JACKSONVILLE – Well, that was fun, wasn't it? Wasn't it?
Isn't that how it's supposed to feel?
Isn't that sort of how you remembered it?
If you were at EverBank Field Thursday night, you probably thought that more than once – "This is how it's supposed to be, how it used to be….
"… Fun …"
And you know what? If you were a Jaguars fan – or if you were a coach or a player or anyone associated with the team – you were right, because that's what the nationally-televised 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans Thursday night was.
Fun. A whole lot of fun. At last.
"It was fun, and it's been a while," Jaguars center Brad Meester said after the Jaguars held off a Texans rally with the EverBank crowd cheering loudly through the fourth quarter.
How much fun was it? How raucous was it at the 'Bank?
Here's how fun…
Here's how raucous…
Sometime in the fourth quarter, seven-year veteran guard Uche Nwaneri was standing next to Meester, a 14-year guard. It was a whole lot of years and a whole lot of coaches and a whole lot of losses lately standing side by side on the Jaguars sideline. The crowd was loud, and chanting, and that was when Nwaneri mentioned to Meester that it was the loudest he had heard the crowd … well, in quite a while.
"That was awesome – it was great to see that," Meester said.
"We hadn't been performing well at home, and we've probably heard more boos than cheers, and today we showed a good showing for our fans," Nwaneri said. "They really had our backs. They brought the energy and brought the excitement and made it a great atmosphere tonight."
How much fun? How raucous?
That's what eight-year eight end Marcedes Lewis was asked in the wake of the Jaguars' third consecutive victory and their fourth in the last five games.
"When's the last time you had this much fun?" he was asked.
Lewis made two athletic first-quarter receptions – a one-yarder for the Jaguars' first touchdown and a 41-yarder to set up their second – to give the Jaguars early momentum and a lead. Now, hours later, he considered the question.
"Man, I don't know… 2007 …" Lewis said, referring to the Jaguars' last playoff season.
Now, know this:
What's going on now likely isn't a playoff run. The Jaguars are 4-9, and though mathematically alive, it takes some very advanced mathematics to find scenarios that put the Jaguars in the postseason.
But the Jaguars have won three consecutive games for the first time since 2010, and they have won four of five games since the bye. They have the longest winning streak in the AFC.
Let's repeat that:
The Jaguars have the longest winning streak in the AFC.
But those are numbers, and this editorial isn't about numbers, just as what happened at EverBank Field Thursday wasn't about numbers, just as what has happened the last five weeks isn't about numbers.
You what it's about? It's about smiles.
It's about the feeling around this organization right now. It's about how the Jaguars feel about playing for Head Coach Gus Bradley, and it's about the atmosphere the first-year head coach has created.
Bradley arrived in Jacksonville in January talking improvement, and getting better, and competition, and if it sounded like some crazy, wild-eyed optimistic Coach Speak at times – and if it had some cynics rolling their eyes at 0-8 – there isn't a player in the Jacksonville locker room who doesn't credit it for what's going on right now.
Yes, Thursday was about smiles, and that seemed personified by one smile, in particularly.
Did you see it? After running back Jordan Todman caught a 21-yard, third-quarter touchdown pass from wide receiver Ace Sanders – yes, a touchdown pass from wide receiver Ace Sanders – Todman came off the field. One of the first players to greet him was Maurice Jones-Drew.
Jones-Drew – a three-time Pro Bowl selection and an eight-year veteran and a guy who could be forgiven for seeing the NFL through world-weary eyes, was smiling like a college kid when he greeted Todman.
When asked about the moment afterward, he was still smiling.
"We're having a good time, you know?" Jones-Drew said. "It's fun. When the business side gets into it, you forget about it. Gus is bringing that back. We're out there having a good time….
"The first eight weeks, it was crazy. We're losing by double digits and facing adversity. We've been able to turn this thing around and enjoy it."
You know what didn't get mentioned late Thursday in the locker room? Draft order.
And if you're among those worried about that, saying as you read this, "Whoa! What about the draft? Isn't this who 'winning' thing messing with the draft order?" here's a tip:
Forget your fears. Forget about the draft for now. There are more important things. If you've been around this team in recent weeks, you can feel them. You can feel the foundation forming, the belief building. If you were on the road with the team the past month, you saw the results.
On Thursday, at last, the home crowd got to see the same thing.
The team's not there yet. It's stating the obvious to say there remains a long way to go. Perhaps a long, long way.
But there's something else that should be just as obvious now – and that's that what's going on around the Jaguars is no fluke, and it's important. The foundation is being formed, and the culture that Bradley and General Manager David Caldwell wanted changed is pretty well on its way to being established.
The future looks bright, and the present is pretty fun, too. At last.
And isn't that how it's supposed to feel?