NEW ORLEANS – And so it ends. Officially.
Not the season – not technically, anyway. That didn't happen in the Jaguars' disappointing and surprisingly one-sided 38-27 loss to the New Orleans Saints Sunday.
No, the season doesn't officially, technically end until next Sunday. But the playoff chances?
Those last glimmers of hope?
They finally, officially ended Sunday – even before what happened in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome happened. Those ended for real and for good when the Houston Texans beat the Tennessee Titans 34-6 earlier in the afternoon to clinch an AFC South title that the Jaguars had more than their share of opportunities this season to win.
But the end of the postseason wasn't the main topic in Sunday's aftermath.
The main topic was how the shootout many expected never quite happened – and how a game that many expected to be close just wasn't. Not really.
On that topic frustration and disappointment ruled the day.
"It's hard to keep your head up after something like that," cornerback Davon House said after the Saints produced more yards offense – 539 – than any previous opponent in Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley's 47-game tenure.
Bradley afterward talked about precision, and also talked about potential changes to a defense that continues to struggle, particularly rushing the passer. Precision is needed when playing an elite quarterback such as Brees, and the Jaguars lacked it Sunday. Big-time.
Players talked precision, too, but also talked in more succinct terms about games such as Sunday's – a fourth loss in the last five games – being increasingly unacceptable.
"We just didn't execute like we needed to and like we talked about," Jaguars cornerback Aaron Colvin said. "You have to be able to execute. That's just a step we need to take as a team.
"The young team b.s. – it's out of the water, man. We don't want to hear that no more. We've grown up. We know what to expect. We have to get it right."
Make no mistake:
By game's end – by midway through the first quarter, really – the playoffs didn't seem like much of a topic. They were a remote possibility anyway, with the Jaguars needing to win their final two games while also needing two games worth of help from a Marcus Mariota-less Tennessee team.
The bigger story for the Jaguars Sunday? How they played against the Saints. Because this team is a building team, that matters – whatever the postseason possibilities.
On this day, how they played wasn't good nearly enough.
The Saints scored early, easily and often, and the concerns over how the pass rush would fare against Saints quarterback Drew Brees? Well-founded. Brees played with a torn plantar fascia, but still threw three touchdown passes. He looked like Drew Brees, and the Jaguars' pass rush looked like it had looked all season – ineffective and an area that has to be addressed in the offseason in a big-time, overhaul-type of way.
And the whole slow starts theme that the media emphasized all week?
That continued Sunday, too. The Jaguars' offense didn't score until 1:23 remained in the first half when wide receiver Marqise Lee's two-yard reception from Blake Bortles made it 24-6. The Jaguars cut the Saints lead to 11 early in the second half with Bortles' six-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Allen Hurns, but got no closer.
"It's definitely frustrating," said Bortles, who threw four touchdown passes but also threw to first-half interceptions. "You go through and you're happy with the week – and guys do a really good job with the week with the preparation – then to come out and start slow … We had 19 plays in the first half. That's definitely frustrating. It's hard to play games like that.
It wasn't shocking the Jaguars lost Sunday. With the carrot that was the playoffs gone and with a high-powered Saints offense presenting a difficult matchup, this was by any measure a tough task.
What was surprising was it was uncompetitive early. The Jaguars hadn't won enough this season, but they had been far more competitive this season than in the first two under Bradley. Twelve of the previous 14 games were decided in the fourth quarter. Only a 51-17 Week 3 loss at New England could be fairly described as a "blowout loss."
While the Jaguars' responded early in the second half, the response wasn't enough to make this feel close. Even the second half rally felt more like a mini-rally than a legitimate chance at a victory.
What this means in the big picture is anyone's guess. The guess here is it doesn't mean a head-coaching change, but a double-digit loss to ensure a fifth consecutive double-digit loss season isn't the sort of late-season game the Jaguars expected Sunday.
No, this was tough – surprisingly tough.
And by game's end, that playoff talk that dominated so much of the season – and even the past week – seemed a distant memory. And those last glimmers of hope were over – officially, finally and disappointingly so.
Images from the Jaguars Week-16 matchup at the New Orleans Saints.