Quick quiz, who’s the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars?
My point exactly.
For those of you who answered Gus Bradley, you’re either a real student of the NFL or have to get out more.
Halfway into this season, there seemed to be a chance Bradley, a teammate of former Bills’ defensive end Phil Hansen at North Dakota State, would be more anonymous than he is.
That is to say, Bradley, who succeeded former Buffalo coach Mike Mularkey after he guided the Jags to a dismal 2-14 mark in his only season, appeared to be just as doomed after Jacksonville lost its first eight games.
And though 200 miles away in Tampa, the Bucs also opened 0-8, the Jags were deemed the NFL’s worst team as they seemed to be last in virtually every statistical category.
But the Jaguars have regrouped.
In fact, Jacksonville (4-9) has done a virtual 180, winning four of its last five games.
Meanwhile, this afternoon at Everbank Field (1 o’clock, WIVB-TV, WROC-TV, 95.7 FM, 100.1 FM, 101.9 FM, 550 AM), the Jags host a Buffalo team that’s headed in the other direction.
The Bills (4-9), have dropped five of six, including the last two, and are coming off their worst performance of the year, an embarrassing 27-6 loss at Tampa last Sunday.
Yet, incredibly, Buffalo is a 2-point favorite today, mostly because of the Jags’ numbers. They’re still last in the league in both total and rushing yards plus points scored (25 fewer than the Jets). Jacksonville has also surrendered the third-most points (nearly 29 a game) and ranks 26th (of 32) in passing yards surrendered, 27th in rushing yards given up and 28th in total yards relinquished.
BUT WHILE Jacksonville has yet to beat a winning team — Tennessee (5-8), Houston (2-11) twice and Cleveland (4-9) — there’s little doubt the Jags are playing their best football of the season.
“We’ve been fortunate the last couple of weeks, we’ve got a couple of victories,” Bradley said. “I guess I’m most pleased with how (the players have) really stayed the course and stayed strong with our culture and our philosophy.
“The first eight games when we were struggling, we were losing by double-digits (eight losses by an average of over 22 points) and it was challenging. I think the bye week came at a good time. We had a chance to sit down after everything we went through and (now) we have a better feel for our guys.”
MEANWHILE, Bills’ first-year coach Doug Marrone, also trying to get a pulse on his roster, faces an important last three games with a team that’s struggling and seemingly on the verge of collapse.
“Every week is critical, every game is critical,” he said. “I don’t like to label a quarter (of the season) ... I like to make sure that I keep the concentration and focus on this game. Is it critical we win this game? Yes. It was critical we win last week.
“(The loss at Tampa) was as poorly as we’ve played, no doubt about it. We’ve got to get back and play (well) and become consistent in those areas and build that foundation. Do we have a plan? Yes. Will we do that? Yes.”
BUT NOT YET.
As defensive tackle Kyle Williams noted about the Bills’ attitude, “The thing about it is it has to be everybody or it’s not good enough. If you’re missing one or two (players) it’s not good enough because this game is unique enough where one guy can’t make win a game for you. It takes a collective effort.
“If you don’t have everybody on the same page, you’re not going to be able to win and you’re not going to be able to be effective. If you have 40 guys that are accountable and doing the right things and you’re missing 10 it’s not good enough ... two is not good enough. Obviously, we really need to get everybody going.”
Of the last three games, he added, “I think it’s important for our coaches to see and for the players in here to see who they can count on, to know that no matter the circumstances who’s going to be there and who’s going to do the right things and play the way that you want somebody to play.”
STATISTICALLY, Buffalo has struggled, ranking 25th in the league in points scored, 23rd in total yards gained and 28th through the air.
“It’s not acceptable,” Marrone said of the Bills’ recent play. “We don’t feel good. We’ve got to come out and work hard. It sounds like a cliché but that’s the truth. You put something on tape that you’re not proud of ... that tape is there forever. Everyone can go back to (Sunday’s) game and look at it. That’s not what you want to do in this league.”
And the embarrassment over that performance has the Bills anxious to get back on the field.
“(Playing well) is of utmost importance,” running back Fred Jackson said. “We have to finish this season strong. We have an opportunity to go out and play a game against an opponent that’s struggling like we are ... we just have to go out and take advantage of it.”
So why have the Bills played poorly in recent games?
“The only thing that jumps out is inconsistency,” Jackson said. “You can look at it on film and see things that we’re doing well on one play, then we run the play again later and we’re not doing those things. It’s about being consistent down-to-down.”
And time is running out to do it.