All of a sudden, there is much about the Jaguars to cheer. Never mind the smallest crowd in franchise history; better days are here and even better days would seem to be ahead.
Coach Jack Del Rio's team raised its record to 4-9, and though their 27-0 victory was against a somewhat depleted Houston Texans team, it was no less a dominant performance by the Jags.
They more than tripled the Texans in first downs, total yardage and passing yardage, and held the ball more than 11 minutes longer than the visitors. The Jaguars committed no turnovers, allowed one sack, recorded three sacks of their own and dominated both lines of scrimmage in what was the team's most complete performance of the season.
"Nice to get a complete victory like that against a division opponent and here in front of our home fans (43,363)," Del Rio said.
The Texans were playing without starting quarterback David Carr and rookie running back sensation Domanick Davis. In their place were rookies Dave Ragone and Tony Hollings, and neither had a chance.
"Nothing is easy in this league. We were well-prepared and went out and made life tough for them," Del Rio said.
The blowout win avenged a final-play-of-the-game defeat to the Texans in week four that left the Jaguars at 0-4. Much, of course, has changed since then.
Actually, the change didn't really begin until the start of the second half of the season. The Jaguars are 3-2 since the midway point, and they've only allowed 56 points in those five games. Today's shutout win marked their first shutout since Dec. 3, 2000, and it's the first time the Texans have been blanked in their two years in the league.
"Guys are doing their assignments. I feel like I know the defense 10 times better than in the first game," middle linebacker Mike Peterson said.
"I've matured more this year than I did last year," defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said. "This year I'm playing at a higher level."
Stroud also attributed the Jaguars' success on defense to a more aggressive scheme. "We don't read as much. We're attacking more. That might have something to do with it," he added.
Offensively, the Jaguars are relying less on rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich and more on veteran running back Fred Taylor, who delivered 163 yards rushing and a touchdown in the win over Houston. Taylor broke loose on a 62-yard run in the second half.
"My line's in a zone. The coaches are calling a good game. We're all gelling. Just keep it going and maybe it'll carry over into next year," said Taylor, who is at 1,200 yards rushing through 13 games of this season. Taylor's single-season best is 1,399 in 2000.
Leftwich began the day with a 32-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jimmy Smith. What was most impressive about the play was that Leftwich and Smith coordinated a route adjustment that produced the score.
"We had a different route called. He has the ability to make those things go. Mark (Brunell) and I had that. Now he does," Smith said of Leftwich, who made his 10th career start.
"I think it could have been better," Leftwich said of his performance, which included 18 completions in 29 attempts for 194 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a 93.2 passer rating. "I missed some throws out there, but as a team we found a way to win the game. We won all three phases of the game today," Leftwich added.
Defensive end Tony Brackens' two sacks made him the defensive star. Brackens has six sacks for the season and is nearing a major incentive bonus for 10 sacks this season.
"I felt early on it was a trial and error deal," Brackens said of the Jaguars' development in Del Rio's defensive scheme. "We found a formula and it's starting to work for us."
Brackens missed nearly all of training camp as he recovered from knee surgery. There was considerable doubt about Brackens' ability to stay on the field this season, but he's been in the starting lineup for all 13 games.
"I got three more (games) to make," he said, "which is one of the things I set out to do. Each week I don't get it banged up or hurt I feel a little better."
And each week the Jaguars notch another victory and improve their overall performance they, likewise, feel better about how they might finish this season and where that might lead them.
"We feel like a family. We're all in this together," Smith said in describing the difference between now and earlier in the year.