TAMPA – And so it ends … at last. Now, we wait.
The first sentence is about the Jaguars' 2018 preseason, which at last is over and which Head Coach Doug Marrone assessed following a 25-10 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the '18 preseason finale Thursday at Raymond James Stadium.
It was a successful preseason on many fronts.
Unsurprisingly, Marrone emphasized what lies ahead more than what has been accomplished.
"We still have work to do," Marrone said after 22 second-half points turned a 10-3 halftime deficit into the Jaguars' third victory in four preseason games. "I don't think you start the season and you're 110 percent hitting on all cylinders ready to go.
"Us as a coaching staff, we're still going to be on the details and still going to be working on techniques as well as putting on our scheme. We still have a ways to go there."
The second sentence in that first paragraph? And now we wait? That partly means waiting for the announcement Saturday of the cutdown to regular-season roster limit of 53 players – an emotional wait for a slew of players on the roster, and one of the most difficult days of the NFL year.
It also means the wait for the 2018 regular season to arrive, and make no mistake:
This team is ready for that wait to end.
That's because this Jaguars team unquestionably is ready for this season. It has had that feeling for a couple of weeks now – longer, really.
But it sure had that feeling in recent days and weeks. And it darned sure had it Thursday night – even on a night when most Jaguars front-line players were watching rather than playing.
"I'm ready to get it (the regular season) going," Pro Bowl defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "I'm glad this preseason is over. It's been a good preseason, 3-1 – and hopefully we can make it translate to the regular season.
"I think we feel good about it. With our depth looking good out there and playing consistent like the ones, you can't complain. I think it was a great day."
We'll offer a couple of final thoughts on the ready-to-get-the-regular-season-going thing in a few paragraphs. The '18 regular season and this team's readiness for it, after all, remains the overriding story of the '18 preseason.
But before we get to that, a few thoughts on what we saw Thursday.
We didn't see many starters, which figured to be the case entering the game. The Jaguars sat 34 players, because teams typically sit starters and front-line players in the preseason finale these days unless there's a good reason they need to play. Notable players who didn't play Thursday: second-year wide receiver Jaydon Mickens, tight ends James O'Shaughnessy and Niles Paul and defensive end Lerentee McCray. If there were questions about their roster statuses entering Thursday night, consider them answered. All four almost certainly will be on the team.
We also saw Dante Fowler Jr. And considering we won't see the fourth-year defensive end again until Week 2 of the regular season because of his Week 1 suspension, it was important for him get a few final repetitions.
We saw rookie first-round defensive lineman Taven Bryan make a few plays and continue the process of trying to acclimate to a new position in a new league. He is showing progress, which is what you want to see from a young defensive lineman through two preseason games.
We saw rookie punter Logan Cooke take a step toward folk hero status with a big-time hit on kickoff coverage. Yes, the penalty drew a lowering-the-helmet penalty. No, you don't want that.
But that was a hit.
What we mostly saw Thursday was a number of young players trying to extend an NFL dream. Most of the players playing Thursday night won't make the 53. A few will, and the guess here is a player such as undrafted rookie cornerback Tre Hendon will be a feel-good story next week. We'll find out the specifics in the coming days.
The overriding question on the minds of most Jaguars fans, of course, has nothing to do with what we saw Thursday. Rather it's this:
Is the team we'll see Week 1 against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J, really and truly one that can win the Super Bowl?
The thought here is that's absolutely the case. The defense is off-the-charts talented, and notably deep. The offense looks far ahead of where it was this time last season. The special teams, too, looks dramatically improved.
So, how good is this team? How ready?
We'll have to wait a little more than a week to start learning that answer for certain, but make no mistake:
This team is ready for that wait to end.