CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The difference was in the details.
And while the difference didn’t help the Jaguars in the aftermath of a 34-27 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium Sunday afternoon, it might bode well for the long-term.
“I’m not feeling any panic,” defensive tackle Abry Jones said.
Bode well? No panic?
How could this be Sunday’s focus when the Jaguars lost and looked familiarly bad in a few areas – penalties, in particular?
Because what you heard in the Jaguars’ locker room Sunday after rallying time and time again – and after allowing too many big plays time and time again – sounded like a team that liked some things on while acknowledging that way too much went wrong.
“One thing I do like is that I see lot of guys in this locker room getting closer through adversity,” defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said. “That’s special right there.”
Now, know this:
This is a tough thought to put together, this idea that what was special about Sunday could outweigh what went wrong – particularly when things went wrong to the tune of 285 yards rushing by the Panthers.
It also went wrong to the tune of three lost fumbles by rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew and a 3-0 giveaway-takeaway ratio.
As Head Coach Doug Marrone said afterward, those statistics above all else are why the Jaguars are 2-3 and needing to scratch their way into the playoff conversation instead of being 3-2 and right in the middle of such talk.
“When you give up that much rushing and you’re minus-three in turnovers you’re not going to win football games,” Marrone said. “That’s basically what it comes down to.”
Marrone during his post-game press conference wasn’t emphasizing the getting-closer-through-adversity, and he wasn’t happy about the outcome. Players weren’t happy, either, and linebacker Myles Jack blamed himself and a too-porous defense for making Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey look like what he is -- the NFL’s best offensive player not playing quarterback and a front-runner for NFL Most Valuable Player.
“I’ve just got to play better,” Jack said, adding of McCaffrey: “I kind of knocked him out of the game, but by then he had 1,000 yards, so it didn’t matter. He was doing his thing. If you give that guy an inch, he’s going to take it. He’s explosive.”
Jack, a co-captain, exaggerated McCaffrey’s yardage total – barely. He finished with 176 yards rushing before Jack indeed knocked him from the game with a fourth-quarter leg injury. The problem for the Jaguars is McCaffrey’s replacement – Reggie Bonaffon – complemented McCaffrey’s three touchdowns that included a too-easy 84-yard touchdown run with a 59-yard, too-easy touchdown of his own. The result: The Panthers averaged 10.6 yards a carry, which defines running too easily in the NFL.
So, yeah … bad things happened Sunday.
Except that this loss felt different somehow. This locker room didn’t feel like last season’s, with each loss feeling like it was leading inevitably and awfully to another the following week.
“I came in here after the game and called the team up and made sure nobody held their head down,” running back Leonard Fournette said. “We fought the whole game. We’re fighting right now. We’re competing as a whole.
“It’s the third week in a row I’ve seen the fight out of everybody. Nobody’s given up. Mistakes are going to happen in a game. It’s about bouncing back.”
The Jaguars three times in four games have trailed by double digits in the second half. They rallied to beat Denver last week and were inches short in Week 2 at Houston. They trailed 21-7 in the first half Sunday and had multiple chances to get game-turning stops. That they failed was frustrating, and you heard that from players afterward.
But the difference is in the details, and a critical detail is that it didn’t feel like season-ending frustration Sunday as much as the frustration of not finishing a winnable game.
“We see the fight is there,” defensive tackle Abry Jones said. “Especially with the type of three weeks we’ve had, fighting to come back, usually you would see the fight disappear and people saying, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ The fight is the most important thing.
“Once we combine that fight with not giving the ball away and getting turnovers where we need them, that will be the difference in the season.”
Here’s the most critical detail, of course. The Jaguars have a quarterback in which they believe, and you saw that again Sunday. Minshew, despite the fumbles Sunday, has given this team a confidence in the offense it hasn’t had in nearly a decade.
But whatever the reason, you could feel that players didn’t consider Sunday’s loss a tragedy. Difficult, yes. Frustrating, yes. But hardly season-defining.
And that detail indeed could bode well for the weeks ahead.