View from the O-Zone: “This was dire”

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CINCINNATI, Ohio – This was a good start.

You don’t want to call this a huge victory in the season’s grand scope – because more huge victories are needed to make it that – but what the Jaguars did with a 27-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium Sunday?

Well, it was a good start. Yeah, it mattered a lot. And it was a must-win situation.

Absolutely.

“This is do or die for us,” defensive end Yannick Ngakoue said moments after his 23-yard fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown clinched a victory that snapped a two-game losing streak.

“Every week is do or die for us. That’s how we have to treat it.”

A happy, smiling locker room agreed.

“The win was dire; it was a must-win game for us,” linebacker Myles Jack said. “No. 1, we didn’t want to be the first team they [the Bengals] got a win on. No. 2, we didn’t want to go on a three-game losing streak. We felt like this game was the one that could get that avalanche – get that ball rolling.”

Yes, that was the mood late Sunday afternoon – and understandably so. 

No matter what was said all week about a Bengals team that entered Sunday without a victory, this was a game the Jaguars were supposed to – and needed to – win.

The Bengals entered struggling offensively and defensively. They entered injured. They were one of just two NFL teams entering the weekend without a victory.

The Jaguars entered with a real chance to start an achievable climb from a tricky start into the postseason conversation. And that’s what they did, now needing a victory over a one-victory Jets team next Sunday to reach .500 at midseason.

Make no mistake: The game wasn’t about distractions, or being free from them. That was never an issue for this team anyway, and the Jalen Ramsey storyline is now mercifully three time zones away.

No, this one was simply about the Jaguars winning. Somehow. Some way.

And for a long time on Sunday – while the offense struggled in the red zone, and while the defense was keeping the team in the game – it looked like the Jaguars might not win. And make no mistake about this, either:

A loss Sunday would have been bad. The team might not have recovered from it.

The reason all that isn’t an issue is because the Jaguars found a way to win a game they looked might slip away. The defense held the Bengals’ struggling offense to 10 points with the game in doubt, then an offense broke through an eight-quarter touchdown drought with a clutch fourth-quarter drive 

That drive actually began late in the third quarter, covering 75 yards and being keyed by a momentum-changing 47-yard catch-and-run pass from rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew II to wide receiver Chris Conley. Minshew capped the drive with a two-yard pass to wide receiver Keelan Cole, turning a 10-9 deficit into a 17-10 lead with a two-point conversion pass to Conley.

The Jaguars’ defense, stifling all day, then took the ball away. A lot.

Jack’s interception at the Bengals 10 with 8:30 remaining stopped the Bengals’ last real chance to tie, and Ngakoue’s Pick Six secured the victory a drive later. Safety Ronnie Harrison’s interception on the ensuing series almost made you forget the Jaguars entered Sunday as takeaway starved as any team in the league.

The Jaguars entered Sunday with two takeaways, just one by the defense.

They had four Sunday, and they came so easily and often in the fourth quarter that it was also easy to forget the first four quarters for the Jaguars were anything but easy.

No, the Jaguars weren’t perfect Sunday. As players said afterward, they squandered so many opportunities early that what should have been a comfortable victory was anything but that. That has to get fixed if this team is going to turn this game’s worth of momentum into something meaningful.

Sunday’s victory moved the Jaguars to 3-4, which isn’t want they wanted at the beginning of the season but it something they’ll take considering the Ramsey saga, the loss of its’ starting quarterback in Week 1, and so on, and so on.

This team has talked a lot about resilience this season, and that conversation continued in the post-game Sunday. And this team indeed has been resilient. It has trailed in all games but one and has shown the ability to handle adversity.

They showed it again Sunday, and because they showed it they could say things like Jack said: “We want to take it one at a time, but we want to go 5-4 going into the bye week with a smile on our faces.”

The Jaguars do to that would need to win three consecutive games. That’s a doable task, but it’s a big ask for a team that hasn’t done that since the middle of the 2017 season.

It remains to be seen if the Jaguars can pull that off. They must be more efficient than they were Sunday. They must continue to be opportunistic.

Either way, Sunday was a good start.

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