HOUSTON, Texas – Gus Bradley liked what he saw.
And while he liked the winning, and while for a second time in three weeks the players got to like it, too, that wasn’t the overriding theme following Jaguars 13, Houston Texans 6.
No, the theme remained the same. And yes, it’s the theme you’ve heard before and read often if you’re a Jaguars follower.
And, yes, that theme still centered on the process more than the result.
It just had a touch more oomph to it this time.
“It was another opportunity to validate what we were all about,” Bradley said of the Jaguars’ get-ahead-and-hold-on victory over their slumping AFC South rivals at Reliant Stadium Sunday afternoon.
That word? Validation?
You’re hearing it more around the Jaguars these days, and the tone you’re hearing is as important as the word.
There’s no arrogance to the tone. No bravado. No one’s saying, “I told you so,” not only because 2-9 teams don’t walk with bravado, but because no one believes they’re anywhere close to where they’re eventually going.
There is an assurance, a further belief among players that they were right to keep believing in this Bradley guy, this guy who began his head coaching tenure talking positively about getting better and staying the course and who never came off that message.
As much as the running game revival, and as much as the continued defensive improvement, that’s why Sunday mattered: because it gave more validity to Bradley’s approach. Beating Tennessee in Nashville two weeks ago meant no more questions about 0-16 and it meant the players could be happy to give their coach a victory.
Sunday means what’s going on can be framed as a trend.
Put the victory over Tennessee and a gritty loss to playoff-contending Arizona last week and a victory over Houston Sunday back-to-back-to-back and there’s no denying the Jaguars are a better team now than in September and October, than they were before the Week Nine bye.
And yes, there’s that demarcation line again: The Week Nine bye week.
It has been talked about the last few weeks as the point when things began to turn, and it was talked about that way again Sunday. Jaguars running back
Something else happened that week, too. A defense that entered the bye struggling met as a unit, and defensive tackle
“We just told each other, ‘Let’s forget all the negative things that we’ve learned,’’’ Miller said. “Early on in preseason, we had some pretty good signs of what we could be.’ We said, ‘Let’s get back to that. Let’s get back to playing and trusting each other to do their job.’ Everybody took it upon themselves to be more accountable.”
One meeting, of course, doesn’t define what the Jaguars have done the last three weeks, and what the Jaguars have done the last three weeks isn’t in any way an end game. So, we won’t overstate it.
But let’s not understate it, either.
This is team, after all, arrived home from London not just 0-8, but fresh off its worst two games of the season. Observers wondered if perhaps Bradley’s positivity was the right message.
Players said then they believed it was. They said it again Sunday.
“You’ve got to give credit to Gus,” Miller said. “Through all the adversity, he has a vision. He hasn’t blinked once. He preaches it every day. He said, ‘This is where we can go. This is what we’re going to do. If you guys buy into it, we can be successful.’’’
“I honestly believe it starts from the top and comes down,” Ball said. “Our head coach is a tremendous leader. His attitude that he’s instilling in his is no matter what happens, continue to get better and continue to work on the things you need to work on.
“Our group as a team has done a good job of focusing on the right now and focusing on getting better every day.”
Bradley during his press conference Sunday said, “They don’t flinch,” and he was talking about the team’s ability to overcome adversity. He said while there was one game early in the season in which he publicly questioned the team’s effort, that theme long since has faded.
“They’ve really demonstrated that that’s who they are, a team that battles,” Bradley said.
Bradley didn’t dwell on that quote, but throughout his postgame comments and those of the players, you got the idea that it was indeed becoming his view of the team, and in turn, the team’s self-identity.
The Jaguars battled through adversity in the third quarter against Arizona, and while they didn’t win they didn’t backslide after two controversial calls. They faced adversity Sunday, too. Their lone touchdown came on fourth-and-1, and came on a drive on which they converted second-and-17.
Was the victory Sunday anything close to an end game? No. This team still has a lot of building to do, and that will remain true whatever the final five games bring.
But was it another glimpse into what this team may become, another step in the building of a foundation? Yes, you could make that argument – and you could make it pretty strongly.
Which is why it made a lot of sense that Bradley liked a lot about what he saw.