Heading into last week’s game with the Detroit Lions, there was some hand-wringing about whether or not it was a make-or-break game for the Jacksonville Jaguars. Translation: It will look really, really bad if the Jags lose to a winless team.
But in my mind the future of the Jaguars franchise – and the future of head coach Jack Del Rio – will be decided this weekend when the undefeated Tennessee Titans roll into town. That’s because this season will rapidly roll down hill if the Jags can’t find a way to knock off the Titans. Jacksonville would be 4-6 heading into the final stretch of the season with playoff hopes all but evaporated. The team has a brutal set of games in the next few weeks that could easily leave them no better than 6-10 by year’s end. (That’s what happens when you lose to Cincinnati and Cleveland.)
Now many of the things that have happened this bizarre season are beyond the control of Del Rio. It’s not his fault that an offensive lineman nearly got killed during a drive-by-shooting. Nor were a rash of injuries on the offensive line his fault. But for the most part, NFL owners and NFL fans don’t care about the what-ifs, they care about the right now.
And when you have stories leaking out that Del Rio is banning music in the locker room and benching his team captain, it’s clear that things have may have spiralled out of control and that this might be his last season in Jacksonville.
But nothing would cure that ill more than a victory over the Titans, who despite their record, are not an impressive football team. Their defense is dominant, but not scary. Kerry Collins is well, Kerry Collins. While the team has a solid ground game, the Titans have lacked for years that playmaker wide receiver who can strike fear in opposing teams.
Of course that’s the same problem with the Jags, which despite the resurrection of Matt Jones this season, have just not found a way to replicate the magic they once had with Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell. David Garrard is usually more dangerous with his legs right now than his arm because of the inconsistent WR play on the team. This is important because while the Lions couldn’t shut down the Jaguars rushing attack, the Titans will. Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor combined for a paltry 31 yards rushing in their season opener against Tennessee.
The Titans have so far this season have made it by winning ugly, doing just enough to scratch and claw out a victory.
But for the Jags losing will be equally ugly: It could signal the start of a complete retooling, yet again, of this franchise. Del Rio has been a good coach and has taken the Jaguars to the playoffs twice in the last three years. But given the high expectations after last year’s 11-5 season, a losing season may doom him. Right now Del Rio has a 49-42 record in six seasons and two trips to the playoffs.
In eight seasons former Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin was 72-64 before he was forced out, including four playoff wins and two trips to the AFC Championship game. Hmmmmm…….We all know how that turned out.