Jaguars force doubters to change their tune
Jack Del Rio was walking from the visitors’ locker room at LP Field to the Jaguars’ team bus Sunday afternoon when he stopped to answer a question from someone who’d spent the past several months expressing a great degree of skepticism about his team.
The reformed skeptic was 6-foot-2, incredibly athletic and armed with a pen, notebook, large eyebrows and an exceptional journalistic skill set – not to mention an ample supply of modesty.
Del Rio smiled, pondering a turn of events that has seen a team universally written off as innocuous take over undisputed possession of first place in the AFC South with four games to play.
“A lot [has changed],” Del Rio answered. “We’ve worked on many things, and we’ve just played better in a lot of different areas. Our guys, all year, it’s been a fun group to coach. It’s a younger group. We’re an improving team, and we all know it. We’ve won four of our last five, and we’re gaining confidence.
“What we’ve done is kind of keep our head down and keep working and stay positive despite others not really understanding how we could, or why we would. A lot less people notice what we’re doing than with some other teams, and maybe that works to our advantage.”
Del Rio didn’t seem to be directing his comments toward anyone in particular, but in retrospect he was talking to the right guy. Though I didn’t think much of the Jags’ prospects going into this season and assumed they were going nowhere after that Monday night drubbing by the Titans, I was hardly a vocal critic.
However, as doubters go, it turns out I was without peers: As a reader informed me Tuesday on Twitter, I’ve picked against the Jaguars (7-5) in each of their 12 games this season. I thought he was paranoid – and mistaken – until I looked it up and saw that he spoke the truth.
My first reaction: Whoa! Perhaps I need to start keeping track of these things. Upon further review: Never mind; it’s so much more fun when other people do. That said, I obviously underestimated this team. (And given my substandard record this season, believe me, those are seven correct picks I could have used.)
After witnessing the way the Jags controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball against the Titans on Sunday, I’m duly impressed – and let’s just say I’ll strongly consider picking them to win some or all of their remaining games against the Raiders, Colts, Redskins and Texans.
In the meantime, you can see from this week’s quizzical totem pole of truth that Del Rio’s team is closer to the top than the bottom, and that a certain columnist is far less dubious about Jacksonville’s legitimacy than he used to be.
1. New England Patriots: Will their next loss be next autumn?
4. Baltimore Ravens: Do you think Haloti Ngata(notes) – and Ray Lewis(notes) – wanted to break John Harbaugh’s nose after the coach green-lit a Joe Flacco(notes) pass on second-and-5 with 3:13 remaining in Sunday night’s game (and Troy Polamalu(notes) forced a game-winning fumble)?
7. Chicago Bears: Now that Jay Cutler(notes) has clinched his first winning season since his days at Heritage Hills High, will he hurl a football through the glass ceiling and take his team deep into the playoffs?
14. Oakland Raiders: Will they finally get a win against a team outside the AFC or NFC West?
15. San Diego Chargers: Is Ryan Mathews(notes) on the way to becoming the worst first-round draft pick of the A.J. Smith era, or are the Davises (Sammy and Buster) too tough to top?
16. Dallas Cowboys: When people cite those stats which show the Cowboys are running the ball much more since Jason Garrett replaced Wade Phillips as head coach, they do know that Garrett called the plays under Phillips, right?
17. Minnesota Vikings: If Brett Favre can’t start (or finish) on Sunday, don’t you think the Vikings’ brass is more interested in seeing what rookie Joe Webb(notes) can do at quarterback than in trotting out Tarvaris Jackson(notes) again?
29. Denver Broncos: What did the Broncos’ brass see in Eric Studesville before offering him the job as interim head coach – and can he possibly make enough of an impression in four games to have a shot at staying on?