ARLINGTON, Texas -- Two weeks ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars looked every bit a championship contender.
They won on the road to open the season and sandwiched blowout victories over the Patriots and Jets around a home loss to the Titans. They did most of that without their best offensive player and got big-time performances from their quarterback.
That has all fallen apart the past two games -- the latest being Sunday’s 40-7 loss to Dallas at AT&T Stadium -- and now a team that many thought would play in the Super Bowl might find itself on the outside of the AFC South race if things don't turn around quickly.
"The only thing we can do is bounce back," defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "It's the NFL. It's hard to win here. At the end of the day, if we want to be where we want to be in January or February -- hell, December -- we need to start working now, just get it together."
The Jaguars were in this situation last year, too. They also had a 3-3 record after six games but this feels ... worse. Much, much worse.
Maybe it's because there were no expectations on this team last season, and there was no sense in October that the Jaguars would be 10 minutes away from the Super Bowl three months later. After what the franchise had put on the field the past decade, being .500 that deep into the season felt like progress.
That was an optimistic 3-3. This year’s 3-3 feels like a disaster, especially since Sunday's dud followed a 30-14 loss to Kansas City the week before.
That's definitely what it was Sunday against the Cowboys. On both sides of the ball.
The offense produced only 204 yards and 10 first downs, gave up three sacks, turned the ball over twice (an interception by Blake Bortles and a fumble by Keelan Cole), and never made a trip into the red zone. The defense gave up 206 yards rushing (Ezekiel Elliott had 106 and a touchdown) and QB Dak Prescott pretty much did whatever he wanted (82 yards and a TD rushing and 183 yards and two TDs passing).
Cole Beasley -- Cole Beasley! -- decimated the Jaguars' secondary. He tied a career high with nine catches, and his 101 yards receiving marked only the second time in his 93-game career that he surpassed 100 yards.
Even the special teams had problems. The Jaguars had a 12-men-on-the-field penalty that wiped out a Cowboys punt. It extended a drive that lasted 16 plays and ended with Beasley's second touchdown catch late in the first half.
Yet despite the second consecutive poor performance, there doesn't seem to be any panic or desperation in the Jaguars locker room. The season might be starting to slip through their fingers but nobody is worried.
"I said that at the beginning of the season when you believe so much in this room and the group of guys that you're around ... we'll let y'all have the doubt," linebacker Telvin Smith said. "We'll let y'all have the doubt. We're fine. We're fine.
That is either putting on a brave face, whistling in the dark, or flat-out denial, because the Jaguars are NOT fine.
The offense is borderline dysfunctional. Injuries have a lot to do with it: Leonard Fournette (hamstring), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (core muscle) and Corey Grant (foot) are players that would certainly help. Being on their third-string left tackle (Josh Walker) because the first two are on IR isn't ideal, either.
It seems as if everything has to go perfectly for a play to work. It's not just one area that breaks down, either. Bortles is erratic, makes the wrong read, forces a pass, and/or gets intercepted. The run- and pass-blocking is poor and guys miss assignments. Receivers aren't getting open. Drops. Fumbles. The playcalling is at times puzzling (an end-around to tight end Niles Paul on second-and-4?).
Some combination of all that seems to be happening on every play.
There are numerous communication breakdowns in the secondary, which shouldn't be happening since it's the same group of players and same coordinator from last season's elite unit. The Jaguars sacked Prescott three times but didn't get consistent pressure, and he did major damage outside the pocket all afternoon.
They didn't force a single turnover against the Cowboys and have forced only five this season. Sacks and turnovers were what fueled the defense in 2017 and made it one of the NFL's best.
"We ain't playing like it," cornerback Jalen Ramsey said.
The Jaguars aren't doing much well right now. That has to change or they won't remain in the AFC South race much longer.