JACKSONVILLE – You're feeling it … you know you are.
We all felt it this week, didn't we? Along with that giddy Christmas feeling, alongside the holiday cheer … a little bit of a Jaguars letdown. OK, maybe a big letdown.
Indeed, how couldn't we – what with the giddiness of a 51-16 victory over Indianapolis and the ensuing week of giddy playoff talk … followed by the momentum-deflating loss to Atlanta at EverBank Field Sunday?
Here's the weird, important thing about that letdown feeling:
While it's understandable you feel it, it's very safe to say the Jaguars won't.
The reason: Head Coach Gus Bradley won't let them feel it – or to point fingers, or to quit … or to have any of those things that often define struggling teams happen.
He never has, and there's no reason to think those things will happen now.
"It's because of how Coach Bradley has taught us to approach things," middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "Regardless of external factors, we want to be great and we want to play at our highest level – and everything else shouldn't matter.
"Whether we're in a situation like this or a couple of years from now when we're in a Super Bowl, our preparation and our mindset will be the same."
Know this about that quote and others like them this week:
They don't "excuse" losing. They are not offered here to make 5-9 feel better, or to imply the Jaguars did not miss out on an opportunity this season. They did miss an opportunity – or they appear likely to anyway – and that's understandably how many will remember this season.
No, the quote is to offered to make the point that amid the many other things that have happened around the Jaguars in recent seasons – most of which have had to do with a long, comprehensive, ground-up building process – Bradley above all else has kept this team together. And focused. Every week. From the beginning.
He often has done so in circumstances that would have fragmented other teams.
That's Bradley's greatest tangible strength as a head coach, the thing we can point to and say, "Yes, we can see that." The belief here is he is a significantly better defensive coach than what has been shown on the field so far – and the belief, too, is that will show on the field as the Jaguars address defense in the draft in the way they have already addressed offense.
The belief here, too, is Bradley will return next season as head coach. That aforementioned element – the fact that players play hard for him, that they believe in the team's direction and that the team very much has a direction – is a big reason.
That element is a huge part of being an NFL head coach, and it's an element veteran defensive end Jared Odrick has seen in his first season with the Jaguars.
"It's a huge difference from other places around the NFL, how positive he stays – working on negatives and not harping on them," Odrick said. "I've really appreciated that, and I think a lot of guys around here do. A lot of young guys who haven't been anywhere else … they don't realize how much finger-pointing can go on not just in a locker room, but in a whole facility if you're in a place that operates like that.
"That's a positive for this team and moving forward it will be awesome for this team as we get better."
Those are the words of a team still together, one not pointing fingers. They're the words of a team still motivated, and one that will stay motivated whatever happens Sunday.
That's important, because there is a chance the Jaguars will be eliminated from the playoffs before they kickoff Sunday. Their game with New Orleans is at 4:05 p.m.; if Houston beats Tennessee at 1 p.m., the Jaguars are eliminated. So, yeah …
That's one thought entering the weekend, but the other thought is that the remaining games – at New Orleans and at Houston – are important whatever the outcome of Houston-Tennessee. This is a team that needs to play well, to build momentum. They need to finish 7-9 because that's so much better than 5-11, but mostly they just need to keep improving, keep showing themselves what they can be, and keep becoming what they're becoming.
That might be a difficult task for a lot of teams that have had as many close games go the wrong way as the Jaguars have had this season. It might be difficult for a lot of teams eliminated from playoff contention.
It won't be easy task for the Jaguars, either, but you get the idea it's doable because this team under Bradley never has been a team to quit, or to get fragmented, or to lack direction.
Let down? Well, the Jaguars never have done it under Bradley …
There's no reason to think they will start now.