EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – This was just the start, but goodness … what a start.
That's not to say Jets 17, Jaguars 13 was the perfect start to this much-anticipated Jaguars 2016 season. There were some hurtful hiccups defensively and on special teams – and a lot more penalties than you ever want to see.
In other words it was a preseason opener – and all that that implies.
So, no, this wasn't greatness that we saw at MetLife Stadium Thursday night. It wasn't a finished product, and it wasn't even a Regular Season Week 1 product. There were reasons for hope and reasons for concern. There were things that looked good and things that looked … um, not so good.
But you take your biggest impression from preseason games from what happens early, and the Jaguars – particularly on offense – looked darned good early Thursday.
"I thought it was a good start, for sure," quarterback Blake Bortles said.
Indeed it was – for Bortles and the first-team offense in particular.
And overall, if you were watching Thursday's game for a gauge for just where this team is and where it might be headed (and what other reason, after all, to watch a Preseason Opener?) you saw a lot more reasons for optimism than concern: *You saw Bortles look good. Really good. That was important because Bortles remains the absolute No. 1 storyline around this team. He must be efficient. He must transform from a quarterback with potential to a winning, clutch quarterback. A preseason opener doesn't give all that much insight into those overarching career goals. Still, Bortles went 6 of 7 in two series for 105 yards with no interceptions. His lone incompletion? A catchable would-be touchdown to tight end Julius Thomas. Overall, Bortles' performance sure looked like that of a player capable of taking a necessary step this season.
*You saw Allen Robinson look really good – like, phenomenally good. Robinson, the team's lone Pro Bowl selection, had been the Jaguars' standout offensive player in training camp. What you saw Thursday was how he had looked the past week and a half. Winning 50-50 balls has become almost routine for him – and it has to be considered someone on which this offense can rely. He appears on his way to elite, All-Pro status. He gives the Jaguars a very difficult weapon to defend.
*You saw improvement from the running game. The Jaguars spent the offseason talking about the need to improve this area. Offseason free-agent signee Chris Ivory rushed for 26 yards and a touchdown on six carries and second-year veteran T.J. Yeldon rushed for 24 yards on four carries. For the first two series of the game, the running game was exactly what the Jaguars need it to be this season. Effective in outside zone. Effective in the red zone. The regular season is the only real gauge for this area, but so far, so good.
That's three areas, all offense. So, what of the defense?
Call that area an incomplete. The first unit allowed a touchdown at the beginning of the second quarter after a pair of long receptions in the middle of the field. But the defense's other touchdown allowed came after an 84-yard kickoff return in the second quarter.
Overall, the Jaguars' defense allowed five first downs and 114 total yards in the first half. The unit also registered an early get-off-the-field-on-third-down sack by rookie defensive end Yannick Ngakoue in the first quarter.
Get-off-the-field sacks were a rarity for this team last season. They're a necessity this season. Seeing one early was a wonderful sight for this team. Defensive players weren't thrilled with the performance, but considering they were playing without Jalen Ramsey and without Tashaun Gipson – no reason to panic.
So, what did we see overall Thursday? We saw an offense that looked like it has a chance to become the efficient unit it needs to become. We saw a quarterback who looked as good as possible in limited action.
Images from the Jaguars first preseason game against the Jets.
We saw a team that still needs to clean up special teams, an area that allowed two long kickoff returns in the first half. We saw a team that needs to commit fewer penalties because 12 for 132 is to many no matter who is doing the committing. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley wasn't happy with the penalties part afterward and he really wasn't all that happy overall. He rightfully said there was a lot of work to be done in a lot of areas. That's OK. That's to be expected in a preseason opener.
It's OK, too, because what we mostly saw on Thursday was a team that clearly has made progress from the past few preseasons. The talent and potential is striking, and the areas that must improve can improve. Overall, we saw a team that should improve – not just in the long term, but over the next few weeks as the September 11 opener against Green Bay approaches.
So, yeah, Thursday was a preseason opener – and all that that implies.
But if you were looking for a good start … goodness, was this it.