JACKSONVILLE – He said it all week – and there he was again saying it again Sunday.
Head Coach Doug Marrone said throughout training camp he liked this team, even if others didn't – even if others talked "tanking" more than talent. He liked its resilience, its ability to overcome adversity. He liked that it felt like a team.
Score one for team. A big one, actually.
The Jaguars won their 2020 regular-season opener Sunday for many reasons Marrone liked, rallying from four deficits to beat the favored Indianapolis Colts. The score was 27-20 in front of 14,100 at TIAA Bank Field. And yes, Marrone was pleased afterward.
But he wasn't surprised.
"This team has been through some things," Marrone said after quarterback Gardner Minshew II threw three touchdown passes and rallied the Jaguars from a 20-17 fourth-quarter deficit for their sixth consecutive home victory over the Colts.
"This team has stuck together. This team relies on each other, for someone to come up with a play. And they continue to keep getting better."
Marrone wasn't the only one talking team afterward.
Cornerback CJ Henderson, among a slew of rookies making impact plays Sunday, spoke afterward about a few things – notably that he expected better from a day that featured his first career interception and a game-clinching pass breakup off a Hall-of-Fame quarterback – but mostly he talked about how this team likes each other.
Really likes each other. In a way that matters.
"All the guys here love playing football," Henderson said. "That's the biggest thing. It's a long season. You get through that by being happy with everyone you see in the building every day. Everybody in the locker room knows we have each other's back regardless of what the outcome. That allows everyone to play to their highest potential."
Marrone in a postgame videoconference with media was given the chance to say this team is different from recent Jaguars teams on that front. He was asked if this victory was about culture, and if perhaps it could be attributed to a positive feeling after some high-profile partings with former players in recent weeks.
Marrone declined to "go there."
"I'm looking forward with this team," he said. "I've never gone back, I've never said, 'Hey, we've had this problem, we've had this problem, or I didn't like this, or I didn't like that.' Sometimes we can tend to lose faith in team, just the word, 'Team.'
"This team has really instilled that faith for me. With no disrespect to any other team I've been on, this is the closest I've felt to a team since I've been a head coach."
The Jaguars won for many reasons. A run defense that needed to be improved looked that way. Minshew was nearly perfect with 19-of-20 passing and three clutch touchdowns. A slew of rookies – Henderson, running back James Robinson, wide receiver Laviska Shenault Jr. chief among them – played like players with a very bright future.
As much as anything, they won because they were resilient.
The first quarter looked about as bad as it could look for the Jaguars. The Colts rolled disturbingly easily to a 7-0 lead on their first drive, and they appeared to be rolling to what would have been a really disturbing 14-0 lead. And then it changed.
Veteran defensive tackle Abry Jones and safety Jarrod Wilson stuffed Colts running back Nyheim Hines on 4th-and-1 from the Jaguars 3. That kept the Jaguars within a touchdown, then Henderson intercepted quarterback Philip Rivers on the Colts' next series. Minshew finished a 27-yard drive with a six-yard touchdown pass to Pro Bowl wide receiver DJ Chark.
The Jaguars weren't getting rolled after that.
The Colts kept inching into the lead – 14-7, 17-14, 20-17 – and this team Marrone liked so much kept on doing what he thought it would do. They kept playing hard. They kept fighting. They kept believing in each other.
The Colts took a final lead on a 25-yard field goal by Rodrigo Blankenship. The Jaguars responded with a six-play, 75-yard drive that was keyed by Robinson hurdling a tackler on a 28-yard swing pass and that ended when Minshew found wide receiver Keelan Cole wide open in the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown pass.
Safety Andrew Wingard intercepted Rivers on the next drive to set up a field goal, and Henderson broke up a pass from Rivers to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on 4th-and-4 from the Jaguars 26 with :44 remaining.
Those were big-time, clutch plays from a defense that looked shaky early, and that was the sort of comeback story that defined Sunday. And it was the sort of story that had Marrone smiling – at least on the inside – late Sunday afternoon.
"We're working to get better every day and we're working to push," he said. "No matter what happened today, win or lose—and I know if we lost it would've been awful—and we won. But I really believe that this team will get better as we get going."
Yes, score one for resiliency Sunday. And score one for team.
A big one, actually.