JACKSONVILLE – They’ll be amped. They’ll feel the buzz. Of course they will.
Still, if you entered the Jaguars’ locker room Wednesday expecting to hear every player building up the hype, talking too much talk and running around with their hair on fire …
No, that wasn’t what Wednesday was about.
“We understand the situation,” linebacker Telvin Smith said as the defending AFC South champion and unbeaten Jaguars (1-0) prepared to play the defending AFC East and AFC champion and unbeaten Patriots (1-0) at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday at 4:25 p.m.
“We know where we want to go and what we want to do. Week 2 … they’re on the schedule,” Smith added.
Take a second look a couple of paragraphs back. You’ll see a lot of defending champions and unbeatens in there – and that’s cool. We’ve waited a long time for a game like this at the ‘Bank, but the theme of players and coaches Wednesday was more about what Smith was saying:
Yes, Patriots-Jaguars is huge. Really big.
Yes, players understand that this franchise’s fans have waited years for a matchup like this. They understand, too, that fans have awaited this one since Tom Brady rallied the Patriots past the Jaguars in the AFC Championship Game in January.
This is must-see, must-attend stuff. One of the biggest sports events in this city’s history? No doubt. The biggest? Perhaps. The biggest regular-season game in franchise history?
An argument could be made there, too.
“It’s going to be crazy,” Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson said. “Starting with I had to get 30 tickets this week …. That let me know how crazy it is.”
Gipson, who said he’s usually a “three-to-five-ticket guy,” smiled.
“Tickets ain’t cheap – I want you all to understand,” he said. “They’re not cheap. But the atmosphere should be crazy. Going into pregame, that’s when I think for a lot of guys it’s going to hit that, ‘Hey, it’s the biggest stage Duval has seen in a while, especially in the regular season.’
“I’m expecting a playoff-type atmosphere. Everybody wants revenge, and I want to give it to everybody.”
But make no mistake:
While Gipson dropped the above revenge quote, and while linebacker Myles Jack called the week the biggest of his life, those quotes didn’t define the locker room.
“Our focus right now is not to the game on Sunday,” Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said Wednesday. “Our focus is on what we have to do now to prepare ourselves because during the week we’re just focusing on where we are at that time.
“That’s one of the things we have talked to this team about. We talk to them about that from the beginning of camp.”
Indeed, balancing the outside hype and energy while focusing on the task at hand was the overriding theme Wednesday, and the vibe here is this team is doing just that.
No Jaguars player was disingenuous enough to tell the media that gathered at TIAA Bank Field Wednesday that they were unaware of the circumstances around this game. And no player tried to say he was unaware of the buzz among the fan base and in town.
At the same time, this isn’t college or high school football. This game won’t be decided at a pregame pep rally, nor is this a case of the Jaguars believing that this game will decide the season.
This game for these players is simply this: a Week 2 game that they very much believe they can win – and that they believe they will win. Is there a statement element? Is it a chance to show the world they can beat one of sport’s great dynasties? Absolutely.
“That’s a great team, a great quarterback – well-coached,” defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said. “Beating the Patriots would be a great start.”
At the same time, that’s something this team believes it should do – and will do. This is a formidable foe in their minds, but in no way an unbeatable one.
Told the Jaguars never had beaten the Patriots in the careers of Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick, and told they were the only AFC team not to do so, Gipson smiled.
“Yet,” he said.
So, yeah: if you’re attending Sunday’s game – and if you’re spending the week amped for it – embrace this moment. Go nuts. Go Duval. This is what the NFL is about. Patriots Week is here. At last.
Enjoy. And be ready. Run around with your hair on fire.
Jaguars players, meanwhile, will be preparing for a game they believe they can win and one they believe they are ready to win.
And the fact that message drowned out the buzz Wednesday is a good sign.