JACKSONVILLE – Here's what we learned from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 13-6 victory over the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday . . .
1. Once was no fluke.The Jaguars didn't believe a 29-27 victory over the Tennessee Titans two weeks ago – their first victory of the season – was a fluke, but there may have been others who did. Beating the Texans on Sunday showed that while this team has a long way to go before it is elite, it's steadily establishing a culture that could eventually produce a competitive team.
2. The improvement is real.The Jaguars lost their first eight games of the season by double digits or more. People wondered if they would win – or if they would even come close. The two losses shortly before the bye – to San Diego (24-6) and San Francisco (42-10) – were particularly disheartening. Since the bye, the Jaguars have won two of three games, with their best three-game stretch of the season. Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley has preached getting better. So far, the Jaguars have done that since the bye.
3. The Texans are really struggling.The NFL always has been a year-to-year league, even a week-to-week league. There's no case in point more vivid than the Texans. They were a Super Bowl favorite late last season and entered this season as AFC and AFC South favorites. Sunday's game was their ninth consecutive loss, a franchise record.
4. The Jaguars can stop the run …Entering the Week Nine bye, the Jaguars were struggling to stop the run in a big way. They entered Sunday's game against the Texans still last in the NFL in the area, but the improvement has been dramatic. They have held opponents under 100 yards rushing each of the last three games, including holding Arizona to 14 yards last week. You have to do more on defense than stop the run, but you can't do much of anything if you can't stop it. Right now, the Jaguars are stopping it.
5….the Jaguars can play defense overall.The Jaguars allowed the Texans just 218 total yards. And before you say, "But the Texans have lost nine consecutive games," remember: the Texans still have Andre Johnson and they still have Ben Tate and they were still ranked No. 8 in the NFL offensively entering the game. The Jaguars held the Texans to two field goals. Through the first eight games of the season, few would have thought that possible.
6. The Jaguars can run…At least they could on Sunday. The Jaguars rushed for 54 and 32 yards the previous two games, averaging 1.8 and 2.0 yards a carry, respectively, against the Titans and the Cardinals. On Sunday, the Jaguars averaged 4.2 yards a carry and rushed for a season-high 118 yards.
7…. And Maurice Jones-Drew can, too.People have questioned his speed, and just about everything else about Jones-Drew in recent weeks. He's probably not as fast as he was five years ago, but who is? Jones-Drew ran effectively Sunday, rushing for a season-high 84 yards on 14 carries. That's a 6.0-yard per carry average. Jones-Drew also had his longest run of the season – a 44-yarder in the second quarter that set up a field goal by Josh Scobee. Speaking of whom …
8. Josh Scobee is clutch.Scobee's effort didn't get much mention in the post-game, but his two field goals were critical. He hit a 30-yarder in the second quarter and a 53-yarder midway through the fourth quarter. Without the 53-yarder, the scenario is different in the fourth quarter. Without either field goal, it's a lot different.
9. The young secondary is coming together …The Jaguars focused heavily on the secondary in the offseason, drafting cornerback Dwayne Gratz in the third round and safety Johnathan Cyprien in the second round. Those players appear to be forming a core of a good, young secondary, and first-year veteran Winston Guy gets better by the week.
10. … and the veteran matters back there, too.Cornerback Alan Ball had four pass breakups a week ago against the Cardinals. He had one on Sunday, and continues to emerge as a leader in the young secondary.
11. Andre Branch is improving.The second-year defensive end struggled in the preseason and struggled to start the regular season, too. But Bradley said Branch's effort level has improved throughout the season – and with that, his effectiveness has, too. Branch on Sunday had an early pressure and also had a 19-yard first-half sack. He also had a pass defensed.
12. Sen'Derrick Marks keeps making plays.Marks, a defensive tackle, has been as consistent as any Jaguars defensive lineman this season. On Sunday, he registered two pass breakups, his fifth and sixth of the season, respectively.
13. Paul Posluszny matters.Posluszny, the Jaguars' middle linebacker and leading tackler, missed last week's game with a concussion. In light of the Cardinals rushing for just 14 yards in that game, he joked that perhaps he wasn't as crucial as many thought. He had 14 tackles Sunday, with a tackle for loss, a quarterback pressure and a pass defensed. He matters.
14. The Jaguars believe in Gus Bradley.The Jaguars never stopped believing in Bradley's message. Not at 0-4. Not at 0-6. Not at 0-8. They now have won two of their last three games. It may sound corny so to say that belief is a reason for victories in two of the last three games. So what if it's corny?