JACKSONVILLE – This week isn't about living up to expectations.
That's not just because there are suddenly few expectations around the Jaguars right now. It's not even because few outsiders expect them to win Sunday.
No, this Jaguars game isn't about expectations or outsiders. It's about themselves.
More specifically, it's about adversity – and overcoming it.
The Jaguars through seven games of the 2016 season are in a situation they didn't expect. They're 2-5 when they expected better. They just changed offensive coordinators when they expected the offense to be a strength. They're dealing with the outside noise that comes from disappointment.
They're dealing, too, with the questions that come with those things. Tight end Julius Thomas on Wednesday answered one of the questions – one about facing this difficult challenge.
"We're normal human beings," Thomas said as the Jaguars (2-5) prepared to play the Kansas City Chiefs (5-2) at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, Sunday, at 1 p.m. "It's not easy to be 2-5. It's what we've done. We've put ourselves in the position, and now we have to overcome it.
"Can I say that everybody in this locker room has been in this spot before, where they've had to overcome something to find success? Absolutely. That's nothing new for us as men, but to find a way to do it and do it immediately is going to be a challenge.
"I think we have to admit that and be willing to accept it."
That tone could be felt throughout the Jaguars' locker room this week, a week that has featured no talk of playoffs or of the AFC South race. The talk has been about a task that's as clear as it is difficult:
Win one game. Find a way to do that. Actually, first things first: play well one game. That won't douse the disappointment of the first seven games, and it won't make observers forget the mess that has been the past two weeks. But it's a place to start.
And right now, the Jaguars very much need a place to start – or restart, if you prefer.
"Obviously, coming into this thing – OTAs, training camp – this is not the start we wanted," veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "We felt really good coming out of training camp and we had a few games not go our way this year and kind of set us back. Football is a game about men going out there and taking what they wanted. We fell short.
"Now, we have to go out there and take it one day at a time, one game at a time. We've got Kansas City this week. That's all we're focusing on."
About that Kansas City game this week …
It's a tough task – not insurmountable, but not that far off.
Let's start with Arrowhead being brutally tough for road teams. It's loud, comparable to a college stadium. That's true even when the Chiefs aren't very good.
And this year's Chiefs are good. Maybe really good. They're smart. They turn your mistakes into points. They don't beat themselves.
The Jaguars have pretty much been the opposite. They're committing too many penalties. They're committing too many turnovers and not forcing enough. They enter Sunday off losses to Oakland and Tennessee in which they trailed by a cumulative halftime score of 47-6. They have scored just six points in the last three first halves, a drought that led to Bradley firing offensive coordinator Greg Olson Saturday and moving quarterbacks coach Nathaniel Hackett into the role.
What now? Where to from here?
The Jaguars can't worry about winning multiple games, or about saving a season. Not that the season can't be saved; weirder things, after all, have happened. It's just that the Jaguars haven't played well enough in the last three weeks to think about winning streaks.
What they must think about is the task at hand: to score early for the first time in a long time, to win the turnover margin, to not commit silly penalties, to reestablish the run – something Hackett and Bradley made clear is a priority. The defense must play four quarters at a level it played in the first six games. Quarterback Blake Bortles must begin to find some of the accuracy that increasingly eluded him in recent weeks.
These are not lofty goals. They're NFL basics, but the Jaguars feel right now like a team that needs to get to the basics – to restart, if you prefer. They're things the Jaguars must do because as Bortles said this week "we have nine games left – a lot of football to go."
True, but the Jaguars can't worry about how many games remain. They must deal with the situation they have created for themselves.
Facing a tough task – not insurmountable, but close – they must begin by taking basic steps. Essentially, they just, plain need to play better. Win or lose, that would be a start.
And right now, the Jaguars very much need a start – or a restart, if you prefer.