INDIANAPOLIS – It's over. At last.
That's one way to view the Jaguars' season-ending loss to the Indianapolis Colts – and seen through the lens of the long, frustrating 2016 season, Sunday afternoon was very much a fitting finish.
The Jaguars lost. Again.
They lost in frustrating, coulda-woulda-shoulda fashion. Again.
And once again, for a ninth consecutive season, the Jaguars' season ended with a dreary Sunday with no promise of the postseason.
After it was over – after the Jaguars blew a 17-0 first-half lead and after Andrew Luck drove the Colts 70 yards for a last-second, game-winning, gut-wrenching touchdown – Jaguars interim head coach Doug Marrone was asked if the game was a microcosm of the season.
"I would agree with that," Marrone said moments after Luck's one-yard pass to tight end Jack Doyle with nine seconds remaining gave the Colts a 24-20 victory.
The pass ended what was perhaps the most disappointing season in franchise history, and yeah …
It's fair to call it that. The preseason playoff hype may have been optimistic, but it was fair to expect this team to push for .500.
Instead, the Jaguars finished 3-13 – and players spent Sunday's post-game talking about frustration and what could have been.
"It's tough," middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "I'm sad that the season is over, because you got a feeling that, 'Man, if we could have played more then, we'd learn how to win and we'd have more success' … but now it's over, so you don't have that opportunity right in front of you."
Posluszny was far from the only Jaguars player on Sunday who looked at the future and saw hope. Linebacker Telvin Smith, vocal throughout about his belief that this team was better than its record, said his belief that the core of this team is destined for special things hasn't waned.
"I understand who's around me and what this is stirring up in them," Smith said. "A lot of us have been here going on three or four years. This is developing something."
Even at 3-13? Absolutely, Smith said.
"A beast is created," Smith said. "You can only be beat down for so long and it's got to turn around. It's got to turn around."
Marrone, for his part, spent his post-game doing what he could to not only put the season in perspective, but to provide insight into what the Jaguars must do to execute the turnaround Smith discussed.
His assessment had to do with the things that cost the Jaguars Sunday – the same things that cost the Jaguars all season. Mistakes in key situations. Opportunities lost. An inability to finish close games.
"There are a lot of things that showed in this game that you'd be able to go back to and put into play with a lot of the close games that we've been in," Marrone said. "I think that's the challenge for the future of this team, to cut that out."
This no doubt was a different scene than eight days before. Eight days before, Marrone had won his first game as interim head coach, a 38-17 victory over then-playoff contending Tennessee in which the Jaguars looked like the team believed they were all season. They played with energy. And efficiency. They played well.
The Jaguars played with energy and efficiency Sunday, too – and as was the case the week before, quarterback Blake Bortles on Sunday played like a winning quarterback.
But somewhere in the second half, it went awry – and the confident, bold team was replaced by one that couldn't make the key play at the key time. Kicker Jason Myers missed a couple of field goals, and Bortles lost a couple of fumbles. A defense that didn't allow a first down in the first quarter allowed three long touchdown drives in the second half.
A winnable game turned into another loss.
So, now – the future …
What that holds perhaps only Owner Shad Khan knows – and perhaps even he doesn't know yet.
The first step: finding a permanent head coach. Marrone said he has not yet spoken officially to Khan or General Manager David Caldwell about the position, though the past two weeks have certainly helped make him a legitimate candidate. The team already reportedly has spoken to former Head Coach Tom Coughlin.
Whatever the specifics, change will rule the day. As it must.
The thought here is that Smith is right, that this team is closer than 3-13 might indicate. The thought here is the new coach will inherit a team far better than the one inherited by former Head Coach Gus Bradley and Caldwell four years ago.
If that's right, and if Smith is right that perhaps a beast lurks within, then the future could be bright. If Smith is right, then perhaps this frustrating season eventually will be viewed as a prelude to something more, something better … something …
Well, something beastly.
And if that happens, then perhaps the next coach will be the right one – and perhaps the Jaguars' days of ending seasons on dreary Sundays with no hope of the postseason will be at a merciful end.