JACKSONVILLE – Oh, well …
No, wait: that's not right. "Oh-so-close" is more like it – and that's what the Jaguars were Sunday. They were oh-so-close to an enormous, crowd-pleasing, season-launching victory over the Green Bay Packers on a sizzling September day at EverBank Field.
Instead, wide receiver Allen Hurns was stopped for a one-yard loss on 4th-and-1 from the Packers 14 with 14 seconds remaining.
Instead, what began as a wild first half and what appeared to be turning into a dramatic victory turned into frustration – and the Jaguars lost, 27-23.
In past years, that might have elicited, "Oh, well."
In past years, Sunday's progress – and a near-miss over a potential Super Bowl contender very definitely counts as progress – might have been the post-game theme. In past year, players might have taken solace in oh-so-close.
"This one hurts," wide receiver Allen Hurns said.
Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was asked if he felt good about anything regarding the game.
"No" was his reply.
No, Sunday's reaction was not "Oh, well." It was clearly, "This was not enough." And as many good signs as the Jaguars showed on the field Sunday, their post-game reaction may have been the best sign.
Close does not satisfy this team. Being competitive does not satisfy this team.
That was written all over the faces of players afterward, from Roy Miller III to Bortles to Hurns to Allen Robinson – and it was stitched through Head Coach Gus Bradley's words. Bradley in three seasons has established an up-beat tone to all situations, including post-game press conferences. He found a few threads of positive Sunday, but this was clearly not a happy head coach.
He was asked about a four-point loss to a perennial power with an elite quarterback being progress. He agreed to a point, but he wasn't feeling it.
"I know," he said. "We talk about getting better, and we want our best and all that. And you're right, we're getting better. We weren't at our best today. There's a few thing we've got to get corrected. That's not how they feel in the locker room right now."
Images from the Jaguars Week 1 matchup with the Green Bay Packers.
That last part – "that's not how they feel in the locker room right now" – was strikingly evident. This was not a team satisfied with fighting the good fight and perhaps playing better than observers expected. It was not one willing to say it was a moral victory, and it didn't feel like a team that felt it had accomplished much.
Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks did talk a bit about the progress the performance showed.
"There's no such thing as a moral victory, especially not in the NFL, but to go out and compete and have a chance to win at the end is huge not only for our team and organization, but for our city," Marks said. "We have a team that can compete."
At the same time, Marks was quick to say that's not enough.
"For a loss like that to hurt, that's a huge sign for our team going forward," Marks said.
That wasn't just something being said to the media, either. It was evident seconds after the game when outside linebacker Telvin Smith addressed the team in the immediate aftermath.
"Gus usually speaks," Hurns said. "Telvin got up there and he just laid it all out. He was really disappointed. I think this is the toughest loss we've had, just seeing how close we were."
Marks said he was glad Smith spoke.
"That was big," Marks said. "I think a lot of guys felt that way."
There's no question most of the locker room felt that way. This was not a team satisfied what happened, and there was a lot they could have liked. They could have liked that the defense twice held the Packers to short second-half field goals to stay in the game.
They could have liked that the Jaguars didn't wilt after allowing an early point-blank touchdown drive following Bortles' first-drive interception. That sort of thing had landslide effects in past seasons; on Sunday, the Jaguars took leads of 10-7 and 14-7 after the early deficit and never trailed by more than seven.
They could have liked that the offense twice drove effectively late in the game in pressure situations, with the last drive reaching the 14-yard line with 27 seconds remaining.
They could have liked those things, but they didn't.
No, this one hurt too much to like things. The Jaguars played well enough to beat many teams Sunday. They nearly played well enough to beat Green Bay. The pass rush needs to improve and the team still needs to cut out silly penalties. But overall?
Overall, this game confirmed what seemed reasonable to believe entering the season – that while the Jaguars may not quite be ready to beat a power team with an elite quarterback, they're darned sure a lot better. And they appear to be ready to turn better into more victories.
That's a good sign, a positive sign.
But Jaguars players didn't want to talk about those signs in the wake of the regular-season opener.
And that last part may be the best sign of all.