JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Three Dog Night had it right when it comes to the Jacksonville Jaguars: One really is the loneliest number.
At least in regards to September, anyway.
The Jaguars have won just one game in the first month of the season over the past three years. One. Out of 11. And they needed a field goal in the game’s final minute to do it.
The Jaguars haven’t been very good, and at times they have been pretty bad, over the past three seasons. They’re 12-36 over that span so going 1-10 in September -- and following that up with a 2-10 record in October -- didn’t exactly keep them from winning the AFC South. It is a disturbing trend, however, that has to be snapped this year because expectations are much higher in 2016.
Another awful September could doom their chances of posting a winning record for the first time since 2007 -- and possibly be the beginning of the end for coach Gus Bradley.
"We’re very aware of that," linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "Start fast, start fast has been something we’ve been emphasizing, not only in practice but in preseason games. Absolutely. Week 1 we want to be able to open up and be playing at a high level. That’s something, like you said, we haven’t been able to do in the past."
That’s a bit of an understatement. The Jaguars have been terrible in September over the past three seasons. All of their 10 losses have been by double digits, including three by 31 or more points, and they’ve lost those games by an average of 23.7 points per game. In fact, they’ve lost only two games by less than 17 points -- including a 20-9 loss to eventual NFL champion Carolina in the 2015 season opener.
The two worst losses were by 34 points to Indianapolis in 2013 and to New England last season, and in each case those teams called off the dogs in the second half.
The Jaguars are marginally better in October, posting a 2-10 record, which means they’re a combined 3-20 in the first two months of the season and have lost those games by an average of 18.1 points per game.
Considering owner Shad Khan has gone on record as saying a winning record is "everybody’s reasonable expectation," the Jaguars must reverse their recent September and October history or the team may be looking for a new coach for the 2017 season.
"We have [stressed the importance of a good September]," Bradley said. "It goes back to the offseason and what we found out about our team in OTAs, in training camp. We saw it in preseason. The first couple of games, especially. That is something that we harp on.
"We like to start fast and finish faster. It is not just how we start. It is the whole game and the consistency."
It won’t be easy an easy September for the Jaguars. They face four elite quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Joe Flacco and Andrew Luck. They are a combined 13-5 and have thrown for 5,036 yards and 33 touchdowns with 11 interceptions against the Jaguars. Only Flacco (2-2) has lost more than one game to the Jaguars.
Rodgers is up first on Sunday and he gets top receiver Jordy Nelson (torn ACL) back. The following week is a trip to San Diego to face Rivers, who has thrown for 1,899 yards and 15 touchdowns in six games against the Jaguars. After playing host to Flacco and the Ravens, the Jaguars will play their annual home game in London against Luck, who has won five in a row over the Jaguars and has thrown for 1,702 yards and 10 TDs in six games.
Better defense is the key to being better in September, and the Jaguars made significant changes to that side of the ball in the offseason. In addition to signing defensive tackle Malik Jackson, free safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Prince Amukamara in free agency, the Jaguars drafted cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack with their first two picks.
"We have to be completely squared away and fundamentally sound," Posluszny said. "That’s how you have success against those guys. If we make mistakes, make mental mistakes, those guys are such elite players they’re able to take advantage of that, so being fundamentally and technique [sound] from the very beginning is going to be very important for us."
Then maybe one won’t be so lonely anymore.