HOUSTON—It was in his season-ending remarks a year ago that Jack Del Rio boldly announced his expectation for the 2010 season. It was to qualify for the postseason, and a few months later he upgraded that remark to include an AFC South title.
No one was quite sure whether or not to take Del Rio's remarks seriously, yet, as the season headed into its final weeks, it was to those standards he set that he was being judged, and that's why Jaguars fans and media alike are struggling so much with perspective.
What is the verdict on the 2010 season, which ended Sunday with a 34-17 loss to the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium? Is it:
- An improvement over 2009?
- Disappointing in that it failed to deliver the playoff berth Del Rio said should be the team's expectation?
- A building block for the future?
- Reason for change?
- All of the above?
We have reached the point of review, a rite of passage in every NFL city that doesn't have a team in the postseason. Review has become a season unto itself, every bit as intense as the season that's just been played out, though, much shorter in duration. What is our analysis of the 2010 Jaguars?
Let's start with this: A team that was picked to finish last in the AFC South by every preseason magazine and website that participates in such frivolousness was still alive for the division title on the final Sunday of the season; it was still alive at halftime of the final game of the season. That same team had played well enough through the first 14 weeks of the season to have been in position to clinch the division title in week 15.
At that point in the season, as the Jaguars headed to Indianapolis, the place where Jaguars dreams have seemingly always gone to die, Del Rio was gaining momentum as a coach of the year candidate. Even his critics were beginning to speak favorably of him.
We knew it was a big game, but maybe we didn't appreciate how big that game was. It was everything. It cost the Jaguars the AFC South title they have yet to win in the division's nine-year existence. Even had the Jaguars won their next two games to finish the season 10-6, they would've only been able to boast being one of the few teams in NFL history to win 10 games and not make it into the playoffs.
What if they had won the last two games to finish 10-6? Would it have satisfied you or was it playoffs or bust for you?
It would've satisfied this reporter, and the failure to win either of the last two games is what's most troubling for this reporter as he attempts to close the book on this season and put it up on the shelf. If only they had won those two games; if only they had won one of those games, the evaluation would be much more favorable.
Why did the Jaguars fall apart after the loss in Indy? The offense struggled to move the ball and score points against a Redskins team that was last in the league in defense, and the defense was gashed by the Texans for 497 yards, the third-most yards allowed in franchise history.
This was a team that had won five of its six games previous to the game in Indy. Yeah, there was a Hail-Mary play in there, but you saw it; they were playing good ball; they were getting better each and every week. Why did it stop?
Injuries? Yeah, you don't get better when you lose your star running back and it didn't help the Jaguars' cause that they played without their starting quarterback in Houston, but Maurice Jones-Drew and David Garrard don't play defense, so what's the excuse for what happened on defense?
"We dropped the ball. There's no excuse for it. To pinpoint it, I don't know if that can be done. As a group, collectively, we dropped the ball. We owe the fans more and more to ourselves," cornerback Rashean Mathis said following the loss on Sunday.
Again, what is the analysis of this season? Well, somehow, some way the Jaguars were able to come within a win of the AFC South title, despite their defense allowing more points than any defense in Jaguars history. Jaguars teams with powerful defenses weren't able to win the AFC South, so how was a team with its worst-ever defense able to come within a win, maybe within one interception, from winning the crown?
The answer to that question is simple: The AFC South is a shadow of its former self. It's a weak division that took a step backward in 2010 and it's there for the taking in 2011, for the team that's ready to take a significant step forward.
Should you be seeking something to give you hope for the future and to ease the pain of a season that teased you into believing and then turned that belief once again into regret, bear in mind that your team was the only team in the AFC South that improved on its record from the previous year. As a result, your team will not be picked to finish last by every preseason magazine and website next summer.
If only they hadn't lost those last two games. That's what's driving us all nuts. How do we explain those awful performances against the Redskins and Texans?
"You saw what I saw," wide receiver Mike Thomas said, asking his inquisitor what his explanation might be.
"I think it spent itself in that game in Indianapolis," Thomas' inquisitor said. "I think its season ended that day."
Thomas thought about it for a moment.
"That's a fair statement," he said, "but the good teams find a way to rally."
The Jaguars didn't rally. That's the evaluation.