The Jacksonville Jaguars made a statement on Monday night in their dominating win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Come to think of it, they made a very similar case one week earlier in a sound defeat of the Dallas Cowboys:
The Jaguars are for real.
Dominating defense and efficient offense have propped the Jags up as one of the NFL's best 2-0 teams. They rank third in the league in total defense and second in turnover differential.
And how are they doing it? No, really. How are they?
Most teams spend their offseasons trying to improve by making big personnel changes. Free agents are brought in to answer the questions at needy positions. Rookies are drafted to plug holes or provide depth. Coaching staffs are shuffled to spark an offense, solidify a defense, or push a team to the top.
The Jaguars did none of these. Their biggest signing of the offseason was Giants castoff Nick Greisen. Their top two rookies, Marcedes Lewis and Bryce Drew, have failed to make much of an early impact—Lewis is sidelined with an ankle injury; Drew has seen little playing time. And Jacksonville's coaching staff is unchanged from last year.
Thus, the Jags completely abandoned the NFL's typical self-improvement plan. Instead, Jacksonville has enjoyed early season success while absorbing the loss of key players. Addition by subtraction?
Jimmy Smith announced his retirement in the middle of training camp, leaving the team without a proven wide receiver. Greg Jones, backup running back to Fred Taylor, was lost for the year in the preseason. During their Week 1 win, both starting defensive ends, Paul Spicer and Reggie Hayward, suffered injuries. Hayward will be out for the year.
And through it all, Jacksonville has come out roses.
The key losses at key positions should have submarined the club's chances, but it may have created a stronger, more united team. Young players were forced to step in and make a difference, thriving on the opportunity and responsibility. On no one's radar before the season, the Jags have had the underdog's advantage early on.
All of these reasons have probably played a part in the team's resurgence. Flourishing under duress is working wonders...and in a copycat league, it would come as no surprise to see the trend emerge in other NFL cities.
For instance, if the Bears are serious about making the Super Bowl this season, then Brian Urlacher better get serious about blowing out his knee.
The Seahawks offense could get a jolt if Matt Hasslebeck would take an extended leave from the team for "personal issues."
And if the Washington Redskins want to salvage their season, Joe Gibbs should retire today and give Clinton Portis the title of player-coach.
Sound crazy? That's exactly what NFL pundits would have said to you if you had pegged the Jaguars as world-beaters this season. The only way to stop the Jags now is to hope that they remain healthy and controversy-free the rest of the season.
And the only way the Colts can win against the Jags on Sunday is if Peyton Manning finds a way to get Jim Sorgi under center.