“Desperate” isn’t a word that Power coach Ron James is willing to use to describe his team, nor should it be at an early juncture in the season.
The Power is 3-3, two games better than it was at the same point a year ago, and it has shown signs of progress for a franchise that has seen little of it in its three-year history.
That doesn’t mean, however, that there haven’t been reasons for concern.
Entering a home game tonight against the Philadelphia Soul, the Power has lost its past two games after a 3-1 start that vaulted it near the top of the Arena Football League. Those setbacks haven’t put the Power in a position of desperation quite yet, but a win would go a long way toward building some positive momentum.
“There are games that are out there for the taking, but we have to focus on this week,” James said. “To say that we’re desperate at this point, I wouldn’t totally say that. But I would say this is a game that could really help us get back on track.”
Losses can often be viewed as the same by teams, generally because they’re something to be avoided at most any cost. But the Power’s two recent failings can’t be looked at through the same lens.
Many coaches reject the notion of a ‘good loss,’ but the Power’s 73-69 defeat to the Arizona Rattlers was close. In a game where they looked to legitimize its 3-1 record, the Power did that, playing toe-to-toe with the two-time defending Arena Bowl champions in the Rattlers’ building, where they’ve lost just five of their past 39 games.
The loss to Cleveland the following week, however, provided no such solace. The Power was held to a season-worst 28 points and did not score in the final 23 minutes in a sport where scoring is commonplace.
“I think that we didn’t put together a full effort and play the way we’re capable of playing,” James said. “We played very undisciplined and everything kind of unraveled.
“I found out about the team, more than anything else, that we need to handle adversity better. I thought we did that against Arizona and did not do that against Cleveland. It’s still a learning process with this team, but I felt like we took a giant step backward last week.”
The final score wasn’t the only thing that was troubling for the Power in that game. Star wide receiver Aaron Lesue, who leads the AFL in receptions (59) and the team in receiving yards (610), suffered a knee injury in the third quarter of the loss to the Gladiators. James said there is no specific timetable on a return, but added that “it’s not looking good.” The team will be without another one of its star wideouts against Philadelphia, as Prechae Rodriguez is still nursing a foot injury. Rodriguez had a team-high seven touchdown receptions in less than two full games.
Important as the game may be for the Power, it still has seven contests left against opponents in its division, so it’s not too late to rebound from two early season losses to Cleveland.
But that improvement must start at some point. James and his players are hoping it will be tonight.
“My message has been simple — you have to earn the right to win every week in professional sports,” James said. “That’s been our focus all week long.”
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.