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The right reasons

Posted Nov 10, 2013

EDITORIAL: Reaction of Jacksonville Jaguars players after first victory of season reveals much about HC Gus Bradley, direction of franchise.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – One by one, they said it.

And while what they said may at first have seemed like corny stuff, you know what? So what? As long as it’s heartfelt.

And make no mistake:

The reaction of Jaguars players in the wake of a 29-27 victory over the Tennessee Titans at LP Field in Nashville Sunday may not have felt like your “normal” postgame NFL victory comments. That’s because after “normal” NFL victories you don’t necessarily hear players talk about wanting to win for their head coach.

But that is what you heard Sunday, and more important than what you heard was how it sounded.

More important than what you heard was how it felt.

Because it sounded and felt pretty darned sincere.

These guys, these players who entered the game 0-8 and listening to questions about 0-16 – and -yeah, listening to barbs and ridicule of people locally and nationally – very much wanted to win not necessarily because they wanted to stop hearing those things, but for Bradley, for their head coach.

And that’s just what they did.

Tight end Marcedes Lewis said it, defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks said it and right guard Uche Nwaneri said it – that this victory was special because of Bradley, his approach and their belief in both of the above. That’s a lot of veteran voices saying it, but perhaps most notable afterward was veteran running back and three-time Pro Bowl selection Maurice Jones-Drew saying it.

“His attitude and the way he does things, is special,” Jones-Drew said. “To validate that with a win, it’s huge.”

That’s real stuff, and that’s significant stuff.

That’s stuff you’ve been hearing the last three weeks, how these players have continued to believe throughout the course of the season that Bradley and this coaching staff have things on the right course. You’ve heard players talk of culture and foundation. You heard it in the offseason and the preseason and early in the season. You heard it a lot after losses to Denver and St. Louis, losses that somehow felt better than the first four losses because there was fight and signs of tangible improvement.

You heard it, too, after losses to San Diego and San Francisco, and it was significant you heard that then because those two losses entering the bye week weren’t tangible steps forward and actually felt tangibly like something in the other direction.

And yet, through it all, you still heard it.

That was a striking thing to people around the Jaguars last week– all the talk of positive morale. Jones-Drew talked about it, and quarterback Chad Henne talked about getting one victory and letting that victory turn into another victory.

Henne, of course, also talked about 8-8 finishes and how you never know what might happen at the end of the season. The odds against that remain outlandish, but Henne’s bigger point – and the bigger feeling you got from the locker room – was more pertinent in terms of the bigger picture.

Even at 0-8, players felt something special. That included players who might or might not be around for the entirety of the rebuild. A guy such as veteran cornerback Will Blackmon, who made the key play with a game-clinching, 21-yard fumble return for a touchdown Sunday, has said several times that he felt it. He said it again Sunday, and said he wants to do whatever he can to be around when this thing turns.

Because he without question believes it will turn. And other veterans do, too.

Lewis, whose 27-yard first-quarter reception Sunday was as impressive of an “effort” play as the Jaguars have had all season, afterward talked about why it’s easy to follow Bradley: because from week to week, even at 0-8 – maybe even especially at 0-8 – his message never changed.

Bradley never talked about winning or losing in the first half of the season, even this past week when it seemed as if that was all the media wanted to discuss. He talked about his philosophy of competing, getting better each week, and how if the team did that, the results would follow.

Not surprisingly, he talked about it in the postgame Sunday, too.

“We stayed true,” Bradley said. “We didn’t say after the bye week, ‘Let’s change everything and approach it this way.’ We did not do that. We stayed the course. Consistency brings credibility anywhere, but especially with our team.

“To have the ability to stay the course, stay true to who we are and then come out and execute like we did is an awesome feeling for our guys. I just appreciate them staying tight with that and really holding true to it. You could sense it was a genuine feeling.”

As notable as the words was how he said them. Surely, he was happy on some personal level. This was his first NFL head coaching victory. Surely, there may have been at least a little pressure relieved. Whatever your approach, however steadfast your beliefs, 0-8 is no fun. With a victory, a lot of the questions being asked this past week don’t get asked anymore. At least not for a while.

But if Bradley felt relief, or felt particularly pleasure with one victory, his face displayed none of that.

This was not a guy giddy with emotion. Or awash in relief. This genuinely looked like a guy more pleased with the team showing genuine progress – progress toward what he sees as a longer-term goal. That the result of that was a victory was terrific, but not – to listen to Bradley, at least – the end-all.

And if you didn’t already believe Bradley was right for the job, the way he spoke Sunday perhaps pushed you a little further toward believing in the guy.

Players sure believe in him. Make no mistake about that.

And that made some stuff being said in Nashville late Sunday afternoon seem a lot less corny and a whole lot more important.

PHOTO GALLERY

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