MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Well, this was a surprise.A nice, nice surprise.
That doesn't mean Sunday saved the season, nor did it make the last three months acceptable, pretty or in any way a good thing. Still … Jaguars 17, Dolphins 7.
This was gutty. This was gritty. This was …happy.
Ho, ho, ho …
"It was huge; it was fun," defensive end Calais Campbell said after the Jaguars won for a second time in four weeks – this time in front of an announced 65,798 at Hard Rock Stadium on a sunny South Florida late-December Sunday.
Fun? Yeah, it was fun. And happy.
Beating a team with postseason aspirations? That's fun.
Doing it with a dominant defensive performance? That's fun.
Doing it when a lot of people thought maybe you didn't have it in you to do it – or that you didn't wantto do it anymore – that's really fun, and make no mistake:
That was a post-game theme. It had become vogue among some observers, fans and media to postulate that the Jaguars had quit on the season. There were certainly those saying it and Tweeting it when the Jaguars allowed a 78-yard drive on the game's first possession Sunday.
Those observers quieted by game's end.
Jaguars players were a bit louder.
"We've been working so hard, been a lot of close games, so for us to get this win, come down right before Christmas – it's big," linebacker Myles Jack said after the Jaguars limited the Dolphins to 183 yards total offense, 51 in the second half. "That's all we've been practicing for; that's all we've been gunning for.
"I hope nobody says we're quitting or we're not trying anymore, because we're out there playing, we're out there giving it all we got. We know at the end of the day, we're not going to the playoffs.
"We're still playing hard, and I'm just proud of my team."
Here's what else was fun for the Jaguars Sunday:
The day came with an unexpected twist offensively – with Blake Bortles entering the game at quarterback in the second half and engineering the go-ahead drive.
Bortles, benched for Cody Kessler three games ago, actually entered Sunday's game twice – once temporarily when Kessler left with a first-half shoulder injury and again late in the third quarter. His performance won't be the stuff of NFL legends – five of six completions for 39 yards – but he rushed twice for 27 yards on the drive when he re-entered the game in the third quarter. He threw a key 19-yard completion to wide receiver Donte Moncrief on the same drive, which ended with a 26-yard field goal by Kai Forbath that gave the Jaguars a 10-7 lead they never relinquished.
Winning with Bortles getting another chance? Yeah, that's fun.
Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, in fact, thought it was more than that.
"That was dope," Ramsey said. "Everybody gets criticized, especially when you're having a tough year like this, but Blake … he gets even more. He gets a ton. To see him be able to come in there and lead those guys down the field and add some points … no matter if it's just three on there, then that's dope."
Whatever you called Bortles' performance, the way the Jaguars finished off Sunday was fun, too.
Considering the circumstances – the season-long slew of injuries, a limping offense, a worn-down defense – a happy Jaguars Christmas Eve/Eve wasn't all that expected.
But after the Jaguars had rallied to take the lead after trailing by seven points for the first time this season …
And the way the defense was playing – with ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue and tackle Malik Jackson – harassing Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill as much or more than the Dolphins' pass-rush was harassing the Jaguars' quarterbacks…
Well, considering all of that it just felt in the fourth quarter like the Jaguars would close this one out.
It felt that way to Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith. And it felt that way to the slew of teammates who approached him after Forbath's go-ahead field goal and told him they had a feeling he was going to make a play – a really, big-game-changing play.
Smith, who had told teammates before the game that if they had to win 7-0 then they had to go do it – "the power of the tongue," he called it – did just that.
On 1st-and-15 from the Dolphins 32, Campbell pressured Tannehill, who threw a soft pass to his right toward running back Kalen Ballage. Smith intercepted easily and scored easily, and the Jaguars – a team that had worked so hard with so little to show for it all season – had what they so needed.
A Christmas Miracle? Nah. But it was a Christmas Eve/Eve surprise.A nice, nice surprise.This was gutty. This was gritty. This was …happy.
Ho, ho, ho…