JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser's five takeaways from the Jaguars' 51-16 victory over the Indianapolis Colts at EverBank Field on Sunday
1.Big-time response.We begin this game-day takeaways with Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley, who spoke after Sunday's game of being grateful to players. Why grateful? Jaguars players and coaches took perhaps more criticism this past week than at any point during a difficult three seasons of rebuilding under Bradley. A 42-39 loss to Tennessee last Sunday led to Bradley and the coaching staff – particularly defensive coordinator Bob Babich – being criticized and their futures questioned. Bradley didn't discuss those topics specifically Sunday, but after the Jaguars held the Colts' offense without a touchdown, he made it a point praised Babich's play-calling. Bradley also talked Sunday of his appreciation for the players' approach in the wake of back-to-back losses that dropped them two games out of the AFC South. Far from quitting on the season, the Jaguars on Thursday had what Bradley called one of the season's most competitive practices – and the players' dedication this week clearly touched Bradley. "I told them in the locker room I'm feeling more grateful more than anything, just because it is tough what we went through last week to come in and kind of get punched," he said. "The way they responded and the way they practiced with the week of practice that we had and the coaching staff … it was a tough week. … Now we go back to work."
2.Ch-ch-changes.It's difficult to say how much defensive changes influenced Sunday's outcome. But there's no question the Jaguars' defensive staff altered things in the wake of the loss to Tennessee last week. One change: inserting cornerback Nick Marshall into the lineup at nickel over Dwayne Gratz and Demetrius McCray, with Gratz playing sparingly on defense Sunday and McCray – who started 12 games last season – being deactivated before the game. The Jaguars also played Leo defensive end Chris Smith extensively at the Leo position after he had been deactivated in eight of last eight games. Smith played in place of injured Ryan Davis, but Bradley had said throughout the week Smith would play whatever the health of the other Leos. Smith did not have a sack, but the Leo position had perhaps its biggest impact of the season with Andre Branch and Chris Clemons combining for three sacks. Branch's sack/fumble/fumble recovery for a 49-yard touchdown in the first half was perhaps the game's key play. "We don't listen to the outside noise," Branch said afterward. "We know what we can do."
3.Overcoming adversity.Remember when the Jaguars couldn't overcome adversity? It wasn't that long ago a key mistake or bad series all-but ended the Jaguars' chances. In the regular-season opener, for example, the Jaguars trailed Carolina 10-9 before cornerback Josh Norman returned an interception off Blake Bortles for a touchdown. The Jaguars never crossed midfield in five ensuing possession in that game. On Sunday, the Jaguars trailed the Colts 13-3 after Colts defensive end Robert Mathis recovered a botched snap between center Stefen Wisniewksi and Bortles in the end zone late in the first half. Jacksonville outscored Indianapolis 48-3 after that. "I don't know that anything worse could have happened in the first half than what did," guard Zane Beadles said. "The defense did a great job keeping us in it. There was never any wavering. We just came in here (the locker room) and said, 'It doesn't matter what has happened. It matters what happens from here on. As the year has gone on we've definitely built more confidence on offense and as a team in general."
Gameday images from the Jaguars Week 14 matchup against the Colts.
4.Run to win.The Jaguars' offensive turnaround Sunday was remarkable. After failing to score an offensive touchdown in the first half, they scored five in the second half with quarterback Blake Bortles throwing three touchdown passes and running for another and running back Denard Robinson running for a touchdown. Bortles completed 16 of 30 passes for 250 yards and did not throw an interception for a second consecutive game, but as big a storyline was the run offense. The Jaguars rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries Sunday, a 5.3-yards-per carry average. Starter T.J. Yeldon rushed for 62 yards on 11 carries before sustaining a sprained knee and Robinson rushed for 75 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. "It's been a thing where we've been working on it all season long," Beadles said. "You try to figure out what as a team you're good at – not only up front but what the running backs like and how to get the tight ends involved. It's a process and it has been starting to come together. We had another good showing today."
5.Run to daylight.If it wasn't obvious before, it is now: Rashad Greene is an impact player as a punt returner. Greene, a fifth-round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, on Sunday turned in his second game-altering punt return in the last four games. In the Jaguars' 19-13 victory over Tennessee on November 19, Greene's 63-yard punt return set up the go-ahead score. On Sunday, his 73-yard punt return for a touchdown gave the Jaguars a 23-13 lead early in the second half. That was the Jaguars' third touchdown in less than four and a half minutes including Branch's 49-yard fumble return and an 80-yard touchdown reception by Allen Hurns. It came when Greene ran through a gaping hole in the Colts' return coverage. "That was credit to the return team all the way," Greene said with a smile. "That was set up perfectly for me. Usually, the returner has to make the first guy miss. After I made my first cut, I knew it was a touchdown. We just did it as a unit. When it opened up, I was like, 'There ain't nobody catching me.'' Greene, who missed eight games with a thumb injury, has returned 11 punts in four games for a 20.9-yard average.