JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - What was strange about this game from the beginning was the lack of expectation from the fans. New owner, new coach, home opener and a division rival in town but it wasn't like the fans were ferocious or were hungry for a win. They seemed happy to be there. It was a great atmosphere, with a little bit of resignation. Nobody seemed to expect a victory. While that's fairly realistic at this point, it's not who you want to be as fans, and certainly not as a team. In fact, I asked Head Coach Mike Mularkey during the week about that "winnable game" attitude and how it can infiltrate the locker room.
"Talk to the guys in there," Mularkey said referring to the locker room. "They see how things happen in this league. Guys will tell you anybody can win any week."
He's right, calling on the "Any given Sunday," mantra, because there are upsets that seem inexplicable each week. Then there are games that go according to plan, and this seemed to be one of them.
Houston has Super Bowl and championship expectations. Their defense is among the best in the league. Their offense can light it up and even their special teams are solid. If you go off last week the Jaguars are still a team in transition, trying to find some answers. Against Minnesota they looked like a team that could move the ball on offense, using Blaine Gabbert, MJD and a revamped receiving corps. Injuries have them using a make-shift offensive line but the backups are professionals and should be able to perform as such. To their credit, the Jaguars, nor the coaching staff, use injury as any kind of excuse.
"We all took turns making mistakes," Maurice Jones Drew said in his post-game comments. "Me, linemen, Blaine, everybody. We all have to do a better job together then we'll see what happens. We didn't really give ourselves a chance."
A chance. That's what you're looking for in the NFL, a chance to win at the end of the game. During this off-season and through training camp, this team looked like it had a chance. Last year, there were games where you knew they didn't have a chance. This year they're supposed to have a chance. But with the mistakes they were making, they kept themselves out of it from the start.
"You can't make those kind of mistakes," Mularkey said afterwards. "The first 15 plays are scripted to we shouldn't be lining up wrong, running wrong routes, calling the wrong protection. We have to do a better job with that and I have to do a better job getting that across."
Mularkey seems like the ideal head coach. Organized, reliable, consistent. A guy the players like and respect. His staff is formidable and watching them teach in practice, they know the game. On the day he was hired, Mularkey said he was going to put the players in "positions to succeed." "They need to know we want them to be the best they can be," he added. And I believe they're a pretty good staff.
So that brings us back to the players. They're good enough to win, but maybe not good enough to dominate. When they play at their best, they can beat anybody. But when they have a sub-standard performance, when they make mistakes, they can't beat anybody.
All that's the bad news.
The good news is they know it.
They know when they get their act together, they're pretty competitive. So that's what they'll try this week working against a 1-1 Indianapolis team.
Let's hope so.
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