The stage was perfect. Autumn had come to Jacksonville. National television was there and so was an enthusiastic crowd Jacksonville wanted so badly to showcase.
This would be the night Jacksonville would tell the football world it was back. This would be the night Jacksonville would get respect. This was going to be a night of celebration for the future of professional football in Jacksonville. The crisp, clean October was charged with electricity as Josh Scobee kicked off.
That excitement was short-lived. Vince Young fired a pass to Bo Scaife for 28 yards, then one to Kenny Britt for 23 yards and a touchdown. It took only two minutes and 26 seconds for the Titans to ruin another Jacksonville celebration, en route to a 30-3 win that left Jaguars players embarrassed.
"Honestly, it's embarrassing," guard Uche Nwaneri said.
It left the Jaguars at 3-3, which isn't a bad record. Hey, the Cowboys are 1-4; the Chargers are 2-4. What's bad about the Jaguars' 3-3, however, is that all three defeats have been lopsided; two of them were by 25 points and the most recent one was by a difference of 27.
Again, we are left with this question: Which Jaguars team is the real Jaguars team? Is it the one that's won three games by a combined 20 points, or the one that's lost three games by a combined 77 points? The answer, obviously, is just ahead because it's unlikely that any team can continue this trend for long. At some point, the Jaguars will become one or the other.
The most perplexing aspect of this most recent loss is that it lacked any kind of turning point or dramatic moment at which we might point and say, "If that hadn't happened." There was no such moment. The game started out bad and just kept getting worse.
"This is the second game at home that we didn't have things go well early. We weren't able to overcome the avalanche," coach Jack Del Rio said.
The Jaguars had a chance to cut the deficit to 17-7 by halftime, but tight end Marcedes Lewis lost a fumble at the Titans' 10-yard line. In the fourth quarter, the Jaguars had driven laboriously, time-consumingly to the Titans' two-yard line, then had what appeared to be a touchdown pass ripped from the hands of wide receiver Tiquan Underwood by defensive back Vincent Fuller.
In true Titans fashion, of course, the visitors punctuated their victory with a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. Embarrassing? All of the Titans' plays were runs, the last one of which was a 35-yard dash by Chris Johnson that put him over the 100-yard mark. He broke out into a grand post-touchdown celebration, for what remained of the crowd to enjoy, of course.
Oh, what a shame. It wasn't fair. Jacksonville deserved better than this. In what was the Jaguars' only prime-time television exposure of the season, any chance of softening the national media's harangue of the team and the town was lost.
"We had a chance to showcase our team on national television. We didn't hit on any cylinders. The world is watching and to come and play like this is very disappointing," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said.
OK, so now what? What does a team that is desperate to sell tickets and a fan base that is desperate to find reason to cheer do in what remains of this season? We hope. That's all we can do. We keep the faith and hope for better times.
"I don't think that's indicative of the type of team we have," Del Rio said, refusing to betray his players or make any kind of gesture that might be construed as surrender. "We'll bounce back. We're disappointed. We expected to play well."
It was everyone's expectation the Jaguars would play well. What a shame they didn't.