It was not supposed to be this way. This was supposed to be a gala afternoon celebrating a new era in Jaguars football. But the celebration ended soon after kickoff.
The Buffalo Bills, the hot-new team in the AFC, returned the opening kickoff 52 yards and seven plays later they were in the end zone. It was that quick. They cut through the Jaguars defense with ease and they did it all afternoon in a dominant offensive display that carried the Bills to a 38-17 victory that is the worst home defeat in Jaguars history.
"We went against a very good football team. They were a better team today. We didn't do enough to get (Drew Bledsoe) out of rhythm and he exploited us all afternoon," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said.
Bledsoe torched the Jaguars for 314 yards and two touchdown passes, en route to a 144.2 passer rating that stands as one of the most efficient passing performances in NFL history. And Bledsoe left the game after a few plays into the fourth quarter.
"Home opener and team from the north is all nice, but we didn't get it done," Del Rio said.
On a sultry day with temperatures in the low-90s, the Bills were a well-conditioned and relentless machine. Their only blunder was a decision to attempt a trick play on fourth-and-two at their 46-yard line in the second quarter. They were stopped, which led to a Jaguars touchdown drive that cut Buffalo's lead to 14-7.
For the next eight minutes, there was drama. Then it disappeared just before halftime, when Bledsoe connected on a 54-yard touchdown pass to former Jaguar Bobby Shaw. That gave the Bills a 21-7 lead, which they drove to 38-10 before coach Gregg Williams pulled the plug in the fourth quarter.
"He's a very accurate quarterback and when he gets hot he really hurts you. We did not do enough coverage or pressure to disrupt his timing. He was pretty solid all day. The idea is to stop the run, make him throw and get off the field. We didn't do the get-off-the-field part," Del Rio said.
Bledsoe was not sacked and was seldom under any kind of pressure. His offensive line gave him time to find secondary receivers and allow deep receivers to get open. Eric Moulds caught seven passes for 133 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown bomb, and Josh Reed dropped what would've been another Bledsoe touchdown bomb.
"We will continue to fight and we will continue to compete, and we will continue to get better as a football team. We have a 24-hour rule. We will make the corrections and move on," Del Rio said.
But there's no denying the disappointment Del Rio and his team are facing. They are 0-2 and about to begin a two-game road stretch. Next up is a trip to Indianapolis.
"It's 16 weeks and this is week two," defensive end Paul Spicer said. "Come Wednesday, it's no more Buffalo. It's Indianapolis and another good quarterback."
Tight end Kyle Brady pointed to slow starts by the Jets and Titans last season, and both of those teams made it into the postseason, but Bledsoe and the Bills uncovered a major deficiency in the Jaguars defense that Peyton Manning and the Colts will be dying to exploit. The combination of no pass-rush and shoddy pass-defense is unforgiving.
"We didn't make enough plays. We kept them on the field. Each week it's going to hurt us if it continues like that," cornerback Jason Craft said.
Starting quarterback Mark Brunell scored the Jaguars' first touchdown on a fourth-and-goal, one-yard leap out of a deceptive formation. But Brunell did not enjoy the kind of afternoon he had the previous week. He threw for a mere 122 yards and a 67.4 passer rating.
"I think it was a step back," Brunell said. "The passing game wasn't as sharp as it needed to be. Fortunately, I think guys' attitudes are going to be great. We'll still work hard and keep believing."
Rookie Byron Leftwich replaced Brunell for the Jaguars' meaningless final drive of the game, and Leftwich completed seven of eight passes for 92 yards and a five-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end George Wrighster. But Del Rio cautioned the media from putting too much stock in that one-drive effort.
"That's good to see, but let's not get carried away," Del Rio said.
If there was anything "good to see," it was the dramatic improvement of the Jaguars' run-defense. The Jaguars held the Bills to 43 yards rushing.
"You can win with that run-defense," Del Rio said.
But, obviously, the Bills saw something that made them want to pass the ball. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride was ultra-aggressive in his play-calling, having Bledsoe go deep repeatedly.
"When teams commit to stopping the run, then we can throw the ball. When I have good protection against an excellent defensive front, I expect to throw the ball accurately," Bledsoe said.
And he did.