ATLANTA – So, that's it.
There weren't three horns at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta late Thursday, but when the game clock reached 0:00 and ended a 20-16 victory over the Falcons, the preliminaries were just about over and the regular season was significantly closer.
There's still a bit to be done. The Jaguars will trim from 75 players to 53 this weekend —an emotional process that should start Friday – and then you can look for comings, goings and more transactions throughout the weekend.
That's the roster-management stuff, the keeping-competition-going stuff, and that's all crucial for this franchise right now.
But this editorial, this wrapping-up of the 2013 preseason/training camp and offseason, isn't about what's to come in the next few days as much as determining just where the Jaguars are now, nine or so days before the regular-season opener.
The Jaguars will play host to the Kansas City Chiefs September 8.
That game at EverBank Field on what figures to be a sunny, optimistic day on the banks of the St. Johns River, will be the regular-season debut of Head Coach Gus Bradley, the debut of General Manager David Caldwell and the Jaguars debut of a whole lot of new players on this overturned roster.
So, where do the Jaguars stand as that game approaches?
Where they want to be, or at least as close as could be expected right now.
"As a group, we're very confident in our ability to go out and play well," wide receiver Cecil Shorts III said. "Preseason – no offense, but a lot of players who play aren't going to be here. The ones and some of the twos played very well this preseason and it showed. I definitely feel like as a team we're very confident."
Forget the 1-3 preseason record. Record doesn't matter in the preseason; performance and feel do, and this team showed its starters can compete against other starters, and that's something they definitely wanted to see in the preseason.
"I felt like every preseason game as a team (in the preseason) we got better," Bradley said.
They also stayed relatively healthy. That was a goal, too, and was why Paul Posluszny, Maurice Jones-Drew, Roy Miller and Brad Meester didn't play Thursday. That was why, too, the starters were in and out quickly.
The Jaguars aren't "there" yet, not if "there" means a finished roster, or a deep team that can withstand injuries and roll through long stretches of a challenging schedule.
But you know what? That's OK. This is the first year of a rebuild, and the win-now expectations of a fan base aside, the Jaguars don't expect to be "there" as the 2013 season opens.
Here's where they are:
They're faster. They're quicker. No doubt about that, with rookies Denard Robinson and Ace Sanders adding quickness and the accompanying wrinkles to Jedd Fisch's offense. And speaking of Fisch . . .
They're more creative.
Fisch, the Jaguars' first-year offensive coordinator, hasn't shown every nuance in four preseason games. He would be silly if he did. He has shown the ability to get the ball in the playmakers' hands. The team appears to have a chance to function offensively at a higher level than in recent seasons.
That should mean a more competitive team throughout a larger stretch of the season.
Are the Jaguars better than last season?
That's the biggest question, and the truth is we don't yet know. They look better. The offensive line looks better. The wide receivers look better, certainly when wide receiver Justin Blackmon returns in Week 5. They look deeper at running back, with Jordan Todman seemingly an upgrade over last season's reserves and Justin Forsett expected to add more speed when he returns from a toe injury.
Judging by the preseason, the defense seems behind the offense, expected for a team with as many as six new defensive starters. The Jaguars entered the preseason looking for pass rush, and looking to get a young secondary experience. They're still looking for the former, and likely will continue looking early in the season. And as for the young secondary . . . well, don't expect perfection from that group, certainly.
But if it's perfection you want, you've come to the wrong place – the wrong season, anyway.
This team won't be perfect. There will be struggles. We knew that before, and the preseason confirmed it. Depth showed itself to be a problem throughout the preseason, and while many of the players who contributed to difficult preseason second halves will be gone, finding depth figures to remain an issue.
That's OK, too. It's part of a building process that began in February and figures to continue for the next few offseasons.
It will continue in the coming weeks and months, too, but the difference is what happens then will be real. It will matter. That's why there was an excitement as the Jaguars left the Georgia Dome Thursday. There's an awareness that this team is still young and still must grow. But as much, there's an awareness that while that build goes on there is a regular season to play.
"We looked better each week," Shorts said. "I'm excited about this coming week against Kansas City, to see how we do for four quarters."
That's the real stuff, and it's at hand. At long last. Where to the Jaguars stand at it approaches?
We'll find out soon enough, because the preliminaries are now over.
Three horns. Let's see what's next.