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A view from the O-Zone: Reason to smile


JACKSONVILLE – What this will mean is anyone's guess.

That's because as exhilarating and unlikely and thrilling and bizarre and uplifting and just, plain fun – that's right, folks, this one was fun -- as the Jaguars' come-from-behind, can't-believe-what-we-just-saw victory over New York Giants Sunday may have been, it was after all just one game.

Then again, it could be something really, really critical.

It could be memorable, too, and the reason is it was the first come-from-behind victory for Jaguars rookie quarterback Blake Bortles.

Whatever it ends up being, what we do know about Jaguars 25, Giants 24, is this:

It was fun. A whole lot of fun.

It was fun for the Jaguars.

It was really fun for a rookie quarterback who had struggled in recent weeks.

"It's kind of a point of emphasis each week: 'Let's go play free and have fun,''' Bortles said after he passed for 39 yards and ran for 31 more on a 55-yard drive to set up kicker Josh Scobee's 43-yard game-winning field goal with :28 remaining.

"That's the kind of guys we have, that want to go play fast. And personally, when I'm running around and doing zone-read and scrambling, I enjoy doing that. That's a big part of who I am and I have a lot of fun doing that."

Bortles smiled as he spoke, and he wasn't alone …

Marqise Lee smiled, and with reason. The rookie wide receiver caught a 30-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, and it was Lee's 22-yard catch and run of a slant from Bortles that got the Jaguars out of trouble early on the game-winning drive. Lee has struggled this season. On Sunday, he caught six passes for 75 fun, significant yards. If Lee needed a confidence builder, this may well be it.

Gus Bradley smiled, too. The Jaguars' head coach drew praise from players for not panicking at halftime, for simply telling the players what needed to be done. Players responded, and that may have been the most notable thing about Sunday. A 1-10 team … down 21-0 in the second quarter … playing as poorly as they have played as a group all season … Many NFL teams and players quit at that point. The Jaguars played hard, and a defense that could have quit found a way to play better. Significant.

You know who else was smiling?

Those defensive players – and again, with reason.  This is a unit that has played well most of the season. The group didn't play well in the first half. In fact, it played poorly, just as about every facet of the Jaguars played poorly in a half dominated by New York.

In the second half, the defense did what it has done more often than not this season. It delivered. In a big way. Four second-half sacks. Three takeaways. Most importantly, two second-half touchdowns. The first – a fumble recovery in the end zone by J.T. Thomas – got the Jaguars back in the game. The second – a 43-yard fumble return by Aaron Colvin – gave the Jaguars a 22-21 that no one in EverBank Field imagined possible in the first half.

"We understand we have a young offense," Marks said. "We have to understand we have to not only take the ball away like we did last week; we have to take the ball away and score on defense like we did this week."

Marks said the biggest reason for everyone around the Jaguars to smile may have been something the defense couldn't control, and that was the circumstances around the final drive.

"That was huge," Marks said. "We have so many guys in their first-or second year. To see them put a drive like that together when there's pressure, shows big growth."

The Jaguars took over at their 20 with 3:26 remaining. The Jaguars drove 55 yards in a little more than three minutes. Scratch that. They actually drove 70 yards, overcoming two penalties for 15 yards.

You know what Bortles did after each of those penalties? He made first-down converting plays. The first was the 22-yard slant to Lee, which came on 2nd-and-15 from the Jaguars 15 one play after a false start penalty on rookie Josh Wells. The next was a 20-yard run by Bortles on 2nd-and-15 one play after a holding penalty on second-year left tackle Luke Joeckel.

Those plays, that poise, that's what the Jaguars veterans have seen in Bortles all season. That is why they have put their trust in the kid, even when he's struggling and even when observers loudly voice doubts. To see it come to fruition …

Well, that was plenty reason to smile.

"He's a baller," Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis said of Bortles. "I'll ride with him any day. He's going to stay the beat, keep a smile on his face, figure out where he went wrong and try his best to correct it. As long as you have somebody like that controlling the game, you always have a shot."

What will Sunday mean? It is, of course, too early to tell. The Jaguars are, after all, 2-10, and this was a victory over a struggling Giants team. There is a long way to go for Bortles, for Bradley, for this version of the Jaguars. But if Lewis is right, and this is the first of many such comebacks for Bortles…

Well, if that's the case then Sunday may be one to remember for a long, long time.

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