Another week for our beloved Jaguars, another loss. For the first time in a while, though, the Jags were in the game into the fourth quarter — an unavoidable contrast from the coda of the Chad Henne era, just two short weeks ago. For a lot of Jags fans, that was probably enough — an exhibition of workmanlike competence on both sides of the ball that we haven’t seen in these parts since the days of David Garrard and Jack Del Rio.
We can pick apart the plays that led to the defeat. That pick-six Blake Bortles threw early in the fourth quarter didn’t help, and it was pretty easy to see it coming, as Bortles likes that short, quick out pattern and he likes to throw it to Allen Hurns. Another decision that likewise didn’t help happened a few minutes later, when the Jags punted on fourth and one at midfield.
Bortles and Coach Gus Bradley said all the right things in the post-game pressers. Bradley said, correctly, that “the arrow is up,” that the team “did better in all three phases of the game,” pointing to the Jags’ four sacks on Roethlisberger, along with a forced fumble. And Bortles was, as ever, a class act, crediting Henne with mentoring him, deflecting blame from Hurns for the backbreaking interception, and saying — surprisingly given that they totaled a meager 52 yards — that the “running backs all did a good job.”
It’s easy enough, at 0-5, to take the view that a loss is a loss is a loss. But longtime Jags fans likely are reassured by the poise Bortles exhibits both on and off the field. He lacks the thin skin of the departed Blaine Gabbert, remembered best for yelling “whoa there motherfucker” after getting chased out of bounds a couple of years back, and for blocking his multitude of critics on Twitter. It’s telling that, even with a fanbase that still rocks the throwback Matt Jones jerseys, there is no retroactive love for Gabbert, who is as forgotten as George LeMieux’s tenure in the U.S. Senate.
Even at 0-5, it seems inevitable that this team will find a way to win this year. And we should hope so. Seeing the herds of Steelers fans waddling up to EverBank from their cars, in their Roethlisberger, Polamalu and Heath Miller jerseys, should appall the locals — that is, if they understand the inextricable yoking of civic identity and team identity.
We all know that these road fans who come to EverBank aren’t anymore from Pittsburgh, in more cases than not, than they are from here. They are bandwagon jumpers, looking for some identity to appropriate as their own. Sure, their money spends just like anyone else’s, and even if they never buy Jags gear, it’s no skin off Shad Khan’s nose. But the thing is — with them and with all road fans — they just look so damned comfortable coming into the Jags’ house and thumbing their noses at the local heroes.
Winning, when and if it comes, will change that. The irony is that the swaggering home field advantage that seems so distant for the Jags is really only a deep run in the playoffs away.