How do you accept losing when you’re hardwired to win?
When you bleed and sweat and pour every ounce of energy into a goal, only to watch it slip out of your grasp week after week?
What do you tell yourself when even your own words sound hallow at times?
That is the frame of mind that Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack has found himself in as the Jags extended a franchise-worst single-season losing streak, with 13 consecutive losses resulting in a 1-13 record.
“Right now, I feel like everything falls on my shoulders being on the defense, being one of the older guys, I have a C on my chest. I take full responsibility for everything. If we give up 40 points, I feel like I gave up 40 points. I go home and I can’t get out of bed until Tuesday. It really weighs on me, it hurts me.”
As Jack spoke to local media last week—for the first time since September 23—he didn't hold back, offering a glimpse into the psyche of an athlete at the top of their game on a team that’s at the bottom.
"All that matters to me is bringing this city a championship. It’s tough because when you’re young, you’re like, ‘Well, in year two, year three, maybe it will be different.’ When you get older, there’s more responsibility on you. It weighs on you a lot more like a whole lot more, mentally, physically. I’m just trying to preach guys, try to speed them up a little bit like we can change this. We have everything we need. All we need is us, we just have to tighten up on a couple corners.”
As a fifth-year linebacker having spent his entire career thus far with the Jags, the captain has been through losing seasons before. In total, the Jaguars are 25-53 during Jack’s time in Jacksonville. He’s become used to losing seasons, but not accustomed to it. Instead, he’s created a system for properly mourning and then moving past each loss.
“This is what I’ve been doing: come home on Sunday, I’ll play ‘Call of Duty: Warzone’ until I get more mad about losing in ‘Warzone’ than the game, then I go to sleep, then I wake up Monday still be sore and beat up, probably watch ‘Narcos’, play ‘Warzone’. It’s kind of like a switch between watching ‘Narcos’ and playing ‘Warzone’ until Wednesday rolls around and I’ll forget about it by then, but you just have to keep going. There’s going to be seasons when you lose and there’s going to be seasons when you win.”
Jack knows that better than most on the team, having gone through the low of the 2016 season going 3-13, and then the high of the 2017 season, finishing 10-6 in the regular season before making it to the AFC Championship Game and falling to the New England Patriots (we’ll refrain from asking whether or not he was down here). Jack calls the season magical and after that, he thought his entire career would be like that special run.
“My second year, I’m like, ‘The NFL is easy. It’s always going to be like this.’ We’re in the playoffs and we win our Wild Card [game] and we go to the [AFC] Division[al round], it was just easy like it’s magical. You can’t believe it. You just think it’s always going to be like this. I remember [former Jaguars LB Paul Posluszny] Poz telling me, ‘Appreciate this because this is special.’ It was Poz’s tenth year and then he finally got to that point. He was like, ‘Guys, appreciate this because it’s not always like this.’”
In the season that followed, the Jags went 5-11 and after a slight uptick in 2019, have now skidded to the worst single-season stretch in franchise history at 1-13. The talking of tanking became so strong that Jack deleted his Instagram and Twitter, even though he admits even going to the gas station means the conversation comes up with fans.
And he gets it. Just as he’s hard wired to win, he knows fans want to win as well. But wanting to deliver a winning future with possibly Trevor Lawerence or Justin Fields or Kyle Pitts must be balanced with guys winning a future in the league.
“Obviously for me, I’m like, ‘Heck no, I want to win these three, four games’ and blow all that but I get it from a fan perspective. But we’re still out there fighting for our jobs, fighting for our livelihoods. At the end of the day, the NFL doesn’t pay losers, they pay winners. You win, you get rewarded. You lose, it gets kind of ugly.
"Myself, that’s what I’m playing for, just solidify myself in the league, making sure that I can stay in Jacksonville as long as possible. There’s new GM’s, new coaches coming in, so when they come in and evaluate, they’re going to see which guys are going and which guys aren’t and they’re going to get rid of the guys that aren’t playing [rather] than the ones that are.”
In the interim, like Poz told players to savor the wins in 2017, Jack is now instructing the players on the youngest team in the league to—in some ways—savor these losses.
“I told guys [to] really learn from this season, remember that one play that you slipped up on and all of a sudden it changed the whole dynamic of the game. That’s how slim this league is, it’s a play here or there. I think guys will really not like the taste that they have in their mouth. We’ll have to hear another offseason about negativity about the Jags and all that and I hope that really motivates people because it did for me last year and moving forward it will.
“If this season you feel like you weren’t good at certain things, work on that this offseason. [If] you feel like you weren’t fast enough, get faster. [If] you feel like you weren’t strong enough, hit the weight room this offseason. You can always get better.”
That attitude—that fire, that passion and the leadership from Jack (105) who along with Joe Schobert (125) are both in the Top 20 in the league of total tackles—is what Jack hopes serves as a bright spot from an otherwise sad season.
“I just hope that people, from the defense perspective, just see the fight that we have. Obviously, things haven’t gone how we want it to go, but at the same time, guys [are] out there playing, guys [are] out there fighting. It’s cool to see because things happen and it’s kind of similar to life and kind of similar to this whole year, 2020. Bad things happen but we just continue going.”
The growth that can come from that—the lessons learned when pulling oneself out of a pit—along with a possible No. 1 overall pick, that’s what can serve as the foundation for the future. If that’s the case, then the worst season in franchise history could serve as the catalyst for some of the best to come.
Says Jack, “I’m just trying to cherish the bad so that way when we do have a winning, kick ass season next year, I can savor it [and] I feel like I earned it and enjoy it and really just f-ing enjoy—I can’t wait.”