JACKSONVILLE – Here's an odd thing about this Jaguars weekend:
This game Sunday, the one against an out-of-division team from clear across the country … it feels oddly like a rivalry game.
At the very least, it's really important for the Jaguars – and not just because they really need to avert a 0-2 start. It's big because of the things the Jaguars are saying this week and the tone that's being set before their cross-time-zone jaunt to SoCal.
Quarterback Blake Bortles summed up that tone Wednesday, and did so while looking back on the tone of the first hours after a season-opening loss to Green Bay Sunday.
"Guys have moved on," Bortles said, adding, "[Head Coach] Gus [Bradley] talks about it all the time: losing isn't acceptable. It's not our desired result and guys understand that. I think it was cool to say we expected to win the game and when we didn't we were shocked. …
"That's a cool mindset change over the past couple years that took place."
You know what? Bortles is right. This Jaguars mindset this week is cool for these guys, and it's important. That mindset, in fact, may be the Key Storyline this week, and why this game is so critical.
Sure, there are other really good storylines.
There's the fact that the San Diego Chargers are the opponent. The Chargers have beaten the Jaguars annually enough and routinely to create this rivalry feel – at least from the Jaguars' perspective.
And then there's the Chargers' quarterback: the dastardly, frustratingly-good, so-easy-to-hate Philip Rivers.
Rivers is smirky. He's theatrical. He's cocky – so cocky, in fact, that you get the idea he likes that you hate him – that for him, it's a big part of the fun of being an NFL quarterback.
But there's oh-so-much more to Rivers than the smirk. He's really good. He's really smart. His presence is enough to always make the Chargers dangerous, and he has been more than dangerous when it has come to the Jaguars in recent seasons. He has been downright lethal.
Rivers can beat you even if you play well against him. He's a master at the line of scrimmage with an advanced degree in what Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley refers to as Football 501. His ability to get receivers into the right position at the right time pretty much single-handedly beat the Jaguars at EverBank Field last November. That was the Chargers' fifth consecutive victory over the Jaguars in the last six years.
The other storyline this weekend is the whole West Coast thing. The Jaguars haven't won on the West Coast since beating Oakland in the 2004 regular-season finale. They have lost to the Chargers in San Diego and a bunch of other teams on the West Coast since then in a bunch of really one-sided games. They have lost so much it seems ingrained in some observers that the Jaguars can't win on the West Coast.
And bunk, too, is the idea that the Jaguars can't beat the Chargers – and that the smirk of Rivers on the other sideline means that the Jaguars can't win Sunday.
The Jaguars can beat the Chargers Sunday for a number of reasons. One is that they're good enough to do it. That may not have been the case the past several seasons, but it is now.
And really, forget the other reasons because it all sort of ties into that reason.
This isn't the same Jaguars team as 2015, and it's sure not the same team that lost Bortles' starting debut in San Diego a couple of years back. The 2010 Jaguars? The 2011 version? Long since past.
No, this is a new team, and a new time.
That's the idea Bortles put into words speaking to the media Wednesday. That's the cool mindset change – and it's more than cool for this team. It's vitally important. This is an organization of young, talented players who seem on the cusp of dramatic improvement. They believe it. They feel it. They do both strongly enough that it's hard not to believe it and feel it being around them.
But at some point that mindset must be more than cool. It must be turn into real victories, and that mindset needs to turn into the Jaguars getting rid of old ideas, and exorcising old demons.
What better way to do that than by beating this team that feels like a rival? What better way to do this than beating the guy with the smirk? And doing it on the West Coast?
If this team is a new team, a new era, why not win there? Why not beat this team? Why not do it now?
For this Jaguars team, that would be really cool.
And it would be really important, too.