In his never-ending optimistic look at his team and life in general, Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley applied that to the win over the Ravens on Monday.
“Bottom line, your quarterback didn’t play very well but you were still in the game in the end and you figured out how to win it,” I said as Bradley met with the media.
“Well, he did make those throws in the last drive to give us a chance,” Gus said immediately in defense of Blake Bortles.
“Yeah, but what’s that say about your team? It’s the first time since you’ve become a head coach here that your team didn’t play its best and still managed to win the game. That’s saying something,” I pressed.
“That’s why playing your best is always the goal,” Bradley said, drawing an imaginary line on the wall. “We won the game, and that’s here, but we didn’t play our best, and that’s here,” he emphasized, putting both lines at the same level. “So when you play your best, you’re up here,” he said raising one hand above the other. “And that’s when the wins come.”
Without Blake Bortles playing well, the Jaguars needed other parts of their roster to step up: and they did. Defensively, generally on special teams and the wide receivers made plays. It shows the rest of the roster is getting better, and that their margin of error is a little larger than in the past.
“My message to him (Bortles) after the game was, ‘Were you at your best? Were you at your best yesterday?’ Bradley said at his press conference. “He said he wasn’t and I said ‘How was the outcome? We still won.’ I think that’s a valuable lesson for him in a young quarterback and for him to think that the only way we have a chance is if I play lights out. That’s not the case.”
But Bradley admitted he wants to see improvement from Bortles and the entire offense. They show flashes, but still struggle in the red zone and move the ball in fits and spurts.
“Offensively we weren’t as efficient as we needed to be. I thought we saw good execution during the week of practice, but when it got in the game, we got away from it a little bit,” he explained. We’d like to see more touchdowns. Overall, just the execution offensively and efficiency in the passing game is an area that I think we need to improve on.”
Late Monday, the NFL told the Ravens that Luke Joeckel wasn’t set on the last play and a penalty should have been called and the game ended. It’s so easy to go back and look at critical plays in every game to figure out what went wrong and how it should have gone the other way. Bryan Walters had his feet down last week. Odell Beckham caught the ball for the Giants in the end zone on Sunday night. Big deal, the game is over. But Bradley did go through the sequence leading up to the last play and how he showed some “time critical” plays to the team last Friday emphasizing how everybody had to do their job just to run the play.
“We talked about how little things like that are so important because they give you an opportunity. To see that really come up in the game was cool. Did they reflect back on that? I don’t know. You look at Julius Thomas; he caught the ball and right away he handed the ball to the official and hustled back. That’s been a coaching point through training camp. You saw receivers 30 yards down field and turn around and run back and get all lined up and we made sure we had enough guys on the line of scrimmage. A guy like Wis [C Stefen Wisniewski] is looking at the clock and snapping it with less than two seconds because he knows that’s our only opportunity for everybody to get set up. I think there are so many things that had to take place in that last play for us to get that opportunity and to see that on tape and be able to show that to the players is going to be cool.”
One thing the Jaguars have is “want to.” Sometimes it’s missing on a professional football team, that will to win. They’re getting paid, win or lose and oftentimes on losing teams players look internally and figure if they’re doing their job, they’ll keep their job. I once asked Eric Curry when he came over from Tampa Bay to the Jaguars what the difference was between the two teams.
“These guys want to win,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a good feeling in the locker room to play with guys who want to win.”
In his postgame speech, Bradley lauded the team for their will and ability to play to the end of the game. He told them that some teams search for that intangible for years.
“So many times as a coach, you’re saying ‘I hope they develop that, I hope they learn what it takes and to do it every play and every situation.’ I know it’s something that you hope that your team can demonstrate when needed and I just thought they demonstrated it.”
How does a team develop that will? Bradley believes it comes with players working with each other and believing that their teammates will do their job.
“I think you’re starting to see guys trust and develop those things that we talked about last week and the week before about their effort, their grit, all those things that they’ve been developing. It was good yesterday because they came and we put it together and it gave us an opportunity.”