ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – New Sunday, same story.
It’s not a pretty story for the Jaguars these days – and yes, a 24-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field undoubtedly featured new subplots and weird twists. Still, the essence was the same.
The Jaguars had a very real chance to win. Yet again.
They didn’t. Yet again.
“It’s crazy when you see the standings,” Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack said after the Jaguars’ seventh consecutive loss – the fourth in as many weeks by six or fewer points. “That feels like a nightmare.”
And while nothing likely could have been saved by winning, this team didn’t need another disheartening loss defined by a struggling passing game. But they got one. Yet again.
The Jaguars also didn’t need a loss defined by a loss of composure and the ejection of their best offensive player – running back Leonard Fournette – for fighting. They got that, too.
As has increasingly been the case in recent weeks, the Jaguars’ post-game quotes were a mix of frustration and sadness. They searched for answers for what’s gone wrong, and what will happen next. Such answers don’t come easy.
“I really don’t know,” cornerback Jalen Ramsey said when asked the motivation for the final five games of what began as a season with postseason and Super Bowl aspirations. “At this point, I guess we have to play for pride and respect … Yeah, I don’t really know.
“I’m going to continue to go out there and pour my heart into every game and play to the best of my ability and try to lead by example on the field, but yeah … I don’t know.”
Ramsey wasn’t alone searching for words. Defensive end Calais Campbell, who talked about still having postseason hopes through the first six games of this season-defining losing streak, offered no such words Sunday.
“It sucks, because up to this point it felt like eventually it was going to click, and we were going to squeeze our way into the playoffs and have a chance for the ultimate goal,” Campbell said. “Now, you’re playing for respect and love of the game.”
That’s as close to a concession speech as you get in NFL circles, and that gave the Jaguars’ loss Sunday a notable tone of finality.
Or maybe it was a final tone of finality, considering the come-from-ahead loss to the Steelers a week before took on a similar post-game feel as the date when most players other than Campbell conceded that yes, playoff aspirations truly are out of reach.
It’s like a nightmare …
Were those Jack’s words? Yes, the season has felt like a nightmare for weeks now, with the last month particularly and frustrating. While it’s tempting to paint the losing streak with one dismissive brush, there have been two losing skids within this streak. There was the three-game losing streak at the beginning when the Jaguars lost to Kansas City, Dallas and Houston after failing to score in any of those first halves. That streak was about a shocking level of un-competitiveness.
The last four losses: 24-18 to Philadelphia, 29-26 to Indianapolis, 20-16 loss to Pittsburgh, Sunday. The Jaguars could have won them all, and probably should have won three.
If ‘woulda’ and ‘shoulda’ have defined the last month, maybe it’s fitting that it defined the month’s final week, too.
The Jaguars for much of Sunday played well enough to win. They were taking control late in the third quarter, which seemed improbable considering the undeniable struggles of quarterback Blake Bortles to that point.
Bortles late in the third completed his first pass to a wide receiver when he threw 29 yards to wide receiver Donte Moncrief. The officials’ initial call of touchdown was changed to a Jaguars first down at the 1. But a fight broke out in the play’s aftermath.
Fournette left the bench and was ejected for throwing punches along with Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson. A penalty then negated a touchdown reception by Dede Westbrook, and penalties and a sack pushed the Jaguars to the Bills 24. Kicker Josh Lambo missed a field goal from 42 yards.
From first and goal at the one to no points …
That seemed discouraging even before the Bills moved 68 yards on the ensuing possession, a drive that was aided by 15-yard penalties on safety Barry Church and defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. Bills quarterback Josh Allen’s 14-yard run capped the drive and gave the Bills a 21-14 lead.
That didn’t technically end the Jaguars’ chances Sunday, just as Sunday didn’t technically end the team’s season. Realistically, it died a slow death amid a bizarre and frustrating two months.
But the stunning and crushing series at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth sure had the feel of a microcosm. This season that began with high hopes instead produced something inexplicable, frustrating and strange. Yet again.