JACKSONVILLE – So, times are tough. Really, really tough.
That's the feel from many Jaguars fans in the wake of this past Sunday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts, a loss anger-inspiring enough to shake the faith of many ardent Jaguars supporters.
What is going right? Can this get fixed?
Are there really reasons to believe?
Those are the questions this week as the Jaguars prepare to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium Sunday. The social-media noise and comment-section commentary has reached something beyond what it has been and something closer to a cacophonous din.
It's out there, and it's all understandable – and to pretend it isn't there is to live in dimness and disillusion. When a 1-3 start follows 4-12 and 3-13, it's going to be out there, but here's what else is out there:
Improvement, and good signs. There are reasons to believe.
It hasn't resulted in winning yet – and that's a very real issue – but the signs are enough that hope shouldn't be lost. And the signs are actually significant enough that there are real reasons this thing might be closer to turning than many believe.
Here are four:
Blake Bortles. Allen Robinson. Allen Hurns. T.J. Yeldon.
If you want reasons to believe, start there. Three second-year players and a rookie all looked very good individually against the Colts, and look better as the season continues. In fact, the offense as a whole looked very good in flashes against the Colts – and has looked better as the season has continued. No, flashes aren't enough – and 13 points darned sure aren't enough – but the 400-plus yards produced by the offense shouldn't and can't be overlooked.
The ranking of 18th in the NFL in total yards shouldn't be overlooked, either.
Those are things the young offense couldn't do last season.
The solid play of the offensive line – even without the unit's best player, guard Brandon Linder – darned sure didn't happen last season.
The eight sacks allowed this season? Bortles' 996 yards passing, six touchdowns and three interceptions? Hurns and Robinson each being on pace to surpass 1,000 yards receiving? Yeldon being on pace for more than 1,000?
All are real through four games and all are improvement.
So, about all those losses …
And about the second-half struggles …
And the lack of scoring …
Images from Jaguars' Wednesday practice.
Those things are real, too – as real as the good things. That's what's maddening to many observers and many within the team. Three times this season the Jaguars have played well enough to compete and set themselves up with a chance to win in the second half. In all three of those games, the offense went away. Way, way away.
The Jaguars have scored three points in the second halves of those games, and while those points gave the team a Week 2 victory over Miami, the zeroes against Carolina and Indianapolis are why the Jaguars are 1-3 at the quarter pole and not 3-1.
And that, of course, has defined the season thus far.
"We've played some tremendous football in first halves of games that we've played in," offensive coordinator Greg Olson said Wednesday. "We have not come out and done that in the second half. Part of that is in the red zone, scoring."
The second-half struggles, not scoring in the red zone … it's all interrelated, and makes the improvements harder to notice. Bortles was asked about it Wednesday, too.
"Just continuing to pay attention to detail – I know it's cliché to say, but it's true," he said. "There are so many little errors that have occurred down in the red zone that have kept us from finishing drives. …
"[We are] continuing to have a big emphasis on that. I know it'll be huge this week …"
There's little detail there, and midweek quotes don't get things fixed. They also don't satisfy fans. Winning does, but what is it in the red zone? What's holding the offense back? As in most things, there is no one thing. The easy "blame" is play-calling and "second-half adjustments," but those are tough to define. It's just as easy to point to youth, inexperience, players adjusting to a new offense.
And on and on and on …
"A little of all of the above and some of a lot of things" is perhaps the most accurate answer, while at the same time clearly unsatisfying.
The bottom line is it's not time for major changes, not four games into the season. And major changes – coaching changes – aren't going to happen.
At the same time, it's not time to say everything's OK. It's time for the growth that we've seen statistically and in spots to continue, to provide results. That can be a maddening, painful process, but it's a process that continues nonetheless – and a process that will and should continue to play out.
So, are the Jaguars at a crossroads? Time will tell. But whatever this time is for the Jaguars, it shouldn't be forgotten that there are some very real reasons to believe.
That means there's hope, more of it than many might think. Even amid the cacophonous din.