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View from the O-Zone: A good start


FOXBORO, Mass. – Win or lose, it was a preseason opener – and all that that implies. Still …

This was a good start. There was no denying that.

The Jaguars beat the New England Patriots, 31-24, on Thursday night in the 2017 preseason opener at Gillette Stadium. It was very much a preseason game, and while it was over the defending Super Bowl champions, the victory came in a game without the player who may be the game's best: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

Still, it was a victory – and winning is the buzzword around this new Jaguars regime run by Head Coach Doug Marrone and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin.

Yes, winning matters. And that meant Thursday mattered.

There was no denying that.

Images from the first preseason game as the Jaguars faced off with the Patriots.

"With us, everything is about winning," Jaguars veteran weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith said. "This was most definitely a good showing for the team all around. No matter who's on the field, we must play to our standard, to our level. That's why this was a good all-around outcome for the team."

Now this:

No one around the Jaguars talked about this like a regular-season victory. Marrone said it was good to win because winning is an emphasis, but made clear he still felt Thursday as he had felt after three joint practices with the Patriots this week – that the Jaguars "have a long way to go."

That's  true – and it's just as true that because this was the first time the Jaguars have played anything close to a real a real game in seven months, conclusions are going to be drawn. And reactions are sure to be extreme.

There will be joy because victory is sweet under any circumstance. There will be worry because that's what fans, coaches and all who follow teams do – and given a few early plays, there even could be some elation.  There will be hope and criticism and maybe even a little angst and euphoria. It's early, but that won't stop it from happening.

So, the inevitable questions from Thursday:

*How did the Jaguars' starters' do? That's always a major preseason question – more important than the final score. The Jaguars' starting offense got three points – with some encouraging play from the special teams and some really encouraging running from rookie running back Leonard Fournette.

*How did quarterback Blake Bortles do? That will be a major question for the Jaguars until he makes it not a question. Bortles on two series competed three of five passes for 15 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He wasn't great. He wasn't bad. There wasn't time for great or bad.

There were other issues Thursday, and there were good things. There were positives in special teams, and hope in the pass rush in the form of ascending star Yannick Ngakoue.

And Fournette?

Well, if you hadn't been paying attention to training camp, the rookie No. 4 overall selection in the 2017 NFL Draft has looked the part the last few weeks. That's good news for this franchise.

Better news was that he looked the part again Thursday. He rushed for 31 yards on nine carries, but had an eight-yard, pound-and-ground fourth-down run in the first quarter that was a tone-setting play for an offense that wants to run. He also had a one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

It wasn't a head-turning performance for Fournette, but it was sure cause for optimism.

That last sentence can be applied to the Jaguars' performance Thursday overall. There wasn't cause for cartwheels, because preseason victories aren't cause for those. But there sure was improvement for this team compared to the dual practices this week.

The running game showed signs of life. Wide receiver Dede Westbrook used his speed to get loose for a long touchdown in the second half, another flash after a training camp full of them for the fourth-round draft selection.

And speaking of speed,  didn't this team just look faster on Thursday?

There was wide receiver Keelan Cole, getting behind the defense for a 97-yard first-half touchdown reception. And there was running back Corey Grant, getting loose for a 79-yard second-half touchdown run.

This wasn't a night of perfection for the Jaguars. Not even close. And a major takeaway after a week against the defending Super Bowl champions is that Marrone is right – that this team has a lot of work to do. That was going to be true whatever Thursday's outcome.

Still, Thursday was a better showing than the dual practices, and while there will be a lot of angst and worry after Thursday, there might be some joy and hope mixed in, too. Thursday's performance if nothing else merited that.

So, while this indeed was a preseason opener and all that that implies, it absolutely was a good start. There was no denying that.

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