JACKSONVILLE – This was one happy Christmas Eve.
Players, coaches, fans … yes, all involved enjoyed the Jaguars' 38-17 upset victory over the playoff-contending Tennessee Titans on a perfectly sunny, festive Christmas Eve – and when it was over, there was some real, live celebrating happening.
That was part of the mood at the 'Bank Saturday.
Jaguars interim head coach Doug Marrone perfectly and pointedly annunciated the other part.
"Make no mistake about it: this game wasn't about me – that's not the story at all," Marrone said following a dominant Jaguars performance at EverBank Field.
No, as Marrone saw it, there was another key part of the story.
Players saw it that way, too.
That part was former Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley, who was relieved of his duties last Sunday after the team's ninth consecutive loss, a franchise single-season record. Marrone talked this week of wanting to win Saturday for many reasons, but doing so for Bradley was absolutely among them.
Players had expressed the same desire.
The Jaguars did just that, and did so playing their most complete game of the season. Indeed, this was the sort of game players expected all season.
There was joy in the accomplishment, at least a shred of validation that they hadn't been wrong about how good they could be this season.
At the same, there was real disappointment that the effort came after Bradley's dismissal, and Marrone made clear what Bradley still meant to the organization.
"Gus Bradley was a major part of what we did today," Marrone said. "We weren't able to make some of the plays in the past that helped us to win this game today, but when you go in that locker room, it's not my team. It's Gus' Bradley's team. …"
So, the question …
Why now? Why in Week 15 and not in Weeks 1-14?
"I wish I knew," linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "Why not in Week 2? I don't know. That's very frustrating. Coach Marrone addressed it post-game – we're thinking about him [Bradley] all along, and Coach Bradley is an enormous part of this. You just wish we could have done this two months ago, where we finally played well in all three phases."
Perhaps not coincidentally it was quarterback Blake Bortles' best performance of the season. He completed 15 of his first 16 passes and did not throw an interception. He looked confident. He threw accurately. He told reporters afterward he perhaps had put pressure on himself before, and was able to exhale Saturday.
And indeed the Jaguars as a team looked like relaxed Saturday. They played loose, and got some of their best performances of the season from a bunch of players.
They got it from defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., who registered a devastating first-half sack on Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota and who also disrupted two other passes.
They got it from wide receiver Allen Robinson, who had 103 yards receiving in the first half and was more aggressive to the ball than he had been yet this season. He finished with nine receptions for a season-high 147 yards.
Whaddya know … when Bortles and Robinson come up big, the Jaguars aren't bad.
They also got a second consecutive phenomenal performance from cornerback Jalen Ramsey, whose Pick Six Touchdown with 5:17 remaining secured the victory.
Ramsey's big-time, folks – and he may be as good as any rookie in franchise history. He's on the way to elite, big-time status. Shoot, he may already be there.
But why all those performances Saturday? Why not before? While Bortles talked of exhaling, Posluszny said he didn't see a team as a whole that exhaled Saturday – anything but, in fact.
"If anything, it made things very real for a lot of people in this locker room who had never been a part of something like that before," Posluszny said. "You said, 'OK, this is your first taste of the business of the NFL. That made things very distinct where, 'If you don't perform – coach, player, it doesn't matter – you won't be here for very long.
"I think that really hit home for a lot of people who had very experienced anything like that before."
So, when asking the questions – why now? why not before? – we may never know.
What we do know is this was a happy locker room Saturday, and if there was some bittersweet-ness involved because of Bradley's absence, the bitter was outweighed by the sweet.
Marrone talked afterward of being happy for a lot of people – players and coaches among them, but mostly the fans. Saturday was a lot of things to a lot of people around the 'Bank, but for the fans it was the first time they had seen the Jaguars win this season.
And in that sense, Marrone summed up the day perfectly.
Because whatever the reason Saturday happened, and whoever this victory was or wasn't about, it was mostly about a team and a fan base that had waited too long to feel good getting a chance to feel that way.
And that made Saturday a day when a whole lot of people got a lot of well-deserved holiday joy.