LONDON, England – They're heading home winners. At last.
Yes, the Jaguars – the beleaguered, gutty, Atlantic Ocean-crossing Jaguars – on Sunday did on an international stage what they had come oh-so-frustratingly close to doing oh-so-often this season.
They did so in wild, nail-biting, gut-clenching fashion, but they won. At last.
They beat the Buffalo Bills, 34-31, at Wembley Stadium Sunday in their third home game there in as many years, and they did it by dominating with defense early and by Allen Hurns and Blake Bortles coming up clutch late.
And maybe it wasn't pretty, and maybe it was downright scary ugly in the second half, but after what this team had been through lately … that winning thing?
That was a good thing. A very good thing.
No matter how it happened.
"I'm very pleased with what just took place," Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said, smile understandably wide after the Jaguars squandered a 24-point lead before rallying with a dramatic late drive.
"The grit, the turnovers on defense, the offense coming through … in all three phases there's work to be done, but all three phases came through for us in some fashion."
Quarterback Blake Bortles agreed.
"One thing about this team is we're resilient, and we play with grit," Bortles said. "I think it showed."
The Jaguars won on Sunday by not only forcing turnovers, but turning those turnovers into points. They did it by running effectively, and being opportunistic.
Mostly, of course, they won because Allen Hurns made a diving, twisting, get-the-arm-down-and-little-else catch on a 31-yard touchdown pass from Bortles. They also won after the entire Jaguars fan base held its breath waiting for a challenge from Bills Head Coach Rex Ryan that didn't come – and yes, Hurns' catch was a catch.
And credit Bortles late, too.
After Bills safety Corey Graham's 44-yard interception return with 5:21 remaining, Bortles came back and led that wild, nervous final drive that ended with the pass to Hurns. The Jaguars have been waiting for Bortles to be big in that situation. With 2:16 remaining, he and Hurns were.
"He showed some poise," Bradley said of Bortles.
Images of the Jaguars Week 7 matchup against the Buffalo Bills at Wembley Stadium in London, England.
The Jaguars also won Sunday against a Bills team that had been beset by injuries, a team that entered the game with a 3-3 record and without quarterback Tyron Taylor, wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin and defensive tackle Kyle Williams. Did that matter Sunday? Sure, as the Jaguars know, playing without your best players matters.
But you know what? So what?
The Jaguars entered this game 1-5, and they been plenty beset by injuries of their own this season. They have played without Sen'Derrick Marks at times this season, and without Julius Thomas, Marqise Lee, T.J. Yeldon, Luke Joeckel, Johnathan Cyprien, Rashad Greene and on …
And on and on …
The Jaguars on Sunday had a bunch of those guys back, and most importantly they had Aaron Colvin blitzing and sacking quarterback E.J. Manuel in the second quarter and end Chris Clemons picking up the ensuing fumble and returning it six yards for a touchdown. Telvin Smith followed that with a 26-yard interception return for a touchdown. And Yeldon followed that with a 26-yard touchdown run after an interception by linebacker Paul Posluszny.
All of that followed a 10-yard touchdown pass early in the quarter from Bortles to Allen Robinson, and when all of that was over the Jaguars had four touchdowns in a half a quarter and a 27-3 lead.
And after allowing a troubling, back-sliding Bills rally, they won. At last.
That part – the "at last" part – has a couple of meanings for the Jaguars, each significant and each meaningful as the team headed for Heathrow International and the late night flight home.
The first is about this International Series game, and there was certainly an "at last" feeling on that front for the Jaguars Sunday. Twice before they had played in this game, and twice before they had experienced British hospitality and Wembley excitement.
Each time, they were overmatched, outmanned and out a lot of things, losing to the San Francisco 49ers, 42-10, in 2013 and 31-17 to the Dallas Cowboys.
And while it's a reach to think that Sunday's game automatically gives the Jaguars a home-field advantage in this game going forward, it's not insignificant that the Jaguars won at Wembley. They'll play a home game here every season until 2020, and quite likely well beyond that. They needed to figure out how to play well and win there, and Sunday was as good a time as any for that.
But the more immediate "at last" is, of course, is the more important "at last," because at last the Jaguars figured out a way to get one.
That means the four-game losing streak is over, and that means Bradley and the players on Sunday didn't have to talk about being close, or missing opportunities or a whole of other post-game themes from recent weeks.
Yes, Sunday was close. Yes, there were frighteningly familiar moments in the second half.
But the Jaguars on Sunday afternoon while talking about everything else also could talk about being winners, because that's the way they're heading home. At last.