SANTA CLARA, Calif. – This one had the weirdest of possible vibes.
That's the first thing to know – that when the Jaguars "celebrated" their first AFC South title Sunday they didn't in fact celebrate at all.
49ers 44, Jaguars 33 …
Jaguars are 2017 AFC South Champions …
Those were Sunday's headlines – and if the phrases look strange one right after the other, Christmas Eve at Levi's Stadium darned sure reflected that from kickoff to post-game.
"This is what I told the team afterward … I said, 'Hey listen, we've earned that [the AFC South title], obviously," Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said moments after the Jaguars lost for just the second time in the last nine games.
Marrone continued, "We've won 10 football games. We've earned it. But we really can't celebrate it. We know there's something for us this postseason, and we know there's a sense of accomplishment. That's something we'll look back on."
The Jaguars indeed someday will remember 2017 as the season they won their first AFC South title, and the first division title since winning the AFC Central in 1999. But they'll look at Sunday as an undisciplined loss in which a lot of opportunities got away, and the last part made the first part difficult to acknowledge.
"This is definitely not how we planned on doing it," linebacker Myles Jack said.
The Jaguars clinched the South in the first quarter Sunday. That happened when the Los Angeles Rams beat the Tennessee Titans, 27-23, in Nashville, Tenn., to drop the Titans to 8-7. That means Tennessee can no longer finish better than 9-7 – which means they can't catch the Jaguars, who even with Sunday's loss can finish no worse than 10-6.
That means next Sunday's regular-season finale at Tennessee, the game that once seemed so important in terms of the AFC South, could mean nothing to the Jaguars. They can finish with no worse than the third seed in the AFC. If the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Houston Texans Sunday, they will be unable to finish better than the third seed.
It also meant that win or lose against San Francisco Sunday, the Jaguars would be division champions. And because winning the division was one of the primary goals laid out by Marrone before the season, there was time taken Sunday to acknowledge the feat.
"Losing today doesn't take away what we did to accomplish to win the division," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "We put the work in and it happened. Today, things went wrong for us. It was one of those days when things didn't go our way. They made some plays. Take it off to them.
"The one thing I do know is it's one loss. We'll bounce back and not think about it again."
Here's another thing to know about this Jaguars team:
They knew that clinching a division title Sunday – no matter how they did it – mattered. Division titles aren't easily attained, and they're important. This one's important and it will be remembered as a very significant event in this franchise's history. Players and coaches obviously knew that Sunday, too. That's certainly true.
But it's just as true that this team's goals don't focus just on making the postseason, or just on winning the AFC South. Maybe that seemed like enough in August, but no more.
This team has played at a level too high for too long this season, and that's mostly what didn't fit on what players ultimately felt was a disappointing Christmas Eve by the Bay Saturday.
"It's a very weird feeling," Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said after completing 32 of 50 passes for 382 yards and two touchdowns with a season-high three interceptions. "Any time you lose especially playing the way we've been playing, it's tough, but it's also in the back of your mind that we won the division.
"That's pretty cool, but I don't think anybody's happy with what went on today."
What went on was a loss the Jaguars sure didn't want as the postseason approaches. Their usually dominant defense struggled against the timing passing of the 49ers and quarterback Jimmy Garopollo, and when the Jaguars solved Jimmy G briefly and rallied to take the lead they lost the advantage in a second-half flurry of interceptions and undisciplined defensive penalties.
The result? What briefly in the second quarter looked destined to be a remarkable road comeback led by a maturing, gutsy quarterback instead turned into yet another West Coast loss and one of the weirder post-games imaginable.
Campbell's right. Sunday's loss doesn't erase what the team did to earn the South. But it sure gave what could have been a giddy day an anticlimactic feel.
And it made for Christmas Day by the Bay with the weirdest of possible vibes.