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View from the O-Zone: "Awesome"


JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars are in the playoffs.

Take a bite of that, Jaguars faithful. And before we get to the details of a resounding, memorable, sun-drenched 45-7 victory over the Houston Texans in front of a second consecutive sold-out crowd EverBank Field Sunday, take a moment and chew on that first paragraph a bit.

Yes, if you have loved this team – if you suffered, hoped, dreamed and suffered some more – for the last four, five, six, seven years you deserve to savor the moment. It bears repeating, so we will:

The Jaguars are in the playoffs …

The Jaguars are in the playoffs …

The Jaguars are in the playoffs …

Glory be.

"It's unbelievable," Jaguars Owner Shad Khan said.

"It's awesome," defensive tackle Malik Jackson said.

"It feels unbelievable," safety Barry Church said.

That was part of the story from Sunday's locker room, and make no mistake: Two unbelievables and an awesome are more than appropriate a team that accomplished the following on Sunday:

*The first 10-victory season in 10 seasons and the fifth in franchise history.

*The first playoff appearance in 10 seasons – and the sixth in franchise history.

Images form the Jaguars Week 15 matchup with the Houston Texans.

Those are cool things, and they're a huge part of the Jaguars story on this Celebration Sunday. But here's something else about the post-game locker room:

It wasn't raucous. There was no sense of amazement on the part of Jaguars players and coaches. For a team that was about as far from the postseason this time last year that in itself is pretty amazing – though perhaps it shouldn't be considering Jaguars players have been telling anyone who would listen for a while now that this team's past has nothing to do with its present.

That was the vibe Sunday, without a doubt:

Yes, making the playoffs was cool to these guys. But more lies ahead. Much more.

"We have a plan where we want to go and we have a destination," Jackson said. "Right now we've gotten into the playoffs but getting into the playoffs isn't our goal."

Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone, unsurprisingly, offered no sum-it-up quote on the glory of making the postseason. He acknowledged it as an "accomplishment," and talked during his post-game availability as much of preparing for the trip to San Francisco next week as anything else.

He did say this, though:

"I thought this team could be special if we put the work in."

And you know what?

It's looking more and more as if he might be right – and not just sort of special. Really, really special.

The Jaguars are playing as well as any team in the AFC.* Any team.* They have won seven of eight games. They have won five consecutive games at home. They have had a legitimate, tough-to-argue claim to being the league's best defense since September, and guess what? The offense at times this season has been very good – and by offense we don't just mean Leonard Fournette and the running game.

Yes, this Jaguars team is good, folks. Absolutely good enough for the playoff spot it clinched on Sunday – and good enough to win once it's there.

It has showed that all season and it showed it again Sunday.

It showed it by dominating a team that was ripe to be dominated. It's true that the Jaguars should have won this game handily. They are healthy and the Texans absolutely are not. But it's one thing to be supposed to dominate and it's another to actually do it. The Jaguars outgained the Texans, 464-186 and had 25 first downs to nine for the Texans. Injured opponent or not, that's some thorough stuff.

But maybe the biggest reason this team is good enough to win in the postseason is the obvious thing.

That thing is Blake Bortles.

Unbelievable? Awesome? Is that how Jaguars players and owner were talking about Sunday? If so, they easily could have been describing their quarterback not only Sunday, but in what is fast starting to feel like a career-altering, narrative-smashing December.

By now you've heard all of the statistics. How Bortles threw three touchdowns and no interceptions Sunday. How he has thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions in December, and how he's the NFL's highest-rated quarterback through three December games.

Forget those statistics, and focus on this:

Bortles is playing well. His young receivers – Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook and even Jaydon Mickens –are playing well. The Jaguars' offensive line has allowed one sack in the last two games – and that one came Sunday when Bortles ran out of bounds for no gain.

It has been said all season that if the Jaguars only had an offense and a quarterback to go with this Super Bowl-caliber defense that there was no telling what this team could accomplish.

Well, guess what, folks: The Jaguars have an offense. And they have a quarterback. They're in the playoffs, and looking very much like a team that can win once they begin.

It's finally true. At long last.

Glory be.

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