JACKSONVILLE – This made sense, didn’t it?
Didn’t it have to happen this way?
The Jaguars ended their seven-game losing streak Sunday by beating one of the NFL’s hottest teams and hottest quarterbacks. They won with a new quarterback and a new offensive play-caller – andwithouttheir best offensive player. They did it when it seemed no way they could do it.
They did it with defense – epically so. They did it with heart.
And when it was over, they felt good for the first time in a long time.
“When you lose, you feel sore after the game and when you win you feel good,” linebacker Myles Jack said after the Jaguars’ 6-0 victory over the Indianapolis Colts at TIAA Bank Field Sunday afternoon. “I’m feeling great right now.”
Why shouldn’t they have felt good – even great – after that one?
The Jaguars, after all, hadn’t won since September 30. They charged into October a Super Bowl favorite and limped from November with their playoff hopes in shambles.
A bizarre two-month stretch peaked this past week, with Cody Kessler replacing Blake Bortles at quarterback, quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich assuming play-calling duties following the dismissal of offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and the NFL suspending running back Leonard Fournette for Sunday’s game following a fight in a loss last week in Buffalo.
That’s as strange a week as you can get in NFL circles.
And that made Sunday’s result sweet. Perhaps not season-saving sweet, but sweet nonetheless.
“It felt amazing,” Jaguars defensive tackle Marcell Dareus said, adding: “You can call it what you want but that’s a damn good team win.”
It also happened to be an otherworldly defensive performance with a strong argument to be made for it being the best defensive performance in franchise history.
“I think we had a complete game today as a defense,” cornerback Jalen Ramsey said.
Ramsey, an All-Pro cornerback hardly given to_understatement, _underplayed that one. The Colts entered Sunday having scored 33.1 points over their last eight games. Their quarterback, Andrew Luck, had thrown at least three touchdown passes in all eight of those games.
On Sunday, Luck was shut out for the first time in his eight-year NFL career.
He completed 33 of 52 passes for 248 yards and the Jaguars intercepted him once. They also sacked him three times – this after the Colts’ offensive line had allowed one sack in the past six games.
The Colts weren’t without opportunities Sunday. They drove into Jaguars territory five times, including a second-quarter drive to the Jaguars 1.
But whereas in past games this season the Jaguars couldn’t quite make the one or two plays needed to secure victory, on Sunday the defense made them. Again, and again.
There was end Yannick Ngakoue, sacking Luck in the first half and stopping Colts running back Jordan Wilkins at the 1 to end the second-quarter drive.
There was linebacker Telvin Smith, forcing a fumble by tight end Eric Ebron in the second quarter that linebacker Myles Jack recovered. That takeaway not only stopped a Colts drive that had reached the Jaguars 31, it set up the Jaguars’ first field goal.
There also was cornerback D.J. Hayden with an interception, and end Calais Campbell with a sack, and there were Jack and Ramsey both making spectacular tackles on the Colts’ final drive to keep receivers in bounds and to keep the clock running.
It was Ramsey who ended it. On 3rd-and-6 from the Jaguars 29, Luck passed to tight end Eric Swoope, who caught the pass near the sideline. Ramsey torpedoed under Swoope for the tackle, with officials ruling that Ramsey had stopped Swoope’s forward progress.
The final seconds ticked from the clock, the shutout – and more importantly, a long-awaited victory – secured.
Ramsey and teammates celebrated on the field, and the celebration continued into the locker room. What stood out there was what Jaguars players said about what this victory meant.
“The team really showed our character today,” Ramsey said. “We still have a really good defense and this year hasn’t went the way we wanted it to go, but we’re still out here fighting for pride and respect.”
That sentiment was echoed throughout the locker room.
“It just answers the question everybody was asking, ‘if y’all tanking the season,’ about our confidence,” Smith said. “Like I said last week, we said, ‘We are who we are.’’’
Here’s who the Jaguars were Sunday:
They were a team that fought. They were a team that cared. They were a team that absolutely had heart. They didn’t just talk about it, they played like it.
They weren’t a great offensive team, and they’re not headed for the postseason. But they won for the first time in two months, and they did it when circumstances said there was no way they could do it.
It sort of had to happen that way, didn’t it?