For six consecutive seasons starting in 2011, the Jacksonville Jaguars were the laughing stock of the NFL. What other team can go through consistent futility like the Jaguars did where they never won more than five games between 2011 and 2016? Their win totals were 5, 2, 4, 3, 5 and 3. During those six seasons, the team had five different coaches.
Finally in 2017, the Jaguars turned the tables and after starting out 3-3, won seven of their next eight games before finishing the regular season at 10-6. Two playoff victories put them in the AFC Championship Game, where they held a 10-point lead with 10 minutes remaining in their game against New England, only to watch the Patriots score twice in the last 10 minutes and move on to the Super Bowl.
There have been few glorious outings since that game. The Jaguars have three wins this season with two against the two lowly New York teams, the Jets and Giants owning a combined four wins between them in 19 games thus far. The only, the ONLY, significant win for Jacksonville in 2018 came the second week of the season when they bested the visiting Patriots 31-20. And even that is now questionable following Tennessee's 34-10 thrashing of the Patriots on Sunday.
Four weeks into the season and Jacksonville fans were already looking at possible hotel destinations in Atlanta for the first week in February. That was in anticipation of the Jaguars (3-1 at the time) playing in the franchise's first Super Bowl, set for Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Feb. 3, 2019. If they did book a reservation, chances are they have since cancelled their stay.
Jacksonville's solid start has been displaced by five straight losses, the latest being a bitter 29-26 defeat to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. It was a game where the Jaguars offense finally played to their potential. But it was also a game, at least a first-half, where the defense looked like it belonged in the 2011-16 era. It was a unit that gave up 29 points in the first 30 minutes, but then held the Colts scoreless over the last two quarters.
Jacksonville's offense, despite a 320-yard passing effort with no turnovers by Blake Bortles and the return of Leonard Fournette to the lineup for the first time since the losses started, could only come up with 26 points. Had Josh Lambo remained perfect (12-of-12 in both field goals and extra points entering this game), the Jaguars would have won. But Lambo had an extra point blocked and then failed to convert on a 52-yard field-goal try. Those four points would have produced a one-point win for the Jaguars.
Unfortunately, that's the way the Jaguars luck has been the past five weeks. They haven't caught many breaks, they've lost close calls on several plays that have reviewed (including a crucial one in the closing minutes of this game) and they've fallen victim to some hot play by opposing quarterbacks. Of course, poor play by the defense has contributed to some lofty numbers that opposing QBs have posted in the last five games, including three games of 285 passing yards or more.
Had Jacksonville's 'D' played the first half like it did in the final two quarters, the Jaguars would have won the game with ease. Indianapolis only managed 60 total yards after intermission and never came close to scoring. It was a remarkable turnaround by the Jaguars who looked bewildered, confused and incompetent in the first half when Andrew Luck torched them for 216 passing yards and the Colts running game added another 89. On three occasions, including a Colts' reception in the end zone, the Jaguars failed to cover the receiver. When the play was over, linebackers were looking at safeties, safeties at cornerbacks, all with confused looks and mouthing statements of "that was your man."
"Guys were communicating out there and we know who we have when we're in man coverage," free safety Deshaun Gipson said Monday in the locker room. "Guys just got lost in a moment for a player to be wide open. Those kinds of things just can't happen."
But they did happen and now Jacksonville is facing a near-impossible task of having to win their remaining seven contests, starting with this week's very difficult challenge of taking on the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Jaguars will likely have to win out if they are to have even a glimmer of hope of reaching the playoffs. In the modern Super Bowl era, only four teams have started out 3-6 and still qualified for postseason play. Ironically, the Jaguars were one of the four, with the 1996 Jaguars team starting with three wins in their first nine games, but then winning six of their final seven contests to make it as a Wildcard spot with a 9-7 record.
Gipson knows it won't be an easy road for the Jaguars to become the fifth such team.
"We can't go down," Gipson said when asked where does this team go from here. "As cliche as it may sound, I think there's only one way to go for this team right now. Our backs are truly, truly against the wall.
"We got flexed out of the Sunday night game this week and a lot of the guys were really looking forward to playing (a nationally televised game) but who would want to watch the Jaguars play football the way we're playing right now? I've been on terrible teams, teams that were 3-6, but this is not a 3-6 team. It's tough, our record says 3-6 and we are 3-6 but this is not truly a 3-6 team in my heart. I won't say it's an embarrassment but it's disappointing because we hold ourselves to a standard and we have not lived up to our expectations at the end of the day."
Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone is as mystified as everyone else why the Jaguars are not playing better.
"We haven't been performing well and a lot of times when you are in this -- I guess funk would be a good word -- of where we are," Marrone said Monday. "We are not playing as well as we should. We are trying to fight our way out of it. A lot of questions come into seeing effort, are people quitting, are you going to make any moves on the roster? All of those questions get asked, and they are legit. There is no doubt. At the end of the day, I learned this a long time ago when I first came into the league as a coach -- I was with Herm Edwards. A lot times it is about being a pro. Being a pro as a coach and being a pro as a player. These are all things that we have to do, so that part of it to me, those questions, I have not seen (anyone) quitting or things of that nature."
--C Brandon Linder is slated to have knee surgery and is out for the season. Linder was sent to the sidelines with a knee injury in the third quarter of Sunday's game and did not return. He's the second starting offensive lineman to be placed on IR this season, joining left tackle Cam Robinson.
--TE Ben Koyack was re-signed to the 53-man roster on Monday. To make room, the Jaguars released TE David Grinnage. Koyack appeared in 30 games with the Jaguars the last two seasons but was released in the team's final cuts in September. He was originally a seventh-round selection by the Jaguars in the 2015 NFL Draft.
--LT Ereck Flowers made his Jaguars debut as a backup to Josh Walker against the Colts but Flowers also suffered a knee injury in the second half and did not return to the game. Flowers became the fourth player to play the left tackle spot this year after injuries to starter Cam Robinson and backup Josh Wells. Walker was struggling early against the Colts when Flowers replaced him for several series.
--WR Donte Moncrief caught an 80-yard reception for a touchdown, the longest yardage of his career. It came against the Colts with whom Moncrief played with Indianapolis for four seasons before signing as a free agent in March with the Jaguars.
--CB D.J. Hayden made his return Sunday after missing six games with a toe injury. He was credited with one tackle against the Colts.
--CB Tyler Patmon earned his first start since Week 5 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Patmon replaced A.J. Bouye, who is out with a calf injury. Patmon had a costly offsides penalty in the second quarter on an extra-point kick attempt. The Colts elected to take the penalty and then were successful on a 2-point conversion.
--PK Josh Lambo's franchise-record of 24 consecutive field goals ended on Sunday when he missed from 52 yards out. That proved costly in the Jaguars' 3-point loss to the Colts.
--QB Blake Bortles has now gone three consecutive games without an interception. It's just the second time in his career that he's accomplished such a feat in the regular season (also in 2017). Bortles also was interception-free in the Jaguars' three playoff games last year.
--RB Leonard Fournette gained 53 yards in 24 carries (2.2/att.) and was the Jaguars' leading receiver with five catches for 56 yards (11.2/att.). That gave him 109 yards in 29 touches (3.8/att.) in his first action since missing the last four games with a hamstring issue.
--CB A.J. Bouye may return to action this week and could be ready to play on Sunday. Head coach Doug Marrone said those decisions would be made later in the week, starting with Wednesday's practice.