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Not according to script

Posted Dec 5, 2011

Too many defensive injuries ruin Jaguars’ Monday Night party.

This wasn’t what Mel Tucker wanted; his players, either.

And not only wasn’t this even close to what the Jaguars’ players wanted from a nationally televised game Monday against the San Diego Chargers – a game that began with as much edge and energy as has been felt around EverBank this season – it sure wasn’t what they expected, either.

Chargers 38, Jaguars 14?

That wasn’t the script, not in Tucker’s first game as interim coach . . .

Not in what likely will be the final nationally televised home game in Wayne Weaver’s 17 seasons owning the team . . .

Not with a prime-time audience looking on . . .

Not with a ton of the crowd of 62,743 wearing mustaches in honor of the man who likely will next own the Jaguars, Illinois-based businessman Shad Khan . . .

That was the sort of night it was starting out Monday. All of the circumstances seemed really, really right because they *were* right. It was a night of enthusiasm, and hope, and a night that began with a very, very good feeling about the Jaguars. It was a whole lot of fun, and it made you remember why the NFL is fun, and why it will be again – probably sooner rather than later despite Monday’s disappointment.

That’s the kind of energy that the pending purchase has brought, and although the Jaguars lost, that’s something to be remembered.

So, what happened Monday? Well, reality did.

Not the reality that Tucker didn’t do a good job this week. He did. This team was prepared and it played hard. They practiced well all week.

Not the reality that quarterback Blaine Gabbert can’t play. There will be critics saying that Tuesday and they’ll say it the rest of the week – and there were some bad-looking plays Monday, to be sure. But there were also some really good-looking ones, and whatever the long-term prognosis of Gabbert, his play wasn’t what cost the Jaguars on Monday.

What cost the Jaguars Monday was NFL reality, and NFL reality is this:

Sometimes effort and enthusiasm aren’t enough. Sometime, energy isn’t, either.

That’s because sometimes, even when the motivation is right, and even when the offense plays well at times – its best effort of the season through the first two quarters, especially in a dizzying, dazzling second quarter – sometimes in the NFL injuries catch up and personnel problems are too much.

And as much as anything, that’s what ruined the Jaguar’ Monday Night party.

That’s why the Jaguars aren’t sitting here Tuesday morning feeling good, and it’s why Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew was left at the podium in the bowels of EverBank early Tuesday explaining why while it’s good to be leading the NFL in rushing it’s not great because he hates losing and hates being 3-8.

The reason that happened is a defense that was a team strength all season couldn’t be on Monday, because the defense that played Monday isn’t really the defense that played all year.

The Jaguars through the last month have been hit with a dizzying array of injuries.

Not only has defensive end Aaron Kampman not been available much of this season, defensive end Matt Roth has been out the last two games with a concussion. And in the second quarter on Monday, defensive end John Chick – who has provided significant pass rush this season – lay pounding his first on the turf. He was helped from the field by trainers without weight on his right leg.

There was no official word on Chick as of early Tuesday morning, but it didn’t look good.

Linebacker Clint Session also is already out, too, but what hurt the Jaguars most on Monday was what in retrospect almost had to hurt – a cornerback position that has been hit particularly hard in recent weeks. No Rashean Mathis. No Derek Cox. Not even Will Middleton, who was placed on injured reserve last Friday with a knee injury.

Ashton Youboty started at one corner on Monday. Kevin Rutland started on the other. Youboty was out of the NFL until the Jaguars signed him in mid-November. Rutland made the team as a free agent rookie. They didn’t play poorly all night Monday, but San Diego scored three touchdowns in the five minutes that surround halftime, and the touchdowns came on passes of 22, 35 and 52 yards.

The Chargers saw a weakness, and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers did what teams and quarterbacks on six-game losing streaks do. They exploited it.

Afterward, Tucker said what he was supposed to say.

“You won’t hear any excuses or any explanations from me,” he said. “I doubt you’ll hear them from anyone in our locker room, either. We don’t want to go down that road. Our philosophy is Next Man Up.”

Tucker was right. You didn’t hear excuses in the locker room, and that’s not surprising. This isn’t a team about excuses, just as it’s not one that quits. As Jones-Drew pointed out afterward, quitting wasn’t what happened Monday. Through the second half, the defense continued to play hard. And while the offense sputtered after scoring two second-quarter touchdowns and once again couldn’t reach 21 points, effort and not execution appeared to be the issue.

Tucker kept saying the right things. He said the Jaguars will continue this week what they did last week. He said he expects them to practice well, and to prepare well, and said that the result of Monday night’s game can’t overshadow that the Jaguars improved during the week.

And Tucker said while victories are the only NFL validation, he said he believes players will maintain focus, and continue to do the right thing.

 “I think we understand that,” Tucker said.

Those were good things to hear, and they weren’t surprising. This is a team of high-character guys who care about winning. And the feeling in and out of the locker room last week was that the circumstances last week could lead to the validation for those guys of which Tucker spoke.

There was a strong feeling the Jaguars would turn the energy into a victory, and a good feeling moving forward.

That didn’t happen, because in the NFL, reality is sometimes too much to overcome -- even when all the other circumstances seem really, really right.

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