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A necessary victory

Posted Nov 13, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS – Regarding the Jaguars’ third victory of the season Sunday . . . well, we won’t try to give you the hard sell on this one.

Jaguars-Colts? Two-and-six versus oh-and-nine?

For a long time Sunday, there was very little very pretty going on.

And for a long time, it wasn’t exactly clear that the Jaguars would eventually do something, anything, to secure a much-needed victory over the NFL’s lone winless team.

But you know what? Pretty isn’t always what the NFL is about, and Sunday’s victory for the Jaguars was something other than pretty, something more important.

It was necessary. Goodness, was it necessary.

You just plain didn’t want to lose this one, not to an 0-9 team, not to the Colts. Not this season. A loss Sunday, and we’d have been subjected to a week of sky-is-falling analysis and fire-‘em-all-now posts on the message boards. A loss Sunday to the team many believe may be the NFL’s worst team and too many people start talking about you in the same terms.

The truth is there will be sky-falling talk this week anyway. Enough went wrong Sunday to ensure as much.

The Jaguars’ biggest issue continues to be passing offense. It was the primary issue over the bye and will continue to be the issue. There were good things in that area Sunday, a touch of progress. It still wasn’t enough. It has to improve.

Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio referred the passing offense Sunday as “stuck in the mud.”

“He’s doing the hard things better than the easy things,” Del Rio said of rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who completed 14 of 21 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown with an interception for a passer rating of 77.1. “That part has to pick up in order for us to play well as an offense.”

Issue No. 2 offensively: tight end Marcedes Lewis.

The Jaguars’ receivers for the most part have struggled this season, and while there were positive signs – an 11-yard touchdown reception from Jarett Dillard and three catches for 39 yards from Chastin West chief among them – it continues to be an area of concern. But to an extent, that was expected . It’s not a unit laden with Pro Bowl players.

Lewis, by contrast, played in the Pro Bowl last season, but has struggled this season. That also continued Sunday, when he caught one pass for minus-4 yards and also dropped a catchable first-quarter pass.

Lewis’ play this season has become enough of an issue that Del Rio spoke to him during the bye week, told him he wasn’t going to answer any more questions about Lewis, that Lewis needed to be the one answering him. “Let’s get rolling,” Del Rio told him.

Del Rio smiled when he relayed the story Sunday, but it was one of those joking-but-not-really moments.

“I know he wants to (get rolling),” Del Rio said. “He just hasn’t been able to get himself to that zone the way he did last year when he was one of the most dominant players in the league at his position. We need him. He’s our guy.”

But here’s the thing about winning: It allows you to take a breath, even after a game that showed flaws, and see the good things instead of the bad and not sound silly pointing it out.

And there were good things Sunday.

The defense again played very, very well. Even without Terrance Knighton, the defense did a good job limiting the Colts. Paul Posluszny? The middle linebacker once again made a big play for the Jaguars. His interception at the Jaguars 21 stopped the Colts’ last real chance to tie the game.

Maurice Jones-Drew? He rushed for 114 yards on 25 carries, and continued to have a remarkable season in remarkably difficult offensive circumstances.

And Jeremy Mincey? Say what you want about whether or not the Jaguars have a big-time pass rusher at end, but Mincey has played increasingly well this season. On Sunday, a day the Jaguars played without Aaron Kampman and without Knighton (something that hadn’t happened in 40 games), Mincey got consistent pressure on Colts quarterbacks.

Fitting, then, that it was Mincey who made the game’s game-clinching play, knocking the ball from backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky’s hand and into the arms of defensive tackle Tyson Alualu for a fumble recovery that led to the Jaguars’ game-clinching touchdown.

If all of this sounds familiar, there’s reason. The reality was the victory Sunday wasn’t too discernible from a lot of losses this season. Very good defense. Very good running game. Struggling passing game. The difference Sunday absolutely was that in this case, the opponent couldn’t take advantage of what the Jaguars couldn’t do and that meant what the Jaguars could do was enough.

It’s also absolutely the case that the Jaguars must play better to win Sunday in Cleveland, and against pretty much any opponent the rest of the way.

In that sense, it’s a new week, same theme: It needs to get better. Gabbert needs to improve, and the receivers have to make more plays.

But there’s time for that later – tomorrow, and later in the week. For today, appreciate what the Jaguars did well Sunday. And while it wasn’t pretty, it was a victory and a good start to the second half of the season.

And goodness, was that necessary.


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