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View from the O-Zone: No pleasure, but good signs

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Jacksonville Jaguars against theTennessee Titans during an NFL football game, Sunday, September 20, 2020 in Nashville, Tn.

No one was happy.

That's important – that no one around the Jaguars was satisfied, or almost satisfied, or _sorta, kinda _satisfied with what happened in an oft-thrilling and ultimately frustrating 33-30 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday afternoon.

No, this Jaguars team isn't about "almost." That was clear from Head Coach Doug Marrone.

"We did some good things, but ultimately we fell short," Marrone said moments after the Jaguars rallied from a thirteen-point second-half deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter.

It was clear from defensive tackle Abry Jones, too:

"We didn't really take -- what's the word I'm thinking of? Pleasure, I guess, and try to get moral victories and saying we only lost by three and things like that," Jones said.

No, there was no pleasure for players or coaches Sunday.

This not only was a team that believed it could have won Sunday and moved into sole possession of first place in the AFC South, it was a team that believed it should have done that. And Sunday was disappointing for that reason – that if not for a few key mistakes, and a close late pass interference against weakside linebacker Myles Jack, they could have won in Nashville for the first time in seven years.

But if you're a fan or observer of this team, and if you're trying to figure out what these early-season games mean for 2020 and beyond, this is clear:

While there are clearly areas that must improve, most notably a pass rush that has generated two sacks in two games and a two-game trend of frighteningly slow defensive starts, Sunday was a good sign for this franchise.

A very, very good sign.

There were multiple good signs, actually:

*Quarterback Gardner Minshew II. We'll start with the quarterback because he remains very much the franchise's main story early in the season. No, he did not quarterback a victory Sunday, but he completed 30 of 45 passes for 339 yards and three touchdowns against a very good defense that played in the AFC Championship Game last season. He had a few crucial errors – an avoidable first-half sack that cost momentum and a late-game interception – but Minshew on Sunday brought the Jaguars from a double-digit halftime deficit with three touchdown drives to start the second half. This was following a 19-of-20, three-touchdown performance in a Week 1 victory over Indianapolis. He's not perfect. He's never going to be tall with a rocket arm. But it's getting harder to say he can't be a very good NFL quarterback.

*The offense overall. Running back James Robinson. Wide receivers Laviska Shenault Jr. and DJ Chark. Tight end Tyler Eifert. An offensive line that looks like it might be as good as the Jaguars' decision-makers believed all offseason. The Jaguars have scored 27 and 30 points to start the season. The last time they scored at least 27 points in back-to-back weeks was late in the 2017 season. The last time they started the season that way was 2000. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is scheming receivers open, and Minshew is consistently making good reads and accurate throws. And the Jaguars' receivers are making the difficult look relatively easy strikingly consistently. This team can play offense, and that hasn't been true in too long.

And then there's resilience.

This was a tricky topic Sunday. The Jaguars were definitely resilient Sunday, and it looked like this could be the storyline after Minshew passed 14 yards to running back Chris Thompson with 7:25 remaining – the Jaguars' third touchdown drive in as many second-half possessions to that point and a play that erased the last of four double-digit Titans leads. Marrone was asked multiple times Sunday to discuss his team's fight, and if he learned anything about his team Sunday. Had this been a victory, he likely would have discussed resilience extensively – as he did after the victory over the Colts and as he did often leading to the season.

It wasn't that Marrone didn't like his team's fight Sunday. And it wasn't that the Jaguars weren't resilient.

"The one thing I don't worry about is how hard they play," Marrone said.

No, the Jaguars – from Marrone to Minshew to Chark to Jones – didn't want to discuss resilience Sunday. Because for the 2020 Jaguars resilient isn't enough. Fight isn't enough. Showing improvement isn't enough, either.

That's because while observers talked during the offseason about tanking, that was never what this team was about. This is a team that believes it can contend. This is a team that believes it shouldn't just be resilient with fight in games such as Sunday. It's a team that believes it should be winning them.

That came through during Sunday's game. It came through afterward, too. And that means that even with a disappointing loss, Sunday was a good sign for this franchise.

A very, very good sign.

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