Jaguars looking for turnaround following bye week
The Jacksonville Jaguars figure the second half of the season can't possibly be worse than the first.
The Jaguars switched starting quarterbacks twice, endured the longest losing streak in coach Jack Del Rio's nine-year tenure and found a variety of ways to drop close games.
They were ready for last week's bye, which gave players a chance to get away from football, regroup mentally, recover physically and maybe stop pressing after a rough start that left Del Rio's job security as tenuous as ever.
''It's time for us to win some ball games, to turn this season around,'' cornerback Rashean Mathis said. ''We feel it can be done. Nobody outside this locker room probably believes it. But we feel we have the guys in the locker room to help us win. It's just up to us to go out and win these close games.''
The Jaguars (2-6) have a chance to build confidence and momentum with games at winless Indianapolis (0-9) and then at Cleveland (3-5).
Colts receiver Reggie Wayne opened a conference call with Jacksonville reporters Wednesday by saying, ''This should be short and sweet, shouldn't it? We've got an 0-9 team and a 2-6 team. Not much to talk about, right?''
Just 11 months ago, Jacksonville and Indianapolis played an all-or-nothing game for the AFC South title.
''We're playing for who is at the bottom of the barrel,'' Wayne joked. ''It goes to show you how this league is. One year you can be on top, the next year you can be on bottom.''
Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew heard about Wayne's comments and was ready with a response.
''We want to be at the top of the bottom of the barrel,'' he said. ''It's another game for us to get back to where we want to be. It's kind of a one-game season for us right now. We had a horrible first half. We've got to figure out a way to turn it around.''
It starts with rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
Gabbert ranks 34th in the league in quarterback rating, having completed 46 percent of his passes for 907 yards. He has five touchdown passes, four interceptions and has been sacked 19 times. He has shown little, if any, progress. Coaches believe his footwork, fundamentals and pocket presence will improve with experience.
''We all know what we have to improve,'' Gabbert said. ''It seems so simple, but we've got to work at it. That's the only way to get better.''
Gabbert spent part of the bye week at home in St. Louis, relaxing by playing golf and backyard football with his little brother. He said he felt recharged upon his return.
Del Rio thought the break would benefit several players.
Although Jones-Drew has been at his best, running for 740 yards and three touchdowns in eight games, he has fumbled six times and seems to be a forgotten man in the NFL's worst passing attack. Jones-Drew has 12 receptions for 85 yards.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis hasn't been used much, either.
A year after setting career marks with 58 catches for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns - a season that landed him a five-year, $35 million contract that included $17 million guaranteed - Lewis has 15 receptions for 174 yards and no scores.
''If you get too tight, you can't perform,'' Mathis said.
Throw in an offensive line that has been shuffled several times this season and an underachieving receiving corps, and the Jaguars have reasons for their offensive woes.
They might not get fixed until the offseason.
But after playing six teams with winning records - the New York Jets (5-3), New Orleans (6-3), Cincinnati (6-2), Pittsburgh (6-3), Baltimore (6-2) and Houston (6-3) - the Jaguars know things should be easier the rest of the way.
It starts against the Peyton Manning-less Colts.
But don't insinuate that Indianapolis should provide a slam dunk.
''We're 2-6! Excuse my language,'' Jones-Drew said. ''Blood in the water? Let's be real.''