JACKSONVILLE – They dressed, and they rehearsed.
Put those things together and what you had at TIAA Bank Field Saturday night was a good, old-fashioned dress rehearsal – a final preseason first-team run-through and one that has the Jaguars feeling good as the much-anticipated show that is the 2018 regular season approaches.
One last look for the starters …
That was the theme when the Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons played a Preseason Week 3 game at 'Bank Saturday night, a game for which 64,208 tickets were distributed and a game the Jaguars won, 17-6.
More important than the score? How the Jaguars looked, and for the most part – at offensive line, at running back and on defense -- they looked good.
"Obviously, it was a good effort," Head Coach Doug Marrone said before emphasizing that much work needs to get done before the Jaguars play the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in the regular-season opener September 9.
It wasn't all smiles. Wide receiver Marqise Lee sustained a first-quarter knee injury. Although Marrone said the extent wouldn't be known until Sunday he was the first to say the injury "looked bad."
And then there was quarterback Blake Bortles, whose two interceptions were the low points in an otherwise an impressive night for a first-team offense that produced 303 yards while playing through the first series of the third quarter.
Overall, this performance Saturday had some importance. And it for the most part was good.
"I feel real good – I'm going to be honest with you," linebacker Myles Jack said of a defense that allowed two first-half field goals Saturday. "The D-line, they're doing their thing, wreaking havoc. The DBs, they're holding down their end. The linebackers, we're doing our part. We're playing like a team this early in the preseason …
"I'm very excited to see how far we can go like this."
The first-team defense has yet to allow a touchdown in the preseason.
"That's huge for us," safety Barry Church said. "If we can keep that momentum going into the regular season, it's going to be hard for offenses to drive the ball on us."
A pause here for perspective. A few paragraphs back we used the word "importance," a tricky word in the NFL preseason because preseason importance in general is minimal. But Preseason Week 3 has at least a shred of importance for a couple of reasons.
The dress-rehearsal thing is one, with teams using Preseason Week 3 to give starters more playing time than in any preseason game. There also is at least some game-planning, so you can glean a bit more from Preseason Week 3 score than a normal preseason game.
The other importance is that Preseason Week 3 now serves as the final playing time for most starters. For the Jaguars, next Thursday's preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa figures to be almost exclusively about determining the final roster spots.
So, yeah, there's a little importance to what we saw at the 'Bank Saturday.
And what we saw was a team that felt ready for the regular season.
We saw the first-team defense look very ready. It is swarming. It is pressuring quarterbacks. It is defending passes. It's chasing down runs. It is looking like we expected – and we expected it to look capable of carrying this team deep into the postseason.
This defense is the heart of this team. The heart is healthy and strong.
We saw the Jaguars' running backs and offensive line dominate at times, with the running back trio of Leonard Fournette, Corey Grant and T.J. Yeldon accounting for 112 rushing yards, 80 receiving yards and a touchdown. We saw the preseason debut of All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell and right tackle Jeremy Parnell – and not coincidentally, we saw the line turn in its best game of the preseason.
If this line and these running backs control the game, then this offense is doing what it wants to do. Saturday was big on that front.
Seeing the injury to Lee, of course, dampened things. A young, inexperienced wide receiver group got younger and less-experienced – and young players there will need to mature in a hurry.
And how much of a concern were the interceptions we saw? The thought here: a little. Bortles throws interceptions and responds well. It's probably going to be his pattern, and the Jaguars appear strong enough to withstand the mistakes so long as Bortles continues to respond in their wake.
Whatever we saw, know this:
It's the last time we'll see a lot of it for 15 days. That's how long from final gun Saturday to kickoff Week1.
That probably will seem like a long time considering the buildup for this much-anticipated show.
But this cast feels ready, especially after a dress rehearsal in which the Jaguars for the most part – and in a lot of areas that matter – once again looked really good.