JACKSONVILLE – Well, that was a big, ol,' deflating, dispiriting "sigh" there at the end, wasn't it?
After all the fun this past week …
After all the buildup and playoff talk …
After that third-quarter surge …
After all of that, the fourth quarter of an otherwise glorious, crisp, clear Sunday afternoon at EverBank Field just didn't seem to fit, did it? What happened?
Atlanta Falcons 23, Jaguars 17 – that's what happened.
Sigh. Sigh, sigh, sigh.
"This is not the way we wanted to end it here at home," Head Coach Gus Bradley said shortly after the Jaguars' already-slim postseason hopes took another significant hit, though not yet a final one.
"Our fan base was great. We appreciate how loud they were and what they put into it. It's just … this one stings."
It stung in the locker room, too.
"It's very disappointing," cornerback Aaron Colvin said. "This one really hurts. This is one of the games that hurts me the most (this season), because I see it – I think we all see it … how good we can be. We just have to find a way to do it in all phases.
"Defense, offense and special teams have to find a way to all put it together."
It wasn't supposed to be this way, and considering how the Jaguars played a week before in a 51-16 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, it was fair to expect it not to be this way. It didn't feel like it would be this way, either – not after the Jaguars erased a 17-3 halftime deficit in an inspired third quarter.
But the Jaguars on Sunday in the 2015 regular-season home finale did too many things they had done all season.
A key interception thrown by Blake Bortles …
An inability to get pressure with four down linemen …
An inability to convert third downs …
All have hurt the Jaguars times this season and all hurt again Sunday.
And still, the loss didn't end the playoff hopes. Not technically. If the Houston Texans (7-7) lose their last two games and the Indianapolis Colts (6-8) loses to Tennessee in Week 17 – and the Jaguars win their remaining two games at New Orleans and Houston – the Jaguars can still win the AFC South title.
Yes, even at 5-9, the Jaguars still have postseason hopes.
"We do?" cornerback Davon House said. "Sweet. That's good to hear."
Sunday doesn't make the Jaguars an awful team, just as the blowout last Sunday didn't make them a great team. They're a young team, and while they are still ascending, they're also still a growing team with all of the imperfections that implies.
And yeah, those imperfections showed up Sunday.
Gameday images of the Jaguars Week-15 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons.
Bortles, after throwing eight touchdowns and no interceptions in two games, was good much of Sunday. He completed 23 of 38 passes for 297 yards and his 10-yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson embodied all the good that has gone on between those two this season. The second-year quarterback was oh-so-close to a third consecutive really good game.
Except for one play.
That was an interception with: 11 remaining in the first half. It came on 1st-and-goal from the Falcons 1 with the Jaguars trailing 14-3. Bortles threw to tight end Marcedes Lewis. Safety Kemal Ishmael cut in front for the interception, and though Bortles tackled him at the Jaguars 16 to prevent a touchdown …
Well, talk about deflating.
"Not good," Bortles said. "It was tough. You get a chance like that right before halftime to put up seven points and get back in the game. It obviously hurts."
The hurt overall was evident after this one. Not that the Jaguars believed this game would be easy, even with the Falcons having lost six consecutive games. This was never a bad Falcons team, and it sure wasn't a bad Falcons offense. You're not a bad offense when you have Matt Ryan. And you're sure not a bad offense when you have Julio Jones.
Both players hurt the Jaguars Sunday, and they hurt for a simple reason that has hurt the Jaguars often this season.
When it mattered most – on third-and-long throughout the second half – the Jaguars couldn't pressure Ryan enough to get off the field. The Falcons started the game one of five on third downs.
They finished 7 of 14.
That's as good a statistic as any to sum up Sunday, though 0 of 8 on third downs offensively does the job, too. As a result, the Jaguars exited the 'Bank Sunday in a very different state than they arrived. Sunday morning was giddy with playoff talk. Now, technicalities aside, it appears safe to assume there will be no playoff appearance, no division title, and no January home playoff game at the 'Bank.
That doesn't mean the Jaguars are bad. Not even close. It just means they're not quite good enough yet to make the fun last past Christmas. So, even though they're close, for Sunday at least …
Sigh. Sigh, sigh, and sigh.