JACKSONVILLE – Boy, did they need this.
But you know what? Don't let how much the Jaguars needed Sunday' 24-6 victory over the Cleveland Browns overshadow something as important.
The Jaguars deserved this one, too.
This one was earned.
The Jaguars earned it on Sunday, and they earned it the last few weeks when they kept saying they were getting closer and few outside their locker room believed it. So, after the Jaguars turned 0-6 into 1-6 by running – yes, we said "running" – away from the Browns in the second half, Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley did something unusual.
He broke character.
Bradley is all about mantras and isms, and one of those isms is to not revel in accomplishment. And while the cynical among Jaguars followers could make the point that the Jaguars hadn't accomplished much this season, Sunday was every bit an accomplishment.
So, you know what the Jaguars did at 'Bank around 4:30 Sunday?
They celebrated and basked – yeah, they reveled – and it was OK with the head coach.
"We reveled in it today," he said, smiling and adding, "I told them, 'Let's revel for 24 hours. Let's have fun with it.' I am just so excited for our guys. We see it every day. People come in here and say, 'I can't believe their attitude and how positive they are and how they go about it,' and then to see it come together.
"We said something good is about to happen and they believed it. It's good."
The Jaguars did say something good was about to happen. They said it all season, but started saying it with a lot more feeling behind it the last few weeks.
The first three games of the season were a mess by any measure, but since rookie quarterback Blake Bortles entered the lineup this season had had a different feel. It was more competitive. The games were closer. And it wasn't just Bortles' presence.
In fact, most of what had changed in recent weeks was on the other side of the ball. A defense that had struggled mightily in the first four games hasn't the last three weeks. The unit has held its last three opponents under 20 points.
That hasn't happened since 2007.
The Jaguars – and particularly the defense – had improved since Bortles entered the lineup, but at 0-6, improvement is hard to see, and that's what made Jaguars 24, Browns 6 special to these players.
They had believed and Sunday proved it in a big way.
"It's huge for us also that it happened at home," defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks said. "It's better that it happened in front of our fans to show, 'You've been hearing us talk, but we're still striving to get better. We're doing the same things we've been doing,' but it's good that it came in front of our fans and it came the way that it did."
And did those fans appreciate it? No doubt.
There were plays in the fourth quarter, with the game still in doubt, that the crowd was loud. Really loud. And at the end of the game, with the game long since decided …
"Two minutes left, we've got the game sealed, and, the stadium is still packed," Marks said. "That's huge for us, huge for the whole organization. It's great to show people we are working. We're still in this. We're still going out there playing with the same mentality we showed the first snap of the season. Nothing has changed. Nobody has bought out of what we're trying to do."
We'll pause here for perspective. The Jaguars, of course, are still 1-6, and 1-6 is not good. Sunday's game wasn't perfect, either. The Browns played poorly at times, and made some odd decisions – going for it on fourth down late in the first half rather than kicking a field goal, fielding a punt that became a muff on their own 2 – to give the Jaguars a point-blank touchdown.
But you know what? So what? The Jaguars on Sunday won a game, and they won in dominant defensive fashion against a team that had been playing very well offensively. They won on a day when rookie quarterback Blake Bortles played the worst game of his young career. They won by running the football and by stopping one of the game's best rushing attacks…neither of which they could expect to do in any of their first six games.
They won a game that for the first half easily could have gotten away from them, and that maybe would have gotten away from them early in the season. The Jaguars trailed 6-0 in the second quarter, and it could have been worse.
But then Bortles turned in his best three plays of the game, and series ended with a sharp pass to rookie Allen Robinson for a 31-yard, go-ahead touchdown. The Jaguars took a 10-6 lead early in the second half a few plays after rookie linebacker Telvin Smith's sack fumble, and the Jaguars' offense took full advantage of two point-blank situations in the fourth quarter.
If it wasn't the prettiest victory in EverBank Field history, but on Sunday beauty was in the eye of the beholder and the Jaguars judged it to be gorgeous. This was a needed victory, and an impressive one.
The Browns were a team the rest of the NFL was beginning to talk about, to admire, which makes this victory all the more impressive. They beat them at the very game they used to smoke the Steelers last Sunday.
When you do that, you can revel. For 24 hours, anyway.