Coach Jack Del Rio (Winslow Townson/AP)
The Jaguars are facing one of their biggest weeks in franchise history. Perhaps even bigger than the week of the AFC Championship Game in January of 2000. There is plenty on the line Sunday when the Jaguars travel to Nashville to take on division rival Tennessee. It's not only an 0-1 start that could be looming for Jacksonville, but plenty of bad feelings in the community.
To say that the past seven days have been filled with distractions is a monstrous understatement for the Jaguars. Last week, wide receiver Dennis Northcutt made legal headlines as he was accused of having someone beat up his pregnant girlfriend. If that wasn't enough, perhaps the most popular player in Jaguars history, running back Fred Taylor was said to have been arrested outside a Miami nightclub (it turns out that it was just a citation). The same day, former Jaguars wide receiver Jimmy Smith was arrested for a DUI with some marijuana possession thrown in. Although Smith is no longer a member of the team, his arrest certainly reflects poorly on the franchise. Finally, offensive tackle Richard Collier was shot several times after going out and he is currently in critical condition. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke about the Collier situation--
"Unfortunately this goes back a few years when Gene Upshaw and I were flying back from Darrent Williams funeral, a player that we tragically lost a couple years ago. The reality is that we’re living in a dangerous world where players are targets. We don’t know all the facts behind Richard’s tragic circumstance, and our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. Players have to be careful and they have to watch out for their safety. We also say in the NFL, ‘not much good happens after midnight.’ Guys have to be really careful about where they are, who they’re around, and the fact is there are risks out there. We’re trying to educate our players about circumstances, and make sure they avoid circumstances in where they put themselves in danger. And that’s a very great concern for all of us in the NFL."
Of course Collier's condition takes precedence over anything that may happen on the football field.
“Richard Collier is in critical condition. Rich is the victim of a crime and Rich is a member of our football family. We’re all praying for Rich and we ask you to do the same,” Del Rio said.
There is a lot more to be risked with a loss against Tennessee than gained with a victory. With a loss, the Jaguars will be at the bottom of the AFC South after one week, and looking up at possibly all three division teams. That's a position in which they really don't want to begin with, as they feel that this is the season that they compete for a division title, and at the very least secure a playoff berth for the second-consecutive season.
“I feel we’re right up there with the best of them,” said Jaguars quarterback David Garrard. “We have to make sure we keep playing at a high level and be one of those teams that’s mentioned year after year.”
What may be even more important than their place in the standings would be their place in the community. As everyone knows, Jacksonville is a small market and although there are several rabid Jaguars fans, there are several more casual football fans, and this franchise depends on the casual fans to sell tickets to avoid blackouts. With a recent report that the Jaguars home opener against Buffalo is still roughly 2000 tickets away from being a sellout, a loss to a perceived weaker opponent in Tennessee would not make the casual fan run to the box office to purchase their tickets to sit out in the 90+ degree September weather to see a visiting Buffalo Bills team with few stars that non-hardcore football fans can recognize.
As formidable as an opponent as Tennessee poses for the Jaguars, the coaching staff and their players likely couldn't focus completely on the job at hand this week due to the big news of Collier's shooting. Will this tragedy motivate the team, or will it be yet another distraction that sets up for an opening day disappointment?
“It is what it is," said Del Rio. "It’s there. It’s reality. We have to handle it and move on. When adversity comes up, you have to be able to handle it."
With the rash of arrests over the past two years by several Jaguars players, the hopes are that Collier's situation, however unfortunate it is, could serve as some kind of wake-up call for the team.
“As men, you can be what you set your mind on. As a football team, the same rule applies. Aside from God and family, there should be nothing more important than what we’re doing here,” Del Rio said.
The Jaguars aren't in a must-win situation for the season opener at Tennessee, as they could rebound and still have a very successful season, but a loss would be a crushing blow to the franchise, especially considering all that's transpired over the past week.
Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering multiple teams in the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie is a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports and Sirius NFL Radio, and has been featured on the NFL Network. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.
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