Live by the Stop, Die by the Stop: Sharks Split Critical Two-Game Stretch
by Erik Watkins
For the Jacksonville Sharks (1-5), time could quickly be running out to salvage the 2015 season. The stars did seem to align a bit thanks to back-to-back 56-55 overtime losses by Orlando, and home-field could potentially be theirs for the taking with recent injuries to Arizona QB Nick Davila and San Jose QB Erik Meyer out west. However, it’s up to Jacksonville to make a run, and that could be out of the question after the 63-28 loss to Tampa Bay.
Things started quite well for the Sharks, demolishing Las Vegas 60-28 in Week 5 at home for their first win of the season. It was a close game early on, but at the end of the first half, the Sharks defense stepped up and set up three straight touchdowns to blow the game open, leaving any second half Outlaws score meaningless.
After the game, there were two overwhelming feelings: the chemistry was starting to build, and there were flashes of what this team could be. There were some personal feelings and accomplishments, some old scores settled (“Coach Garcia wanted me, but Coach Moss wanted me more,” said Derrick Ross), but most of all, there was hope. However, as Coach Moss put it after the game: “We’re 1-4.”
However, for all the good that came from the win, it was undone just one week later. The game started out well, as Grady and Tampa Bay signal-caller Jason Boltus were matching each other TD pass for TD pass, but with two minutes to go in the first half, an errant kickoff return and an interception led to 14 Storm points, and a fourth-down conversion led to a 35-14 Tampa Bay lead. The second half was nothing but trouble, as the Sharks were stopped on every possession after a Tiger Jones early fourth quarter touchdown catch.
This split puts Jacksonville at 1-5. After the rest of Week 6’s action, the good news is that they are still just two games out of the division lead, as both Orlando and Tampa Bay are 3-3 with four more divisional games left. While Philadelphia remains undefeated at 6-0, Jacksonville hosts them in Weeks 8 and 17. The problems would be deeper into the playoffs, as San Jose holds the tiebreaker after the Week 4 win, and Jacksonville doesn’t play Arizona this season.
In the end, it boils down to this: chemistry. To a man, the Sharks acknowledge that the team has the talent to win the league, but there’s no bond there like there was in years past. Unfortunately, this could lead to head coach Les Moss’ demise. Yes, the pedigree is there. Yes, the championships are there. However, the fans aren’t (the listed attendance against San Jose was the lowest in three years, and the average attendance is the lowest in franchise history at less than 9,000), and the over the past season and a half, the wins aren’t.
Jacksonville is now 8-16 since the start of the 2014 season, and now winds could be blowing to sweep Coach Moss out of town, despite averaging 12½ wins per season through his first four seasons and notching four playoff wins.
Between injuries, trade disasters, and a lack of fourth-down stops this season, the past two seasons have been far too tumultuous, and owner Jeff Bouchy, another man used to winning, is searching for answers.
The division could slip away from Jacksonville, and all the preseason hype could come to a screeching halt in the next two weeks. With Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Orlando coming up in the next five weeks, the long season could be running out before we flip the calendars to June.