The Jaguars have had, like the other three teams in the division, copious opportunities to stake a claim to compete for the AFC South lead. However, even with every other team in the division below .500, our hometown NFLers don’t seem able to put it together for two consecutive games, which is really the minimum threshold for making a run in the sad sack AFC South.
Sunday’s game in the Meadowlands against the New York Jets was one of those where victory was never completely out of the question … until the bitter end. Even after a first half that, for 29 minutes, exhibited a Jaguars offense that couldn’t get it going, Allen Hurns’ touchdown brought them within four. And earned boos from the crowd, which is a sure sign for any road team that they’re doing well.
The best thing about the first half for the Jaguars: shutting down Chris Ivory. Despite that TD, he had 14 yards in the first 30 minutes.
The second half was full of things that, in isolation, would have been great on highlight reels. The Jets couldn’t put them away, despite the Jags not playing mistake-free football. Part of that was Bortles throwing for almost 400 yards. Part of that was strong defense throughout the game. The Jaguars’ fighting attitude, in some ways, was reminiscent of the 1996 team, the one that’s the ultimate rags-to-riches story in Jacksonville sports history. (Recall they started the year 3-6, and ended up 9-7, in the playoffs courtesy of a missed field goal at the end of the game by ageless Atlanta Falcons kicker Morten Andersen.)
This team has looked like that the last couple of weeks. Flawed, sure. But a lot more swagger than they had earlier in the season.
Even with that said, it might not be enough for this year.
As the Jaguars learn to keep it close, other teams in the division are on their own learning curves.
The Tennessee Titans, with interim coach Mike Mularky who went 2-14 when he was head man here, somehow managed to go to New Orleans and beat the Saints. And the Colts found a way to silence the critics heading into their much-needed bye week after beating Peyton Manning and his Broncos.
If the Colts, up two games already on Jacksonville, return to form after the bye, any slim chances of backdooring into a division title become none.
The other backstory is one of city politics.
With the ambitious stadium improvement bill, now including an amphitheater build-out, being floated as a “public private partnership” (read: yet another revenue stream to benefit Shad Khan), the Jags need some on-field wins.
A lot of home games at the end of the year, and the optics really, in terms of this stadium improvement deal and the six-week legislative cycle, need to be that of the city fully engaged with this franchise.
They need to be closer to .500, at the very least, to avoid the kneejerk “why are we givin’ this man more money for his sorry-ass football team?” narrative. A narrative more easily told when empty seats start to outnumber fans.
The game in Baltimore Sunday was a battle between two teams who, at some point, will start playing out the string. Which one has enough gumption to get a little desperate and make a statement? Your guess: good as mine.