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Sam: Jaguars: 2016 starts now

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – “Our goal is to be at our best.  We weren’t at our best today.”

That’s a comment we’ve heard from Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley a half a dozen times this year as his team has bounced around to a 4-8 record.  Three-quarters of the season is gone and the Jaguars have been a different team it seems every week.

One week they’re stingy on defense.  The next the offense is explosive or special teams make a few special plays.  But those weeks are too often paired with bad tackling on defense, no execution on offense and special teams gaffes, like a missed extra point, that cost them games.

While focusing on the Jaguars can drive you crazy, looking around the league just about every team has it’s ups and downs, inconsistency and inexplicable losses. 

Except, of course, the Carolina Panthers, who are undefeated at 12-0 and are a favorite to finish the regular season without a loss.  If the Jaguars were “at our best” in the opener against Carolina nobody would be talking about the Panthers going undefeated because they’d have suffered their first loss of the year in their opening game.  Instead, the Jaguars made just enough mistakes, got in their own way just enough and lost.  Even the Panthers admitted after the game they were lucky to get away from Jacksonville with a win.  Watching the game you didn’t feel like there was a huge gap between the two teams.

Which should be encouraging for Jaguars fans.

Winning the opener gave the Panthers a confidence boost that even not at their best, they could win games, even on the road, and it’s carried them this far.  The Jaguars are a bit younger than the Panthers and haven’t been able to generate that confidence each week to win games late.  They’ve done it a few times, in each of their wins making plays late in the game to get the job done, but not enough to call it an identity.

A comparison of the Panthers and Jaguars does one thing:  it shows where the Jaguars can get.

In 2010, Carolina was 2-14, and floundering.  They hired a new coach, drafted well, including a franchise quarterback, and started the uphill climb to be competitive.  They’ve had losing seasons in three of the last four years.  And now they’re undefeated. 

Can the Jaguars make that transformation?

If so it needs to start somewhere in the last four games of this year.  They need to get consistent play from Blake Bortles at quarterback.  They need to keep their playmakers on offense healthy.  And they need to identify the areas, especially on defense, where they need help and can get an immediate upgrade through the draft or free agency. 

Today’s game against the Colts is another good barometer showing where the Jaguars are and where they can be.  Again facing Matt Hasselbeck, a veteran, backup quarterback, they’ll struggle to keep Indianapolis from moving the ball without much pressure in the backfield.  They’ll miss Paul Posluszny at middle linebacker calling, and making plays.  But they should be able to get things done on offense and special teams should keep them in, not cost them, the game.

Win?  Every NFL game comes down to one or two possessions and Jaguars games this year have been no different.  But finding something they can hang their hat on, something they can count on going forward is what they should be looking for against a divisional opponent they’ll see twice next year as well.