn't know where to stop; fullback Greg Jones, linebacker Daryl Smith, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, quarterback David Garrard, wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker were all mentioned.
"Yesterday was an indication of some growth, a test to see how we'd respond. A lot of contributions are coming from a young core of our football team. The pass-rush continued to show up, led by Kampman. It feels like we're settling into who we are," Del Rio added.
Just who are they?
The Jaguars, it would seem, are a team with an efficient quarterback, a pounding running game, strong and deep offensive and defensive lines, a dominant kicking game and, unfortunately, a team still in search of answers in its pass-defense.Derek Cox replaced David Jones at cornerback early in Sunday's game and Del Rio confirmed a "pretty strong likelikhood he's reclaimed his position with that effort."
Meanwhile, Don Carey would seem to be the new flavor of the week at safety. He got 30 plays at safety on Sunday and Del Rio spoke of Carey's performance with a degree of hope.
"Don's coming along. We feel like we've made some strides in that area. We're getting closer," Del Rio said.
On the third feel-good Monday of the season, more importantly consecutive feel-good Mondays for the first time since last Nov., Del Rio lashed out only once: at a report that Sims-Walker was being shopped by the Jaguars for a potential trade.
"That's garbage, false, not credible. It's difficult to see things like that thrown out there without somebody checking out sources. There are no issues here. There are some being manufactured outside our building. I went pretty strong with my response, so I'm upset about it," Del Rio said.
Sims-Walker had disappeared in the passing offense for a few weeks, until re-surfacing in a big way on Sunday in what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown drive. He caught four passes for 54 yards and a touchdown in the drive.
Del Rio also pointed the finger at himself for what he termed a "mistake" in deciding not to punt on fourth and one near midfield and holding a seven-point lead in the third quarter.
"I'm not rethinking being aggressive. That probably went more to the gambling side of me. I look back on it and think that was a mistake. I probably should've punted that ball. That doesn't mean I won't do it again. I just didn't like the way that turned out," Del Rio said.
Everything else turned out just right.