JACKSONVILLE – Now, we can start.
Admit it: if you've been following the Jaguars this season, you kinda, sorta feel that way. And that sorta feels like the theme this week – that and the Bold Rush thing, anyway.
The nine up-and-down games …
The heartbreak of Indianapolis, the ugliness of New England, the oh-no that was the end of the game against the Jets …
The pre-game joy of Tampa Bay and the ensuing in-game "u-u-u-u-u-gh" …
Yes, all of the angst and what-ifs were real. And painful. But the Jaguars pushed through. Now, here we are. They're not hot, exactly, but the Jaguars have won two of three games. They're right in this thing in mid-November.
However they got here, whatever the record, they're a game out of the AFC South lead with seven games remaining. And that means, of course, that they're very much in the AFC South chase.
""I think everybody understands that," Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles said as the Jaguars (3-6) prepared to play the Tennessee Titans (2-7) at EverBank Field Thursday at 8:25 p.m. "[Head Coach] Gus [Bradley] brought it up in the (Tuesday) team meeting and everybody realizes the big picture and what lies ahead of us as long as we take care of our job."
In the wake of an improbable, unbelievable 22-20 victory over Baltimore Sunday, even the usually measured, low-key Paul Posluszny admitted a possibility-fueled energy.
"Getting that win, you feel like, 'OK, we can take it week by week and finish it off and have a great year,''' the veteran middle linebacker said. "Guys have a lot of energy. We're excited. We know, 'Let's continue to grind and put this work in because we know.' You get that feeling at this point in the season."
The Jaguars enter Thursday 3-6, with the AFC South-leading Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans both 4-5. The Jaguars' opponent Thursday, the Tennessee Titans, are 2-7. That's a bunch of struggling teams all bunched together with an inarguable truth:
Some team has to win this thing.
And that leads to an obvious question: Why not the Jaguars?
Indeed, why not? Yes, the Jaguars are flawed. They have trouble getting pass rush with four linemen. With defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks likely out for the season with a triceps injury, that's even more of a challenge.
They're also still struggling with young quarterback stuff and young offense stuff. That's maddening stuff because it's stuff that leads to inconsistency.
Those things aren't going away, which means the Jaguars are probably going to play a lot of close games. But here's a wrinkle to that truth: Those close games?
A whole lot of them are about to be at EverBank Field.
Yes, this road-weary team – the team that has played at the 'Bank once in the last 61 days – is about to get into a decidedly homey, get-healthy part of the schedule.
Four of the next five games are at EverBank Field.
"It's great to finally get back home," Posluszny said.
Between now and Christmas, the Jaguars will play just once away from the 'Bank. They'll play a slew of struggling teams, and while the Jaguars have struggled, too, there are good signs for this team.
They're stopping the run. Baltimore notwithstanding, they're moving efficiently. Maybe as importantly, they still believe in themselves, and in Head Coach Gus Bradley; they're still very much a team pulling in the same direction.
And that home-field edge thing they'll get to taste Thursday?
That has a very real chance to be a boost.
"It seems like it's been forever, for sure, that we've played at home," Bortles said. "So, it's exciting to come home; exciting to come home and be able to play on a Thursday night here in Jacksonville. We're definitely excited; excited for the fans and to play in front of them."
Don't think for a minute EverBank won't be jacked Thursday, and not just because of the new unis. This fan base wants to support this team. They have waited a long time to believe, to hope, to cheer, to help, to have a late-season game that matters.
It's not exactly in-season yet, this game matters. A lot.
Yes, the Jaguars are in it, and after all this team has been through, it's not time to wind the season down. Rather, it's time to start. Amazingly and improbably, all of the goals and possibilities that were there at the start of the season are still there, and guess what?
They even seem a little more possible than they did in August. You may or may not have given the Jaguars a real chance to win the South when kicking this around during training camp.
Now, though, the chance is real. This thing is there for the taking, and the Jaguars get to try to do a lot of that taking at home. Yes, the Jaguars have a chance, and the rest of the season has a chance to matter.
However they got here, whatever the record, it has a chance to matter a whole, whole lot.