DENVER—They wouldn't admit it, but they knew it. The Jaguars knew their season was on the line Sunday at Invesco Field.
There's no denying the Jaguars saved their season with a 24-17 victory over the AFC West-leading Broncos. At 3-3, the Jaguars now ease into their bye week with a chance to get healthy for a run at the playoffs that'll begin with three consecutive games against teams that have a combined one win. The Jaguars have a chance to get hot; to get on a winning streak.
Oh yeah, baby, I like this kind of party. Had they lost, there would've been no party, only more misery.
"It was a must game; as big a game as we've had this year," Del Rio told reporters in his opening remarks, which are usually a little more from the gut than those toward the end of the conference when the coach's thinking has been hardened by the media's probes.
"Jack said it was a turning point type of game," quarterback David Garrard said, letting the cat sufficiently out of the bag.
Simply put, it's the kind of win that can propel this team to the postseason destiny for which it was predicted during the preseason hype. It's the kind of win the Jaguars scored in Tennessee last year, which launched that team to its first postseason win in eight years.
"If you had asked us before the season, we would not have wanted to be 3-3 and would've been upset if we were," Garrard added.
No, the Jaguars were not supposed to be 3-3. They were supposed to be something closer to 6-0 and leading the AFC South. Yeah, but it is what it is and the best the Jaguars can do now is find a way to overcome their less-than-desired start. Hey, it builds character, right?
"I'm not going to get overly dramatic. There have been other games we needed to win. They're all important. You know I believe that," Del Rio said when a reporter attempted to attach heightened significance to Sunday's win.
"We started in a little bit of a hole to start the season. We've fought our way back twice," Del Rio added. "We got our record even with a lot of football ahead of us."
Sunday's game marked the second time this season the Jaguars' doubters had their shovels poised to throw dirt on Del Rio's team, then had to toss the dirt aside. At 0-2 the Jaguars scored a season-saving win in Indianapolis and at 2-3 and coming off a heartbreaking home loss to the Steelers seven days previous, the Jaguars were facing the same kind of game in Denver.
So what did you think when the Broncos went right down the field on the first series of the game to take a frighteningly easy 7-0 lead? What did you think five plays later when Fred Taylor got whacked and fumbled the ball away to the Broncos near midfield? It looked bad for the team from Jacksonville, didn't it?
Never has the momentum of a game shifted more dramatically than it did on Sunday. Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler was passing the pants off the Jaguars in the first half, but a couple of silly fumbles by the Broncos cancelled a couple of the same by the Jaguars and Del Rio's team somehow found a way to take a 10-7 lead into the halftime locker room.
All of a sudden, the warrior mentality that defined last year's team resurfaced, as did its running game. The same running game that saw Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew combine for a mere 26 yards rushing against the Steelers plowed through the Broncos defense for 155 yards, including a 125-yard day by Jones-Drew.
"It gives us some momentum; get ready for Cleveland, heal up," Jones-Drew said of the win.
Simply put, it was a win that saved their season. They know it. We all know it.