DENVER, Colo. – Head Coach Doug Marrone still believed.
This was at halftime Sunday, and running back Leonard Fournette along with the rest of the Jaguars' offense still believed, too – that not only would they win, but that they would so by running.
"I told everyone that we're not going to panic," Marrone said.
Score one for keeping the faith.
Fournette, the Jaguars' third-year running back, rushed for 190 of his career-high 225 yards in the second half and the Jaguars rushed for 229 of their 269 team rushing yards in the second half. The effort helped the Jaguars rally from a 17-6 halftime deficit for a 26-24 victory over the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High Sunday afternoon.
"I'm happy," Fournette said. "It's just one start. We have plenty more games to go."
Marrone said he told the team at halftime he knew they could run, and that he wanted to treat the game like it was 0-0 rather than a double-digit deficit.
What followed was a 16-play drive that opened the second half, consumed 10:34 and ended with a touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II to running back Ryquell Armstead. Fournette rushed 10 times for 49 yards on the drive.
"We beat them up pretty much when we were running the football, so you have to give a little credit up there," Marrone said of the offensive line.
The 269 yards were the second-most rushing yards in a single game in franchise history, second only to the 375 yards they gained in a December 2006 44-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
"It's huge," Minshew said of the running game. "That's what won us the game."
Sunday's performance came after a week in which Marrone talked multiple times about the offensive line needing to do a better job in front of Fournette. The No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, Fournette during the week admitted being frustrated early in the season, and said he believed the running offense was close to a breakthrough.
He said he believed the same throughout the first half Sunday, and the breakthrough came early in the second half when Fournette broke through a hole in the line for an 81-yard gain.
"The line did their part and my job is to make one guy miss then score the ball," Fournette said.
Fournette finished 12 yards short of scoring on the play, but Minshew completed an 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end James O'Shaughnessy to complete the drive and what had been a 17-6 Broncos halftime lead had become a 20-17 Jaguars lead.
The Jaguars continued to run effectively thereafter, with Armstead sharing time with Fournette in the second half and rushing eight times for 42 yards.
"That was awesome," Jaguars center Brandon Linder said. "That was a great game and we're proud of that. That's what we wanted to do from the get-go. That's just 11 guys doing their job, credit to Leonard for rushing the ball and all of the guys for putting a head on a hat and opening up some holes. We talked about having a big day and that's what we went out and did."
A play that shouldn't be lost Sunday came late in the second quarter, when safety Ronnie Harrison intercepted Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco. The Broncos led 17-3 just after the two-minute warning and had scored on their previous possession. Denver moved to the Jaguars 33 before Harrison intercepted Flacco and returned it to the Broncos 43. The Jaguars had an apparent touchdown pass from Minshew to wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. negated four plays later, but Josh Lambo's 40-yard field goal capped the drive to make it 17-6, Broncos, at halftime. "It changed the momentum," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "They were having their way with us for a while. They had a great game plan and were executing really well. Ronnie made a play and changed the whole momentum. We went to halftime feeling pretty good. We knew we just had to keep playing football."
Fournette on Minshew: "He's tougher than what you think. I don't know if the moustache gives him power or whatever he got going on, but he's playing his part."
Marrone: "You're losing at halftime and you come back and take the lead. You lose the lead with a 1:28 left and you're able to come back and score and win again. That's hard to do, especially in a place like Denver."
Minshew on the 11-point halftime deficit: "I think we just weren't going to freak out. We were down 11 and we got some points right before half. That was huge. We knew we were going to get the ball back. I think that belief and/or doubt in who we can be is huge."
Campbell on Minshew: "He never surprises me. He is one of those guys where you know he can do everything. He has great instincts and is very magical."