GLENDALE, Ariz. – This needs to be a hiccup.
Games like what happened to the Jaguars Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium happen – yes, even to contending teams – and in many ways a 27-24 loss to the Arizona Cardinals Sunday was hardly unexpected.
This wasn't about a Thanksgiving hangover.
This wasn't looking past an opponent.
This was mainly about a struggling offense continuing to struggle and a defensive uncharacteristically allowing plays late, but wasn't a choke, or "same old" Jaguars. It wasn't even all that ridiculous, because 5-6 NFL teams such as the Cardinals playing at home against teams traveling two time zones beat teams with better records all the time. Not that the Jaguars saw Sunday's loss that way.
No, this one stung. And players showed the sting.
Images of the Jaguars Week 12 matchup with the Arizona Cardinals.
"We controlled our own destiny for a second, and now it's back into that whole 'It's-going-to-come-down-to-that-last-game feel,'' Jaguars safety Barry Church said after moments after Cardinals kicker Phil Dawson's 57-yard field goal with:01 remaining in a wild fourth quarter in the desert.
Yes, there was a sting – and a sense of missed opportunity Sunday.
Still, this wasn't an emotionally-destroyed team in Sunday's post-game. Nor should it have been. Season-ending? No? Soul-crushing? No, this loss wasn't that.
This loss was momentum-sapping, and that's too bad because the Jaguars could have used the momentum of a four-game winning streak entering the upcoming key three-game December home stand. They could have used the one-game lead in the AFC South they had last week, too; that disappeared with the loss Sunday and a Tennessee victory over Indianapolis Sunday.
Now, this thing is back to pretty much even, with both the Titans and Jaguars at 7-4.
That's important to remember in the wake of Sunday – that despite the disappointment in Glendale, hopes weren't destroyed. Yes, the Jaguars slipped two games behind New England in the AFC, but the hopes for the division? The wild-card possibilities?
The hope for a first playoff appearance in a decade?
Those hopes remain very real, and that was a focus in the post-game locker room.
"We definitely want to win every game – that was kind of our mentality, to win out the rest of the season," linebacker Myles Jack said. "We still can. We just have to continue to work and learn from this."
What's too bad for the Jaguars is that the loss eroded a good deal of what they earned throughout much of November. Division leads are hard-earned, and the Jaguars scraped and clawed their way to theirs with a 'November to Remember' – particularly defensively.
While what happened Sunday wasn't season-ending, it wasn't much to remember, either.
On this Sunday, the running game had its roughest game of the season. The Jaguars rushed for a season-low 91 yards, with 62 of those yards coming from quarterback Blake Bortles.
On this Sunday, Bortles made yet another critical late-game error. That was too bad because until a fourth-quarter pass intercepted by safety Tyrann Mathieu, Bortles' day had been about somehow finding a way to evade a Cardinals rush and make up for dropped passes from receivers. He rushed for two touchdowns, and his 17-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter had a heroic feel – until the interception that defined the day.
And on this Sunday, the defense that had been so dominant in recent weeks wasn't quite that way. Make no mistake: it played well enough to win. Defensive end Calais Campbell's 10-yard go-ahead fumble return for a touchdown against his former team had a storybook feel, and Church's fourth-quarter interception had a similar game-winning feel until Bortles threw his own interception to end the ensuing series. But defensive players kicked themselves afterward for too many plays allowed – particularly two passes by Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert on the last-minute drive to set up the game-winning field goal.
And yeah – that the loss came against Gabbert, the same who played for the Jaguars for from 2011-2013 …
Well, that stings a lot of Jaguars followers more than a little, too.
No, this wasn't the winning formula that had become so familiar in seven victories this season. This was disappointing, and momentum-sapping and a lot of things that the Jaguars didn't need as they ended their November to Remember.
"This game would have been huge," Campbell said. "[But] at the end of the day, we're still right where we need to be. This game should build character. We'll learn from it. We've been in tight ballgames, so when it's time for those games in the future – when we're playing for a playoff push – we'll have some experiences. This is crunch time. December football is championship football."
Sunday was one that got away, and Sunday sure makes a critical December one game tougher than otherwise would have been the case. And what happened in Glendale sure can't become the norm.
This needs to be the hiccup.