JACKSONVILLE – There was football at the 'Bank, and that was good.
Yes, although what happened Thursday night downtown in Jacksonville won't be remembered in a few months – or even a few days – the Jaguars played against an opponent rather than against themselves. And they liked it. Quite a lot.
"It's awesome to get back out there; it feels good," defensive tackle Malik Jackson said.
That was as big a takeaway as any from the preseason opener Thursday night at TIAA Bank Field – that the long-awaited, much-anticipated Jaguars 2018 season at last had arrived. Win or lose against the New Orleans Saints, football was back – and that was welcome in a 24-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints that was impressive for the Jaguars regardless of the score.
"It's different – to finally get the chance to line up against someone else," Jaguars running back Corey Grant said. "You're in the stadium and the lights are on. It's always exciting even though it's just a preseason game."
And make no mistake:
Thursday wasn't just exciting for the Jaguars. It indeed was impressive.
Yes, even with the scoreboard showing a loss.
Drawing conclusions from any NFL preseason game is tricky, particularly in the first and last preseason games because many front-line guys don't play much – if at all. Conclusion drawing got particularly tricky for the Jaguars Thursday when they ruled out a slew of players before the game – including ends Calais Campbell, Taven Bryan and Dawuane Smoot, starting right tackle Jermey Parnell and wide receiver Keelan Cole.
Early indications from Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone were the injuries were about caution more than concern.
As for the game itself? Marrone said he was pleased with starting quarterback Blake Bortles – as he should have been. And he was pleased with backup Cody Kessler – again, as he should have been. Bortles looked about as good as he could have looked, and Kessler looked significantly improved from early in camp.
"We've been harping on the offense a little bit," Marrone said. "Sometimes in practice we've gotten off to slow starts, and we really want them to get off to a quick start and they pretty much were able to do that."
And the 79-yard, 15-play series to start the game? The one that chewed up the first 7:02.
Was there any question Marrone would like that?
"That's the type of football we're trying to play," he said
So, what did we see? What to take away?
We saw the new uniforms – team jerseys and white helmets. They look sharp and clean, and the overall look with the all-black helmets indeed is a classic.
We saw the starting offense play one series, looking about as good as it could possibly look. We saw Bortles look exactly as he has looked throughout the offseason and training camp – poised, confident, accurate, experienced.
We saw Kessler play two-and-a-half turnover free quarters, and we saw him lead scoring drives on three of four possessions in that span. That's a good sign the Jaguars needed to see Thursday.
We saw rookie wide receiver D.J. Chark make a play, and we saw wide receiver Dede Westbrook continue a good late July and August with a diving reception that set up the first-team touchdown.
We saw the running game work early despite the absence of right tackle Jermey Parnell and left guard Andrew Norwell. Those injuries aren't thought to be serious – another good sign.
We didn't see enough of the first-team defense to see much, but it's hard to imagine that group not being good – really, really good – Week 1.
And kicker Josh Lambo?
Does any Jaguars fan get tired of seeing him?
So, yeah … we saw some impressive stuff. The final score isn't nearly as important in the preseason as seeing things you like early, and there were absolutely things to like early against New Orleans Thursday.
So, yeah … seeing those things made Thursday a good night for those expecting big things from this Jaguars season. But the reality was whatever happened Thursday wasn't going to change that. And the events of Thursday weren't going to change the preseason narrative.
Whatever the final score on Thursday, this is a team that looks improved in the wake of last season's AFC South title and subsequent run to the AFC Championship Game. It has looked that way throughout the offseason, and it has continued to look that way in training camp.
This has the look of a team that believes it can be great and can't wait to show the world it's right in that self-assessment. It doesn't hurt that they did some things to verify that feeling on Thursday, but it wouldn't have changed that assessment had Thursday gone differently.
Thursday wasn't perfect, but there were enough positives to make it memorable night.
Yes, there was football at the 'Bank Thursday. And that was good.