It was a pretty upbeat and loose locker room after the Jaguars beat Oakland 38-31 Sunday. I was trying to interview Don Carey and Derrick Cox kept interrupting. In a fun way. Rashad Jennings has his locker cordoned off and Montel Owens was giving him grief for being messy.
That kind of stuff doesn’t happen in a losing locker room.
It doesn’t happen in most locker rooms in professional sports unless the team has a certain bond and a team goal. All along, head coach Jack Del Rio has said his team has “put the work in and knows what we can do,” but when you’re hovering around .500 nobody gets excited about how much work you’re doing and what you “might” be.
But at 8-5, people are starting to take notice.
And it’s not just an 8-5 record but how they got there. They beat the Colts on a record setting kick with no time on the clock. The Texans went down on a literal “Hail Mary.” The Titans succumbed to a strong running game and Oakland followed suit. Save for the second half against the Giants, the Jaguars have done nothing but get better in the second half of the season.
Right now they’re the “team that came out of nowhere.” Indy’s injuries have helped. Tennessee’s implosion has helped. Houston’s ineptness in crucial situations has helped. But the bottom line is when they’ve had their chances; they’ve taken advantage of them.
There were a few games earlier in the year where David Garrard was nearly perfect and helped the Jaguars to victory. But as the season wore on, it became apparent that this was a running football team, and the coaches bought into that. That’s why for three consecutive games, the Jaguars have run for more than 200 yards.
Against Oakland both Jennings and Maurice Jones Drew had more than 100. It’s what winning football teams do in December: run the ball and get first downs. Score touchdowns and don’t settle for field goals. And don’t give up big plays.
Ah yes, that was a problem against Oakland. “There were some real ugly plays there,” Del Rio admitted in his post-game press conference. “But we’ll get it fixed and move on. It’s a lot easier to fix things with a smile on your face.”
That’s probably the best explanation Jack has ever given for the difference between a practice after a win or after a loss.
And that’s why winning breeds winning. These guys now believe they’re going to win, even when they’re down by 10 at halftime. MJD stood up and told his teammates, “We’ve given them everything they’ve gotten. They haven’t earned it. Let’s go out and play our kind of game and we’ll win.” Jones Drew is not a big rah-rah guy and in fact, he’s not much of a talker. So when he said something at halftime, his teammates paid attention and he didn’t have to raise his voice.
No panic. Do your job and we’ll be OK.
MJD certainly has enough gravitas among his teammates to pull that off and it’s good to hear that he’s willing to exert some of that authority when it’s necessary. He and Jennings will be key ingredients this week against Indianapolis.
The only formula for beating the Colts is run the ball; stop the run and pressure Peyton Manning up the middle. Get around his legs and make him make that “happy feet” move. If he has time, he always picks apart the Jaguars pass “D” and it’ll be worse this week based on their recent performances and their league ranking.
Having said that, the Jaguars know how to beat the Colts and don’t go up there with any trepidation.
And trying to earn some.