At last, there was a payoff.
Forget the losses. Forget the frustrations. Forget the disappointments. The Jaguars may not be able to forget them permanently – nor should they forget them for long, for that matter – but on a cool November afternoon under perfect blue skies, the Jaguars could at least forget for a while all that had gone wrong this season.
Because for the first time in a long time, Sunday was about what went right.
"I feel very happy for our players," Head Coach Mike Mularkey said following a 24-19 victory over the Tennessee Titans at EverBank Field Sunday afternoon. "It's not relief. I'm just happy that our players can feel good about all the time and effort that they put in and get a win, especially at home . . ."
Here's the thing about winning:
In case you forgot, it cures a lot. It makes for far more pleasant Sunday evenings, far more enjoyable Mondays. In case you forgot . . . well . . .
It just feels better.
"It feels real good," wide receiver Cecil Shorts said with a smile.
Really, really good.
"It was a long time coming," defensive end Austen Lane said with a smile afterward. "Hopefully we can have more of these coming."
Really, really good.
"It was about time," safety Dawan Landry said. "We fought hard. We should have won last week. It didn't happen, but we came out and got one this week. It feels really good. It's the right time."
How good does winning feel, even at 2-9? Good enough that as players entered the post-game locker room, few did so without chest-bumping Mularkey. That's the promise the head coach made before the game, that he'd chest-bump each player after the victory. It was a promise that was easy to keep.
It was a promise that was a lot of fun to keep, too.
"Oh yes – he was bumping," Landry, a seven-year veteran, said when asked afterward if Mularkey was really chest-bumping players.
And asked if he indeed chest-bumped, Landry replied, yes, no question.
"I got one," he said, laughing. "I had to get one."
Don't take those quotes the wrong way. Jaguars players and coaches won't tell you for a minute that this one victory, coming as it did after seven consecutive loss and coming as it did following five one-sided home losses, makes everything OK.
Two-and-nine isn't good enough, and it isn't close to good enough.
But the funny thing about this Jaguars team is that after most games this season, even after the losses piled up, there was a feeling that the team wasn't far off. Remember? After the loss to Green Bay? The Jaguars were 1-6 then, and even though some observers thought they were crazy, coaches and players felt good about how things were going.
Then came two more one-sided home losses, bringing the total to five home losses by at least 17 points, and when you're 1-9, it's hard to feel good even when that ninth loss came in overtime to Houston, a team that may be as good as any in the NFL.
So, that's why the victory Sunday brought smiles. Because while this team believed in itself, veteran cornerback Rashean Mathis on Sunday said even a team that believes in its coaches and its direction "can only take so much."
"You can only get knocked down so long before you don't want to get back up," Mathis said.
Through that lens, Mathis said, Sunday's victory "was huge."
"That was a sign today that we're still fighting, that there's no quit in us," Mathis said.
And whatever the rest of the season holds, that's a better sign than the alternative. The Jaguars could have believed what some believed – that there was something going on that didn't allow this team to win at home, that they were the worst team in the league, that they were headed to 1-15.
They heard those things. Credit them for not believing it.
"Obviously, we're not in the playoffs, so what these games come down to is playing for pride," defensive end Austen Lane said. "More importantly, they're about just being a man – just having a passion for this game."
Said Landry: "The record doesn't dictate the amount of fight in this team. Everybody's buying into what Coach Mularkey's preaching, just playing for the man next to him. We got this win today and it feels really good."
What does that mean for the big picture?
Maybe a lot, if quarterback Chad Henne continues to build on what he did Sunday and last Sunday, and if the offense continues to look functional. Maybe a lot, if wide receivers Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon continue to look how they have looked the last two weeks, which is like a receiver tandem that may be good enough to be a core part of the future.
At the same time, Sunday's game was just one game, and if it isn't built upon, then that's all it is, and it may mean little in the big picture.
But right now, we don't know the big picture. Right now, we know that this team has five games remaining, and that because it is playing better in the last two games, those five games look like they might be a whole lot more interesting than a lot of the games that preceded them.
And it looks like in the short term at least, there may be a few more payoffs possible for a team that hasn't had nearly enough of them this season.