All of the indicators were bad. They were coming off a disheartening loss. They were on a short week. They were without their starting quarterback and they were heading into the first of three consecutive road games.
Who among us expected the Jaguars to win this game? Come on, don't lie.
"That's what makes this win that much sweeter," middle linebacker Mike Peterson said following the Jaguars' 24-23 win at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday. "It seemed like everything was stacked against us."
Everything, in fact, was stacked against the Jaguars. Their backs were against the wall, especially following the results of Sunday's early games. Simply put, all of the wrong teams won, and that means the Jaguars had to win this game to maintain pace in the wild-card race.
What about the division title? Hey, forget about that. Focus on the wild-card race. Following Sunday's win, the Jaguars remain in the driver's seat.
Armed with a game plan that would've made Woody Hayes blush, the Jaguars started the game with 14 consecutive running plays. Scott Starks returned the opening kickoff, which marked the first time he's performed that function in his pro career.
Quinn Gray stepped under center as a starting quarterback for the first time in his career and veteran Aaron Glenn made his first start at cornerback this season in what was the first game he was even active.
"It'll definitely bring you closer," Peterson said of the kind of scratch-and-claw victory the Jaguars claimed over the Bucs. "Usually you depend on a Rashean Mathis to make plays, but we depended on a Quinn Gray or a whoever."
In the end, it was Mathis who made the big play, knocking the ball out of Ike Hilliard's grasp as Hilliard attempted to pull in a pass from Jeff Garcia that would've certainly left the Bucs in position to kick the game-winner. Before Mathis made his big play, however, a whole bunch of bit-part guys made plays every bit as big as Mathis'.
Gray's performance certainly wasn't a statistical marvel. He threw just 16 times and completed just seven of those throws for a mere 100 yards, but he didn't throw an interception and he did throw the game-winner, an eight-yard alley-oop to wide receiver Matt Jones.
More importantly, Gray recognized the opportunity to make that play. The play from the bench was a run option that allowed Gray to switch to a throw if the defensive alignment called for it. As Gray surveyed the defense, he saw press, man coverage on Jones, then faked the hand-off and threw the fade for Jones.
Glenn accounted for a touchdown that staked the Jaguars to a 17-3 lead, when he stepped in front of a Garcia sideline route, intercepted the pass and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown.
"We knew they were going to run hitches. If I see something, I'm going to take my chance at it," Glenn said. "When my number is called, I'll always be ready."
Glenn's number was called because Brian Williams was sidelined by a hamstring injury. It was the game for which Glenn was specifically signed just prior to the start of the season.
"Everybody knew they had a job to do. We had guys in positions they hadn't ever played in the NFL. We had
Starks returning kicks. We gave it out all to help Quinn Gray get the win," defensive end Paul Spicer said.
Rookie punter Adam Podlesh did his part. Mired in somewhat of a punting slump, Podlesh boomed a 76-yarder out of the shadow of his own end zone in the fourth quarter, flipping field position in the Jaguars' favor. It was a punt that may have won the game for the Jaguars.
"It wasn't about what happened on Monday night," Spicer added, referring to the Jaguars' 29-7 loss to the Colts. "It was about getting that next win."
They did. The Jaguars are 5-2 and tied for the second-best start in franchise history. Most importantly, one-third of their three-game "road trip" has passed and Sunday's win in Tampa means the Jaguars will not fall below .500 before they return home.
"It was a huge win," Mathis said. "This shows a great deal of character."