JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Minutes after losing for the seventh time in eight games, Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith stood in the middle of the locker room, surrounded by teammates and coaches, and let it all out.
It was an emotional mix of disappointment, frustration and failure.
It may have been needed, especially considering the Jaguars (0-1) believe this is their most talented team in nearly a decade.
“The passion for the game runs deep,” Smith said Monday. “And the expectations for this season I just feel like are so much higher and every game is important. That was a close one. That’s one we should have won, and everybody in this locker room truly feels that way that we should have won that game. So when we came back in, I just felt like it was something I needed to get off my chest to the team and let them know from this point forward these are the expectations.
“We can’t sit back and let one loss dictate where we go from here or let that team dictate where we go from here.”
Although the Jaguars are reluctant to say it, their latest season-opening setback — a 27-23 loss to Green Bay on Sunday — shows they’re making progress. They might even be close to turning the corner despite losing for the 37th time in coach Gus Bradley’s 49 games.
Jacksonville led early, made a crucial stop late and had a chance in the final minute. The offense scored on five of its last seven possessions. The defense was decent against the run and better than most against two-time league MVP Aaron Rodgers. And Jacksonville’s special teams were nearly perfect.
Yet, the Jags ended with another loss — their fifth in a row to open the season.
Nonetheless, players and coaches should view the opener as a positive sign since the Packers have made the playoffs seven straight years and Jacksonville has 22 losses by double digits over the last three years.
“We want to see everything that we put in work and come out during the game, and unfortunately a win is the only way,” defensive tackle Roy Miller said. “When (people) look back, no one’s going to say, ‘They only lost by whatever.’ The only thing they’re going to see is an ‘L.’
“It’s going to haunt us every night until next Sunday. Hopefully we take this and use it next week against the Chargers.”
Jacksonville plays at San Diego (0-1) on Sunday, a cross-country flight to a place the Jags have never won. They are 0-3 in San Diego and 2-10 on the West Coast, with both victories (1997, 2004) coming in Oakland.
The Jaguars have plenty to clean up this week, most notably finding a way to run the ball better and generate more pass rush.
Running back Chris Ivory remains hospitalized with an undisclosed medical issue. His status for Sunday’s game is in question. Without Ivory, the Jaguars averaged just 1.8 yards a carry.
And they managed little pressure on Rodgers, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for another.
Still, Jacksonville had a chance in the closing minutes, forcing a punt and moving to the Packers 14. But on a fourth-and-1 play with 23 seconds left, Allen Hurns was tackled for a loss on a bubble screen.
Quarterback Blake Bortles knew the play was in trouble when he suspected Green Bay was blitzing. But Bortles had no timeouts and didn’t have enough time on the play clock to change the call.
“This one hurts,” Hurns said. “When it comes down to it, we want to finish out the game and get these wins. It’s been a tough time for us and this organization these last couple years, but I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Smith’s reaction in the locker room was proof. In recent years, losing games to any team would have been somewhat expected in Jacksonville. Now, though, they want and demand more.
“That is a good sign,” Bradley said. “There is a difference between you expecting to win and you knowing you are going to win. When you know you are going to win, you are shocked if you lost, and that is what this team is feeling now. I think that is a good step for our team. We do not accept the loss. We do not accept it. How they are handling it now shows me a lot about them.”