HOUSTON—It was at this time a year ago that the Jaguars started peaking. Their offense started scoring touchdowns in bunches as they pounded out yards with their power running game and David Garrard continued his ascent to the top of the passer rankings.
All of that is but a distant memory now, replaced by another loss that has now reached five in the last six games. The offense was shut out in the first half of the Jaguars' 30-17 loss on Monday night to the Houston Texans, a team whose defensive coordinator is embattled and his defense is being blamed for the Texans' own season of disappointment.
At 5-7, the Texans' disappointment is mild compared to the Jaguars'. This was billed as a season in which the Jaguars would challenge for the Super Bowl. Now, at 4-8, the question is: Will the Jaguars win again this season?
The bigger question, of course, is what went wrong this year? Why is this team losing? The stock answer is that the Jaguars are failing to execute. It's football lingo for they're not playing well. Really?
Don't ask. It is what it is. Hey, if they knew what was wrong they'd fix it, right?
There is another question, however, and it was on everyone's lips last night following the loss. It's a question all teams in the Jaguars' situation face late in the season. It's a question everybody wants to ask but hesitates to ask because its implication is the greatest of all insults of which a player and a team can be accused.
"Show me examples of what would be an indication of that," coach Jack Del Rio said when it was suggested in a delicate way that his team, well, you know, quit.
"It's an honor to play in this league. You're on national TV and that's exciting. The guys who love to play the game, they'll show. Fred Taylor loves the game. Maurice Jones-Drew will show. If we execute a little better, we'll have a little more fun," Del Rio said.
To a man, the Jaguars were sensitive to the quit question following Monday night's loss. They claim there's no give up on their team.
"It's never hard for me to get up for any game. Any chance I have to get out there I'm going to be fired up," Garrard said.
He was asked if others in his locker room had packed their bags.
"That would be horrible for this team to do that. If I see something that doesn't look right or said right, I'm going to address it," Garrard added.
"The effort is there," Taylor insisted. "We want W's, not L's.
"That's not the character of this team. We don't have that stuff going on," Taylor added of the implication that a 4-8 team heading for a cold-weather game in Chicago might give something less than its best effort.
"The guys we have here aren't going to quit," Jones-Drew promised.
Words alone, however, are not convincing. There's only one sure way for the Jaguars to prove their mettle: They have to win.