JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Nothing has gone right for the Jacksonville Jaguars since early October.
Injuries mounted, losses followed and all the momentum the franchise built during a surprising run in the AFC playoffs last year disappeared.
The team’s six-game losing streak heading to Buffalo — a rematch from the 2017 postseason — has raised questions about what will happen in the offseason.
Spoiler alert: Don’t expect drastic changes.
The Jaguars (3-7) believe the rash of injuries they endured goes well beyond normal, especially since most occurred on the offensive side of the ball, and they would like to keep the core of the team together for a do-over in 2019.
“I don’t even know if I’ve ever heard of something like this,” offensive coordinator Nathanial Hackett said. “Even asking Coach (Tom) Coughlin, this was actually I want to say probably Week 5 before it had actually gotten to this level, which you didn’t think it could get much crazier, but even talking with him, I just remember he looked at me and said, ‘This is a total abomination. I don’t understand how this can happen.’”
It was the first glimpse into how Coughlin, who’s in charge of all football decisions, views the seemingly lost season.
Jacksonville played six games without running back and offensive centerpiece Leonard Fournette and lost three left tackles, two tight ends, leading receiver Marqise Lee and dynamic scat back Corey Grant. Many of those guys were placed on injured reserve early in the season.
The Jags haven’t looked the same since.
“Having some key guys go down, a good amount of them on the offensive side of the ball, kind of changes things,” quarterback Blake Bortles said. “You have to find a way. That’s going to happen. You’re going to lose guys, you’re going to have guys get hurt.
“You have to be able to have guys that can plug in and play and continue to find ways to win football games. We have struggled doing that. I have no idea what they are thinking or what they are going to do. I know we have six more chances to try and persuade them one way or another.”
The first one comes against the Bills (3-7), who were eliminated from the playoffs with a 10-7 loss in Jacksonville in January.
Bortles completed 12 of 23 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown in that one. He was clearly off, but he avoided turnovers and scrambled for several key first late that allowed the Jaguars to milk the clock.
Bortles played well the next two weeks and was rewarded with a three-year, $54 million contract in February. He’s been the team’s biggest disappointment since , but the Jaguars are quick to point out all the injuries and inconsistency surrounding him.
Jacksonville’s receiving corps has done little to help Bortles out. Receiver Keelan Cole is tied for the league lead with seven dropped passes, and third-down running back T.J. Yeldon is close behind with five. Receivers DJ Chark and Rashad Greene also had outcome-altering miscues late in recent weeks.
The once-vaunted defense has been better of late as the team has started to re-establish its physical identity.
Nonetheless, there will be changes ahead. Just not a complete makeover. Even Bortles appears safe considering he’s due to count $21 million against the salary cap in 2019. Cutting him would still cost Jacksonville $16.5 million.
“Injuries are part of it as drastic as it may be. I am not going to be that guy” who blames injuries, coach Doug Marrone said. “I have to do a better job, like I have said before. I am going to take responsibility for what I have to do, and at the end of the day, I can live with that. … You are put in a leadership role. You have to take responsibility. It is very easy to look at it and point fingers or say things and make excuses. The best part of being a head coach is the job is so clearly defined. More than any other job in an organization. It is defined by winning games.
“When you are not, you are not doing your job. When you do, you have done a good job. Don’t sit there too long and gloat. You have to get on to the next one because you have to keep playing.”