ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – This one was close again.
This one looked like a possible victory – very possible, in fact.
Shoot, the Jaguars even looked dominant for a good, long while during a 28-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field Sunday. And then …
Well, then came the last few minutes of the first half. After that a lot went wrong while not enough went right. The result was yet another Jaguars loss, their sixth in succession. The result was another day knowing things could have been different but knowing they were frustratingly the same.
Mostly, the result was another difficult, disheartening day in what is by any measure a difficult, disheartening season.
The post-game mood reflected it. Big-time. Again.
"This team, they're playing their tails off," Head Coach Gus Bradley said after the Jaguars secured their sixth consecutive losing season and the fourth such season in his four-year tenure. "Things just aren't going our way, but we've got to make them go our way. It's just not just going to come to us."
Bradley for a sixth consecutive week tried to sum up the mood of a disappointed team. Quarterback Blake Bortles for a sixth consecutive week did the same.
Bortles, who played one of his better games of the season, showed frustration Sunday. He openly criticized an uncalled pass-interference penalty on Allen Robinson, doing so while acknowledging it might draw a fine from the NFL.
He also discussed team frustration – an understandable emotion considering Sunday was the fourth consecutive week the Jaguars had a very real chance to beat a good team only to lose.
"I think we've had a little bit of Murphy's Law: if it can go wrong it will go wrong at the most inopportune time," Bortles said. "I think we've got some of that going on."
At the same time, Bortles rejected the notion that such a thing should define a season.
"It's easy to use that as a crutch or an excuse and say, 'We're not getting a break,' or, 'We're not getting any luck,''' Bortles said. "It's on us to go make a play. Rather than leave it up to luck, or a break, or a bounce, or a call … just go make it. Make the play. Make the catch. Make the throw. Do whatever. We have to do more of that."
And yes ...
Considering the circumstances, it's understandable that much of what Bradley and Bortles said late Sunday sounded familiar. That's what losing six consecutive games does, and there was an element of familiarity Sunday.
The Jaguars played well enough defensively to win throughout much of the game, but then couldn't make key stops and key times late in the game.
They played well at times offensively – and Bortles in particular made good decisions at a lot of important times. Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks left no doubt afterward that he thought the offense overall played well enough to win.
"I think we have to blame this game on the defense," Marks said. "We didn't step up. The offense gave us 21 points. That should be all we need to put the game away."
Still, as was the case last week against Detroit, the Jaguars offense twice had possession in the fourth quarter trailing by a score. The offense failed to score in that situation against Detroit. It failed Sunday, too, going three and out with the first opportunity and turning the ball over on downs at the Bills 42 with the second.
And then of course, the special teams looked all-too familiar Sunday, too. When Bills wide receiver Brandon Tate returned a second-quarter punt 43 yards to set up the Bills' first touchdown, it marked the fourth time in as many games a long punt return by a Jaguars opponent led to a key, momentum-altering score. That borders on unbelievable.
So, as we have done for the past several weeks, we ask: what now?
Well, what happens now is the Jaguars move on to the final five weeks of the season – and rankly, those five weeks are difficult. The opponents get no easier.
All five remaining opponents have postseason aspirations. All will be motivated.
The Jaguars will be motivated by professional pride. The belief here is they will play better once they return home to EverBank Field, and the belief here is the season will not end with an 11-game losing streak.
That was the belief in the locker room Sunday, too – that while this season is lost in terms of the postseason, it is not over.
And that's true: It's not over, but it if better days are ahead the Jaguars must find a way to do what they haven't done the last four weeks. They must play well enough to not only come close – but to end the frustration by winning.
If they can do that, the final month of the season will have brighter day than Sundays.
If not …
Well, if not, we'll be hearing about things going wrong at the most inopportune time again and again and again.