Terrance Knighton knew.
And not only did the Jaguars' third-year defensive tackle know, he was hardly shy about telling anyone who would listen. Remember? In training camp?
Even early in the season, when things didn't always look good?
Always, it was Knighton saying the Jaguars were one of the NFL's best defenses – actually, that wasn't what Knighton said. Always, he said the Jaguars could be the best.
Knighton being Knighton – being a guy whose confidence is admirable and likeable if not always accurate – the idea might have seemed silly for a while.
It doesn't anymore.
Not now. Not after the last six quarters, and particularly not after a 12-7 victory Monday against the Baltimore Ravens. How memorable was this? How impressive? There are players on the Jaguars' defense who have been around really, really good defense and really, really bad defense, and those guys who have been around for both stood in the locker room late Monday and talked about a performance that ranked with the best of Jaguars times.
"The only thing that was missing was the goose egg," eight-year veteran cornerback Rashean Mathis said. "We definitely played 60 minutes on defense."
Mathis is a tenured guy, a player who played on the Jaguars teams in the middle of last decade, teams built on defenses with attitude and pride and brawn in the middle that intimidated opponents and powered their way to low-scoring, grinding wins.
Linebacker Daryl Smith was on those teams, too.
It has been a while, Smith said after Monday's victory, since the Jaguars have had a game like this – a victory so emotional and a defensive performance, so . . . so . . .
Well, dominant. Overpowering. Even stunningly so.
The Ravens had nine possessions in the first half. They did not have a first down.
And that was far from the only memorable statistic Monday when discussing the Jaguars' defense. They allowed 148 total yards. They allowed 16 yards in the first half. They held Joe Flacco to a 61.0 passer rating.
They held Ravens running back Ray Rice to 28 yards on eight carries.
This was the same Ray Rice who wanted to use Monday night's game to show the world he was better than Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
Rice will have to wait until the next meeting to do that. The Jaguars' defense wasn't the only reason that's true. Another reason was Jones-Drew turned in a performance that may not be remembered as one of the best of his Jaguars career but may in fact be remembered incorrectly.
Jones-Drew rushed for 105 yards on 30 carries. His longest run was 12 yards. He also fumbled three times, but you know what? So what?
Jones-Drew won't like the fumbles, and he won't like particularly that he lost one on the Ravens 1 in the first half, but what he did was grind and pound on a defense that many believe rivals some of Baltimore's best defenses of the last decade. A lot of teams don't try to run on Baltimore. A lot that do try can't, and plenty more give up quickly.
The Jaguars never gave up, and by the fourth quarter the Jaguars' offensive line and Jones-Drew – and even Deji Karim – were doing the sort of pile-moving that doesn't happen often against Baltimore.
That pile-moving wasn't happening against the Jaguars' defense, and for the most part, moving of any kind didn't, either. Not in the first half, and not really in the second, either.
The Ravens moved a bit in the second half. You don't hold NFL teams without a first down for an entire game, and the Ravens got 11 in the second half. Flacco moved Baltimore 90 yards on a 13-play, 3:20 drive that pulled the Ravens to within two, 9-7, with 2:02 remaining.
That conjured up images of Carolina and Cincinnati, Jaguars would-be, could-have-been victories that now stand as what-if losses, but on Monday night, there were no would-haves. Instead, the Jaguars turned the field position of a failed Ravens onside kick into kicker Josh Scobee's third 50-plus field goal of the night, and with the Jaguars leading 12-7, the Jaguars did what they too often this season have not done.
They made the big late stop when it was needed, with safety Drew Coleman baiting Flacco into a throw, then stepping in front of tight end Ed Dickson in fitting, text-book fashion for an interception that not only clinched a much-needed victory, it gave Knighton a reason to smile. Really, really smile.
"All week, it's been Ravens defense this, Ravens defense that," he said. "That worked to our advantage. That's definitely something we honed in on all week – that people don't respect our defense, saying we're simple or, 'We don't do this and we don't do that – don't take chances.'
"We proved we're one of the best in the league. It felt good to do it on a national stage and get a W."
All year, even through the Jaguars' losing streak, the players and coaches have believed they were better than their record, and believed they were closer to being very good than many believed. Whether that's true remains to be seen, but during that time, Knighton has been saying the Jaguars' defense was good – very good – maybe as good as any team.
That seemed a bit of a stretch six quarters ago. At halftime six quarters ago, the Jaguars had allowed 315 yards in an ugly first two quarters to Pittsburgh.
But in the last six quarters, the Jaguars have allowed 203 total yards and a touchdown, and have played some of the best defense that they have played in several seasons.
And suddenly, Knighton's notion doesn't seem as silly as it once did.
In fact, it doesn't seem silly at all.