“The season?” Mike Peterson asked in response to a question about his reflections of the year. “The season was great, 12-4 but we didn’t get it done tonight. I’m not into making excuses. If I’m on the field, I’m supposed to make tackles. I didn’t. We lost.”
That was the general theme in a quiet but not somber Jaguars losing locker room after their 28-3 defeat at the hands of the New England Patriots. “They’re a good team, and when you make mistakes, a good team makes you pay for it,” Rashean Mathis said in front of his locker. “We’ll learn from this.”
That’s what the entire game looked like. The Patriots looked like they knew how to play in the post-season and they were going to teach the Jaguars what it meant. New England wasn’t dominating. They controlled the field position for the entire first half, yet only lead 7-3. But they never looked out of control. When the Jaguars went three and out in the first series of the third quarter, the Patriots promptly took the ball 81 yards for a touchdown.
When the Jaguars didn’t make a crisp tackle, Ben Watson ran 67 yards for a TD. And when Byron Leftwich threw a predictable pass in the flat, Assante Samuel picked it off and ran it back for another six points.
“The difference is one or two plays,” Deon Grant said as his teammates dressed around him. “Some of the guys have been in games like this before and knew we had to play perfect football. When you don’t, you get beat.”
Nine-year veteran Terry Cousin agreed. “You want to be what the Patriots are. Efficient, in control, and mistake free. When you’re not, it’s hard to overcome turnovers. You’ve got to make those catches, convert those third downs, make those tackles and get them off the field.”
For all of the talk about Byron Leftwich’s “rust,” that’s not what got the Jaguars beat. Leftwich was indecisive and not as accurate as usual, but he was OK. It was things like Jimmy Smith’s drop on third down that forced a punt. The three missed tackles on Watson’s TD. The ball bouncing right back to the Patriots each time they fumbled it. Alvin Pearman coughing it up on a big hit, even though he had two hands around the ball.
Teams that win championship type games don’t have those things happen to them. They’re the one’s making the play, forcing the turnovers and taking advantage of it. But the Jaguars aren’t there yet. They didn’t have the maturity of the Patriots even if they could match them in talent. Taking that next step doesn’t must mean getting to the playoffs, it means playing like a team that looks like they belong there.
“It is what it is,” Jack Del Rio and other coaches are fond of saying. So the Jaguars 12-4 record during the regular season proved to be no real training ground for the post-season. It got them there, but they weren’t ready yet to be prime time players.