JACKSONVILLE – Doug Marrone didn’t hesitate.
He spoke directly and enthusiastically, and there was something about how he spoke that you knew – just knew – the Jaguars’ head coach felt good about the answer.
That makes sense. Marrone was talking about resiliency and belief – and this Jaguars team right now has a lot of both. Near the end of his weekly Wednesday press conference, Marrone was asked if he could figure out why this team was resilient.
“Yep,” he said.
“They care about each other; I really think that’s the biggest thing,” Marrone said as the Jaguars (2-3) prepared to play the New Orleans Saints (4-1) at TIAA Bank Field Sunday at 1 p.m. “I mean, I don’t think there are a lot of other things that go in it. I think they truly care. They care and they believe.
“I think those are the two things. I think if you don’t have that, you don’t even have a chance to be resilient. I guess the simplest terms are this team cares about each other, but probably more importantly they believe in each other.”
Right there: That’s the theme around this team right now – even more than the emergence of Minshew Mania, and strikingly separate from the ongoing drama that is cornerback Jalen Ramsey. Those two elements are the public stories, but the engine driving this team is resiliency. It’s what players and coaches emphasized following a 34-27 loss at Carolina Sunday, and the theme very much carried into mid-week preparations Wednesday.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, this resiliency thing, and make no mistake: The Jaguars rallying from double-digit deficits in three of four games has helped fuel the concept.
“It’s easy to be resilient if you make plays and start to come back,” Marrone said. “That creates more confidence. Those things have happened, and I think that’s why they feel the way they do.”
And while some observers undoubtedly and understandably will give a collective eye roll – along with a few “yeah buts” – when discussing the positives around a sub.-500 team, the reality is this team for the past several weeks has exhibited exactly those traits that Marrone mentioned so prominently Wednesday.
This team is overcoming adversity. It’s staying together. It continues to believe the direction is forward rather than sideways or backward.
What the team very much isn’t, by the way, is about Ramsey. While the two-time Pro Bowl cornerback’s decision to practice for the first time in two weeks Wednesday undoubtedly will be a primary Twitter topic, that story continues to feel like a sidebar. There’s no doubt the Jaguars are better with Ramsey than without. It’s simply not the overriding concern inside the building. Not for coaches. Not for players. Not for anyone, really. If he plays, that’s great. But the team’s not worrying about right now.
No, the main story is that there’s a reason Marrone feels as he does.
And that players echo that feeling.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are all in right now,” Minshew said. “We’re just coming up just short. That’s not going to stop us from keep pushing and keep doing this the right way.”
Cornerback D.J. Hayden agreed.
“We just continued to work – keep swinging, keep fighting,” Hayden said. “I do like that about our team: We kept fighting. The close games we lost, we kept fighting and we were right there until the last play. We need a couple of more plays and a little luck, but I’m confident in our team.”
Here’s the obvious: No one cares about a team’s belief if it keeps losing. And Marrone has stated and restated in recent days that it will be better if the Jaguars don’t need the resiliency – because it’s better to play with a lead and not need heart and grit. Still, belief matters very much in the NFL, and Marrone liking the feeling he gets from this team is significant.
Remember? The 2017 AFC South championship season? It became evident early that Marrone liked that team more and more each week – even when it was struggling to inch above .500. He liked the fight. He liked the confidence it showed – even before it had earned that confidence.
Last season’s 5-11 2018 season never felt like that – partly because injuries started wrecking the season in September and partly because confidence never grew in a struggling offense.
Whatever the reason, this year’s 2-3 feels better than last year’s 3-2 start. Players feel it, and it has been reflected not only in Minshew’s words, but in the words of veteran leaders such as running back Leonard Fournette and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. It was reflected in Marrone’s answer Wednesday. He didn’t hesitate, and you just knew he believed in the answer.
Now, it’s time to justify that belief.