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View from the O-Zone: Jaguars, fans needed this one


JACKSONVILLE – The fans came to revel; the players came to play.

The result was something the Jaguars, their fans and pretty much anyone around this team very much needed from the 2014 regular-season home finale at EverBank Field Thursday: a cool night, even a memorable one.

And yeah, a winning one, too.

The fans arrived early and stayed late. They cheered, smiled and cheered some more. Together, fans, players and coaches celebrated a come-from-behind victory, with the Jaguars rallying from a 10-point first-half deficit to beat the Tennessee Titans, 21-13 in front of 61,202 at EverBank.

They did it with a gutsy effort from the quarterback, a better effort from the offense than it has had in a long while and an effort from the defense that the team has pretty much come to expect.

"It was huge," Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts III said. "It was a tougher week and a shorter week, but we did a good job doing enough to win."

They did it in prime-time, in front of a nationally-televised audience on NFL Network, and did it in front of a crowd that once again – as it has done all season – supported this team well beyond what might be expected for a three-victory team.

"We're definitely going to be excited," Jaguars veteran defensive end Red Bryant said. "Coach (Gus Bradley) wanted us to have the mindset of being 9-5, and if we win both, we get in (to the playoffs). He's just trying to get this team to continue to raise its expectations."

Didn't you feel it? That this team needed this? That the fans needed it? That the players need it? That the coaches needed it?

They needed it because the team has stayed together, and kept believing in Gus Bradley. The players have done that in difficult circumstances, with a young offense and a lot of mistakes and with those mistakes leading to a lot of losses.

They needed it because these players, these coaches have continued to believe they're better than their record. And though you are what your record says you are, in a lot of ways those players and coaches are right – that the team is better than its record, that it has improved significantly from last season and that the direction is strong …

Still, players tire of losing – and fans tire of hearing about a losing team improving – so, yeah, the Jaguars needed what happened Thursday.

"We're close," running back Toby Gerhart said. "The tenacity and fight we play with, I think everybody recognizes that across the league. Our record isn't showing it, but we're close, so it was nice to come in tonight on national TV, the last home game for our fans, and get a win.

They needed the offense to score. They did, and a team that had scored two touchdowns in the previous four games scored three in five possessions Thursday.

They needed to play well again defensively, and they did. The defense allowed a touchdown on the first drive of the game. It allowed two field goals after that.

They needed their young quarterback to have a memorable game. Blake Bortles did, playing through a sprained foot to throw for a first-half touchdown. He also turned in two of his better drives of the season on a pair of scoring drives that wrapped around halftime and turned a 10-point deficit into a 14-10 third-quarter lead.

They needed all that, and they got all of that, and that indeed made for a cool night at the 'Bank – and perhaps even an important one.

How important? Time will tell. Late-season momentum doesn't always mean much come the next season, but to these players and these coaches, this one mattered.

You could feel it in a celebratory locker room where players talked a lot about Bortles' toughness, and even more about their continued belief in Bradley – and where a post-game celebration for a teammate spoke a lot about how this team feels about one another 15 games into difficult season.

That player was defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, whose final-play sack gave him eight for the season and thereby triggered a $600,000 roster bonus. After the sack, Marks pointed to Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell in the press box and threw up the Johnny Manziel money sign. He was then mobbed by teammates at midfield.

"That wasn't fun, I was under the crowd!" Marks joked afterward, then added, seriously, "I didn't know that they were going to do that to me, so that was pretty awesome. Everybody is excited about somebody else's accomplishment, so it just shows the character of our team and the guys that we have.

"Nobody gets that check but me but everybody is excited for me. It shows the commitment that we have to one another and the character of every guy in here."

Marks smiled as he spoke, and around him teammates smiled, too. Outside EverBank, fans cheered and reveled into the night.

They didn't think about the future as they reveled, and for a night, they didn't think about the holes still to be filled or the work to be done before next season.

They just had fun, and celebrated a cool victory.

And one everyone really needed.

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