JACKSONVILLE – This was what this team needed.
And yes, we're talking about the Jaguars' 31-24 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the third game of the 2013 preseason at EverBank Field Saturday night.
Because remember: this is the NFL, and this is preseason, so you have to break things down a little differently – actually, a whole lot differently – than you would a regular-season game. So, forget the final score. Forget, too, the fourth quarter. Forget how the depth struggled for the third consecutive preseason game and forget the lost lead.
Forget it all and remember this:
The Jaguars' offense played well early – really, really well in spots – for a second consecutive week. The defense created turnovers. Plays were made. As a whole, the Jaguars did enough to be leading at halftime and to extend that lead shortly thereafter.
What happened after that might matter a little, but what matters is what happened when the starters played in the first two and a half quarters.
That's what matters in Preseason Week 3.
You want to play well. You want to be leading when the starters leave.
You want to feel good heading home.
"I think we feel pretty good in terms of the progress we've made as a team," Jaguars guard Uche Nwaneri said.
That's how the Jaguars should feel. Not great. Not ecstatic. Not satisfied.
What they should feel is good, because in the preseason 0-3 isn't as big a deal as showing things that can translate to the regular season, and there's reason for the Jaguars to feel OK about the preseason, particularly the last two weeks.
The Jaguars led the Jets 13-10 at halftime last week. They led the Eagles 24-16 in the third quarter Sunday night.
Those two scores are significant because they represent the score when the starters/front-line players played.
That doesn't mean the Jaguars are going to the Super Bowl. And it doesn't mean they even would have won the games had the starters remained. And there's also no question the depth on this team needs to improve, which is why the coming days and weeks likely will feature a lot of coming and going. But what you look for in preseason is how your starters are playing, and in the last two games, the starters have played well enough to be competitive and even to lead before leaving.
That's particularly true of the offense. Remember? The offense? That group that had fans and ready to riot when Blaine Gabbert struggled in the first quarter of the preseason opener two weeks ago?
That same group has looked downright . . . well, good . . . the last two weeks.
With Gabbert in the game against the Jets last week, the Jaguars drove for two scores, and Gabbert threw for 165 yards and a touchdown.
The first-team offense played into the third quarter Saturday. Henne, playing because Gabbert is out the rest of the preseason with a thumb injury, threw two touchdown passes, including a 17-yarder to Justin Blackmon, who looked very, very good for a second consecutive preseason game.
In the second quarter, running back Jordan Todman ran 63 yards for a touchdown, and when Henne capped a 14-play, 80-yard drive to open the second half with an eight-yard pass to tight end Allen Reisner, the Jaguars led 24-16.
"We had a couple of miscues, but overall, we fought adversity and put the ball in the end zone," Henne said. "It's been efficient. That's how it has to be. When it gets cut down to 53 guys, those are the guys who are going to be out there. Being out there in the quarterback position, those guys make you smile out there."
Indeed, with the starters probably having done most of what they're going to do in the preseason, there does seem more reason for the offense to smile than in recent memory. Cecil Shorts III. Blackmon. Maurice Jones-Drew. Marcedes Lewis. Ace Sanders. Denard Robinson. Even Reisner and Todman . . .
You would be hard-pressed to find a name there coaches don't feel good about.
No one's saying the Jaguars are going to lead the league in total offense, or that the team's in a perfect situation entering the preseason finale. The pass rush has been inconsistent at best and it must improve or there are going to be more games when the quarterback has the time that Michael Vick had too often Saturday.
And there remains the very real question of how many injuries the Jaguars can sustain. Guard Will Rackley sustained an ankle injury Saturday, and while it's not thought to be long-term, this is not a team that will easily withstand multiple injuries at a position and maintain a high level.
That's not unexpected. This is a team in the first year of a building process, a team that largely overturned its roster in the offseason, and is therefore still looking for answers as the regular-season approaches. It has been said often this is a season as much about the long-term than the short-term.
But on Saturday, there were more good signs for the short-term, particularly for an offense that hasn't had good signs in a long time. There were a lot of things to feel good about.
And forgetting a meaningless loss, that's just what this team needed.