Skip to main content

Jaguars News | Jacksonville Jaguars -

View from the O-Zone: Giant steps needed … now


HOUSTON – It ended in familiar fashion.

Painful, frustrating fashion.

Losing fashion.

That's the simple way to see the Jaguars' 23-17 loss to the Houston Texans in the 2014 regular-season finale Sunday – as another in a long line of losses in a frustrating season.

And indeed, much of Sunday at NRG Stadium felt familiar. A struggling offense, a scrappy defense, a failure to finish. But while inboxes and timelines will fill with talk of play calling, offensive line play and quarterback play, those are well-worn themes sure to become more worn in the months to come.

Here's a new theme, something "unfamiliar," the overriding takeaway from Sunday's post-game locker room:

Yes, there was improvement this season …

Yes, strides were made …

But the time where the pain of losses could be eased with the fact that this is a young team, a learning team, a growing team …

That time is over now. I

Absolutely, positively and without question.

"We've got to raise the bar when it comes to everything," Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts III said.

Shorts, who may or may not be a part of where this team is going, nonetheless knows where it is now. So it wasn't surprising that he was far, far, far from the only player with that sentiment Sunday.

Raise the bar …

A higher standard …

Those words were heard throughout the locker room and the message was clear:

While Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley likes to keep thoughts of winning and losing out of the daily conversation, winning is very much in the minds of players.

They know that 3-13 or 4-12 – disappointing but not tragic the past two seasons – must not and cannot happen next season. As Year 2 of this David Caldwell/Bradley era turns into Year 3, the time to talk about this team as young and growing is now over.

The Jaguars must win more next season. A lot more.

It must happen now.

"We still have that mindset to prepare for victory and be our best," offensive tackle Luke Joeckel said. "That's what Gus preaches and that's what we're all about, but we know we have to take steps and not just baby steps – we have to take huge steps."

Those huge steps are about individual and team. For players such as Joeckel, who struggled with Texans end J.J. Watt at times Sunday – and who struggled too often at other times this season – it means gaining strength, improving technique. After Sunday's game, he already was talking about getting stronger, starting this offseason. It's as critical an offseason as he will have in his NFL career.

Across the locker room, cornerback Dwayne Gratz was talking about next season – his third – being key. Mistakes made this season and last, Gratz said, can't happen next season.

Safety Johnathan Cyprien echoed the same thoughts:

"We showed a lot of flashes, but we're in a position now where, you know what? It's time to raise the bar,'' Cyprien said. "That's the mentality for us."

Now, make no mistake:

Losing never has been acceptable. Not last year when the first pieces of the foundation were being put into place and when the team only competed in five or six games. And not this year, when a young offense couldn't do enough to complement a defense that made significant, likely-to-last improvement.

But if losing wasn't acceptable the last two seasons, it was understandable. It was also easy to see that it would be possible for the 2014 Jaguars to improve and to not have a significantly better record than last season – to perhaps even to have a worse record.

That happened, but that doesn't make 2013 a failure, and doesn't mean improvement didn't happen.

It did.

The defense did what was expected, with the defensive line a notable strength. Even without Roy Miller and Sen'Derrick Marks Sunday, the defense played well enough to give the offense a chance.

Telvin Smith. Aaron Colvin. Demetrius McCrary. Johnathan Cyprien. Marks. Miller. Chris Clemons. Red Bryant. They're not all young, but in that group is the foundation of something that could be good. That's easy to see.

It's not as easy on offense. A franchise-record in sacks makes it difficult. A rookie quarterback in Blake Bortles struggling to learn the NFL – and not getting enough help from receivers—makes it tough, too. Help is still needed there, and the Jaguars likely will be active in free agency. And the draft. But the foundation is more established than many think. Improvement should come with experience and there should be a difference offensively next season.

But while the Jaguars will still talk of improvement, players know there's a different bar now. And remember? A few paragraphs ago? When we talked about losing not being acceptable, but perhaps being understandable? The bar's different now there, too.

That feeling has been growing all season. But while you felt it strong at times the second half of the season, you never felt it as strong as after Sunday's game.

These players are young, but they're growing up. And on Sunday in a locker room filled with the familiar, painful frustrating pain of losing the message rose clear:

No more baby steps. No more being content to grow. Giant steps are needed.

They must happen now.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content