JACKSONVILLE – They earned it. Boy, did they ever.
The surging, confident Jaguars beat the proud, resilient Seattle Seahawks, 30-24, Sunday in front of a sellout crowd of 64,431 at EverBank Field in a wild game so stuffed with drama, playoff implications and attitude that few who attended will soon forget.
You want memorable? You want cool? A cold, gray Sunday afternoon at the 'Bank had those. Big-time.
You want respect? You want a statement made?
As afternoon became a giddy early evening, Sunday had those, too – and if the Jaguars didn't quite want to say "statement" afterward, they darned sure didn't mind saying this one mattered.
"Call it what is – it was a big win for us," linebacker Myles Jack said.
Images of Jacksonville's Week 14 matchup with Seattle.
Rookie running back Leonard Fournette, whose 13-yard run on 3rd-and-11 late in the fourth quarter ended Seattle's chances and assured the Jaguars sole possession in the AFC South with three games remaining, agreed.
"This was most definitely a big game for us," Fournette, who rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown behind an offensive line that did not allow quarterback Blake Bortles to be sacked.
"It was a great victory for this team."
Yes, this was a big-time victory. Yes, the Jaguars earned it. Boy, did they ever.
We'll get to the slew of reasons the Jaguars won Sunday, but we can go no further without mentioning Bortles. On a day when the defense intercepted Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson three times, Bortles showed remarkable poise, accuracy, guts …
All of the stuff a quarterback needs to win a game like this, Bortles showed it Sunday.
Was he the sole reason the Jaguars won? No.
Was he the biggest? Maybe, and his 18 completions of 27 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions was unquestionably the game's most notable statistical line.
"Blake's balling," cornerback Jalen Ramsey said.
Defensive end Calais Campbell called Bortles "incredible."
"If he plays like that, we're going to win a lot of ball games," Campbell said. "You saw what this defense (the Seahawks) did to the Eagles last week. For Blake to come out there and put up 30, that's incredible."
Middle linebacker Paul Posluszny: "Did you see him make some of those throws? The games on the line, it's tight. We're giving up huge plays … You say, 'OK, now he's the stud we all knew he could be.' He's playing at a high level."
Bortles wasn't the only reason the Jaguars won Sunday. You don't win December games because of one player, and the Jaguars very definitely earned Sunday.
They beat a proud team fighting for its playoff life …
They beat a team experienced in big games –
Mostly, they beat a maddeningly mobile, frustratingly fleet quarterback in Wilson who somehow finds a way to win games like this …
Wilson did find a way to get the Seahawks back in Sunday's game. He rallied Seattle from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit with two long touchdowns against a Jaguars defense suddenly and uncharacteristically allowing big plays.
But the rally ended there. Defensive tackle Malik Jackson sacked Wilson on 3rd-and-1 from the Jaguars 49 with 2:29 remaining, and Wilson threw incomplete into a fierce Jaguars blitz to end that series.
Fournette's 13-yarder three plays later ended Seattle's hopes and prompted an ugly finish to the game with Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett appearing to dive for the knees of Jaguars center Brandon Linder as the Jaguars ran out the clock. Fournette and Bennett fought and drew offsetting penalties.
Seahawks defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson was ejected on that play, and Seahawks defensive tackle Quinton Richardson tried to go into the stands after he was ejected on the ensuing play.
The mess that was game's end shouldn't overshadow what the Jaguars accomplished Sunday, nor should the late Seattle rally.
This was indeed the Jaguars' biggest accomplishment of the season – yes, bigger than a victory over Pittsburgh in Week 5. That was October. Sunday was December. And Sunday's victory was a statement game – even if Jaguars players were wont to use the word afterward.
The Jaguars won Sunday for a lot of reasons. Bortles was one. A trio of receivers, including rookie Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook, that are growing up before our eyes was another. An offensive line that again played like it did early in the season was still.
A defense that played like the best defense in the NFL for three quarters and for a very big series at the end of the game when it mattered most? Yeah, that was a reason, too.
But the sense here is the Jaguars mostly won because they were ready to win. There comes a time when a young, ascending team gets a victory that marks its arrival.
Sunday for the Jaguars was that game.
It's perhaps fitting it didn't come easy. The best things don't come that way. The best things you have to earn. And the Jaguars certainly earned their moment Sunday.
Boy, did they ever.