JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned from the Jaguars' 19-7 victory over the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, Sunday …
1. The Jaguars are in first place.We didn't exactly learn this Sunday, but it's certainly worth emphasizing. The Jaguars moved into sole possession of first place in the AFC South over the weekend with the Tennessee Titans losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Jaguars beating the Browns. The Jaguars haven't been in first place entering Week 12 since 1999. Six games remain. The Jaguars are up by a full game. Their destiny is totally under their control.
2. The Jaguars are hot. No, Sunday's victory wasn't dominant or complete, but it was a victory – the Jaguars' fourth consecutive victory, to be exact. That's their longest winning streak in a decade, and the Jaguars haven't lost since mid-October.
3. Yannick Ngakoue is special.Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell has been saying all season that Ngakoue – a second-year veteran – has the potential to be the league's best pass-rusher. Who knew Campbell meant now? Ngakoue registered 2.5 sacks Sunday and now has nine for the season. He's getting consistent, week-to-week pressure now. He also registered three forced fumbles Sunday, and we're now way past the point of talking about Ngakoue's potential. He's good. Period.
4. The defense is oh-so-for-real. The Jaguars' defense is ranked first in the NFL in points allowed, yards per play allowed, yards allowed, takeaways (tied), passing yards allowed and sacks. Statistics aren't everything, but those are staggering.
5. The defense is oh-so-for-real, part II.Sunday was the second time this season the Jaguars have forced five takeaways in a game. They also have been remarkable in recent weeks in late-game situations. A week ago, cornerback A.J. Bouye's interception set up the game-winning field goal in overtime against the Los Angeles Chargers. On Sunday, linebacker Telvin Smith's fumble recovery for a touchdown in the final two minutes secured the victory.
6. The defense plays big in the clutch.Don't overlook this aspect of the Jaguars' defense. They locked down Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers late last week. They twice created sack/fumbles in the final minutes against the Browns. These guys can close out games.
7. Dede Westbrook may make an impact. The Jaguars rookie wide receiver talked last week of getting 200 yards receiving in his first NFL game. He didn't come close to that, but he did show the speed and athleticism that allowed him to lead the NFL in preseason receiving yards. He can give the Jaguars a big play or two a game. That's a huge boost for this team right now.
8. Leonard Fournette is tough ... The rookie running back Leonard Fournette was clearly bothered by an ankle injury Sunday. He also clearly was able to play through it and gut out a 100-yard rushing game. Credit to him. The Jaguars needed that performance Sunday.
9. … and he's good.Fournette said he likely won't be 100 percent until after the season because that's when he will be able to rest the ankle for an extended time. That's not great news for the Jaguars. What is good news for the Jaguars is Fournette was effective Sunday despite the issues. He not only showed burst on runs on the edge, he also got back to the tackle-breaking, all-out style that defined his play early in the season when that style was defining the Jaguars' offense.
10. Marcell Dareus matters – a lot.The Jaguars were 32nd in the NFL in rushing defense when they traded for the veteran defensive tackle during the bye week. They have allowed 166 yards rushing in the three games since his arrival.
11. The Jaguars can play pass defense.O, this has been pretty evident all season, too. Still, consider the numbers: cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Jalen Ramsey have more passes defensed than any other corner tandem in the NFL – and the Jaguars lead the NFL in pass defense by more than 23 yards a game. That's lock-down stuff.
12. Jermey Parnell is missed.Parnell has been alternately unfairly criticized and overlooked through two-and-a-half Jaguars seasons. The veteran right tackle's value is being seen clearly now. The line has struggled at times in his absence in the last two games. The Jaguars need the big man back.
13. The 2017 Jaguars won the AFC North. This is footnote doesn't likely mean much in the big picture, but what a footnote. Jaguars went 4-0 against the AFC North this season, beating Baltimore 44-7, Pittsburgh 30-9, Cincinnati 23-7 and Cleveland 19-7. That's a cumulative score of 116-30. That's stunning.
14. The Jaguars can take this thing on the road.Remember early in the season? When the Jaguars not winning at EverBank Field was a "thing?" What that overshadowed was that the Jaguars have turned into a good road team. They have won four of their first five games on the road. Only the Steelers and Patriots have better road records in the AFC. This team isn't remotely bothered by unfamiliar environments. That bodes well for what lies ahead.