Most players relish the opportunity to “show off” when it comes to night football in the NFL. Whether it’s Sunday, Monday or Thursday night, the players know it’s the only game on television.
That means a concentrated audience but also it means the rest of the league is watching as well. “You have a chance to show your friends in the league what you can do,” one player told me leading up to a nationally televised game.
Gus Bradley is trying to bring a little different mind set to the “Thursday Night” equation. “So now it’s Thursday night and we’re going to get amped up? If that’s the case, what’s the message next Sunday?”
On one hand, Bradley is right. Over a 16 game season, it’s tough for a team to get fired up every week and perhaps even tougher for a coach to find a new motivation point as he sends his team out for 16 of 17 Sunday’s during the regular season.
“We’re trying to stay true to our convictions,” Bradley told me this week. “Play hard, stay focused, do your job, play for your teammates. All of that will pay off if you stick to it.”
So far in the second half of the season, the “culture” that Bradley and GM Dave Caldwell are trying to create looks like it’s starting to emerge. If you’re not going to manage “top down” as so many football coaches do, then the players themselves have to be empowered to lead. With a team as young as the Jaguars, that’s a tall order.
Equally as challenging is playing a team twice in 11 days. It happens in the playoffs, but during the regular season, it’s pretty rare.
In this case, I think it’s come at the right time for the Jaguars. After back-to-back wins for the first time this season, the team didn’t have anytime to bask in their newfound success. No prancing around, no strutting.
“I didn’t sense that with our team,” Bradley said. “They got right back to work and we needed to.”
It was a running joke around the country as the losses piled up for the Jaguars to grab your iPhone and ask Siri “Who’s you’re favorite NFL team?”
“I always root for the underdog, so I guess that makes me a Jaguars fan,” Siri would calmly respond.
After last week, that all changed as the Texans, and not the Jaguars dropped to the worst record in the league. In fact, the Texans have lost ten straight. (BTW the Redskins and the Vikings are the NFC’s three-win teams) So Siri now proclaims herself “a fan of the Texans” as the worst team in the league.
For a franchise that was supposed to go to the Super Bowl this year, Thursday’s game could be their only shot at redemption. From contender, to pretender to the bottom of the league, the Texans have way too many good players to have lost ten straight, one of those to the Jaguars. But that’s what happens in that league, sometimes things just snowball downhill. They’ve changed quarterbacks, lost squeakers and self-destructed. They’ve found inventive ways to lose.
So they could just mail it in this week against the Jaguars. Or they could do something completely different. Hard to say. That’s why the Jaguars aren’t looking at what the Texans might do; they’re looking at what the Jaguars CAN do.
At least if Gus Bradley has his way.