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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Jaguars constantly talk about getting better. It's coach Gus Bradley's motto, the team's mantra and a catchphrase for meetings, practices and games.
But signs of progress, especially consistent improvement, are tough to find.
The Jaguars (1-10) have lost 22 of their last 27 games, including 18 by double digits. They have been plagued by repeated mistakes, offensive ineptitude and second-half struggles.
And no one can predict when, or if, things will change.
"Obviously you don't go out there expecting everything to be perfect because that will never happen in this league," veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis said Wednesday. "At some point, we have to make gains in the right direction."
The Jaguars, who host the New York Giants (3-8) on Sunday, are looking at the final five games as a chance to straighten out another dismal season.
Jacksonville has dropped at least 10 games for the fourth consecutive season. Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell were hired to turn around the franchise. They gutted the roster last year and started a ground-up restoration that would take time.
Nonetheless, small strides forward have been few and far between.
Jacksonville has lost 13 of its last 14 games, and the majority of those have been lopsided affairs.
"We've got five games left," Lewis said. "There's time. You don't want to go into the offseason with a bad taste in your mouth. If we start thinking that way right now, then what are we really doing? There's time as long as we have games left. We've got to get better.
"I know it sounds like a broken record, but it is what it is. It's right there in black and white. You can go back and you can watch the film. Sometimes we're great and sometimes we're not."
Jacksonville's defense, specifically the front, has been a bright spot. The Jaguars rank third in the league with 33 sacks. Free agents Chris Clemons and Red Bryant have been solid additions, and defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season.
But the secondary has been mediocre at best, with cornerback Dwayne Gratz and safety Johnathan Cyprien looking more like rookies than second-year starters.
"We have a lot to show this season, but it boils down to wins and losses," Marks said.
The offense have been the bigger problem.
The Jaguars have started eight rookies on that side of the ball, including three receivers and two offensive linemen. The result has been dropped balls, poor routes and inconsistent protection.
An even bigger issue has been rookie quarterback Blake Bortles, who has seemingly regressed over the last five games. He has an NFL-high 15 interceptions.
"It's ruined guys careers by starting young and not doing well," Bortles said. "I kind of take it as an opportunity to say, 'We're not doing well. Watch how I can handle this and bounce back and continue to grow from it.' That's how I look at it.
"I know that's how Gus looks at it and it's kind of the environment and message that we're given."
Bortles played his worst game in Sunday's 23-3 loss to Indianapolis. He completed 15 of 27 passes for a season-low 146 yards, the latest in a bad stretch for the third overall pick in the NFL draft.
He admittedly played more freely in his first four games than he has recently. He said he needs to make quicker decisions, get the ball out faster and stop overthinking things.
"I think that's part of it," he said. "You want to go play and I want to and I feel like I'm playing my best when I'm playing carefree running around and not thinking a whole lot. I think just trying to get back to that, trying to eliminate some thinking and all of that comes with preparation during the week and making sure that on Sunday you can go play carefree."
And get better, something the Jaguars talk about all the time but rarely see in the results.
"Our guys are going to go out there and continue to compete the best they possibly can and I think the growth and development will continue to show every week," offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch said.
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