JACKSONVILLE – This was tough from the start.
It stayed that way throughout what became a long, long evening – which meant a lot of matter-of-fact statements on few quiet videoconferences late Thursday night and into Friday morning.
Miami Dolphins 31, Jaguars 13.
That was the score in front of 16,563 at TIAA Bank Field on a Thursday night that began with optimism and energy – and ended with a lot of questions about a young football team that now must respond to its first real adversity of the 2020 season.
"We just felt like we weren't playing in sync, how we want to play," Head Coach Doug Marrone said.
Marrone spoke in that vein about a defense that struggled early for a third consecutive game. And he spoke in that vein about an offense that – unlike in the first two games – couldn't rally after a slow start.
It was that kind of night.
"We had too many mistakes tonight – that's just plain and simple," quarterback Gardner Minshew II said.
Minshew was right. The Jaguars' offense, which played with efficiency in the first two games, made too many mistakes Thursday. And unlike the first two games, they weren't good enough on third downs to overcome the errors.
The Jaguars entered the game leading the NFL in third-down conversions, and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden warned during a mid-week conference call that the offense could be scoring at half its pace if that stat changed.
Gruden was right about that. The Jaguars converted three of 10 on third downs and scored 13 points compared to the 28.5 they averaged in Weeks 1 and 2. But that was far from the only thing that went wrong for the Jaguars – and it was far from just an offensive issue.
The defense, which allowed opening-drive touchdowns in Weeks 1 and 2, did the same Thursday. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was stunningly efficient throughout, and his three-yard touchdown to Preston Williams capped a 12-play, 84-yard drive to open the game.
The game wasn't over then, but a tone was set.
"We just felt like we were chasing, and I felt that way throughout the game," Marrone said.
Yes, that was how it felt – and not just because Fitzpatrick continued his frustrating effectiveness against the Jaguars with a sixth victory over this franchise with a sixth different team.
The Jaguars responded well early in the second quarter, and it felt for a moment after rookie James Robinson's 11-yard touchdown 1:56 into the quarter that the Jaguars might write a similar comeback script to the last two weeks.
Instead, the Jaguars' chances disappeared in a flurry of mistakes. Minshew lost a fumble on a sack that led to a point-black touchdown and he was intercepted for a third time in two games. Wide receiver Chris Conley struggled from the start, dropping a would-be first-down-converting pass on the game's opening drive and had another catchable pass on a deep ball late in the second quarter
Minshew also missed a wide-open Conley for a would-be touchdown on the final play of the third quarter with the game still at least somewhat in doubt.
Afterward, Conley talked about the need to "stick together."
"There's going to be a lot of stuff thrown at everybody right now," Conley said. "There's going to be people try to pit us against each other. Stuff is already being thrown on social media right now. You've got to really block it out, go back to the drawing board and get back to work."
That was a theme in the post-game comments – and Conley's right that what matters more than what happened Thursday will be how this young team responds. This indeed will be the first true adversity for the 2020 Jaguars. The Week 1 victory over the Indianapolis Colts was euphoria. The Week 2 loss at Tennessee … well, there are no moral NFL victories, but that felt close.
Now, the Jaguars must show they are what they believe themselves to be – a scrappy team that's better than observers believe. Now, as Conley said, they must stay together.
It's something Marrone absolutely believes they will do.
"They've got a lot of pride, they understand that we're going to keep getting better and keep working on those things that you've seen," Marrone said. "The one thing I don't worry about this team is, kind of, vibes or hanging your head."
That has been Marrone's theme for weeks, and he stayed true to it Thursday night.
That theme will be tested in a big way moving forward after a game that was nothing like what the Jaguars hoped in their lone prime-time game of the season.
Yes, this one was tough. Really tough.
And what happens next will tell us a lot about the true makeup of this team.