JACKSONVILLE – Here's What We Learned from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 32-28 victory over the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, Sunday…
1. This is real.The season's first victory, the one over Tennessee, for many Jaguars fans may have felt like relief. The second, the one over Houston, may have felt a little better. But the third one – the one over Cleveland Sunday – should feel real. Because this is real now. The Jaguars have won three of four games, and they're improving by the week. On Sunday, the Jaguars turned in a very good game-winning drive against a very good defense and went right at that defense's best player – cornerback Joe Haden – to do it. That's good stuff, and it's the stuff by which early stages of building processes are measured.
2. The Jaguars are becoming a poised team.Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley after the game emphasized the Jaguars' poise, and he couldn't have been more right. The Jaguars since the Week Nine bye have won three of four games, but even in the game they lost – a 27-14 loss to Arizona – they showed poise and the game never got away from them. That hasn't always been the case for this team in recent seasons. If that's becoming a trademark of this team, that's a huge positive.
3. Cecil Shorts III is clutch.Shorts dropped two passes early in the game and said later it may have been because he was pressing in his first NFL game in his hometown. Credit him for this: with the game on the line, he made the play of the game, beating Haden to the corner of the end zone and catching the game-winning, 20-yard touchdown with 40 seconds remaining. A big-time moment for a deserving guy.
4. The Jaguars can run . . .Two weeks ago, after the Jaguars rushed for 32 yards against Arizona, Bradley said the team had to find a way to run somehow, someway. The improvement since has been significant. The Jaguars on Sunday rushed for more than 100 yards for a second consecutive game – that, after not doing it once in the first 10 games. And oh, yes…
5…. and Maurice Jones-Drew absolutely still can, too …Jones-Drew isn't breaking off 100-yard games, but he rushed for a season-high 84 yards last week and added 77 against the Browns. He carried a significant workload against the Browns, too, rushing 23 times. The Jaguars need him to be productive. In the last two weeks, he has been just that.
6. … And Jones-Drew can … pass?Jones-Drew has made three Pro Bowls and he has won an NFL rushing title. He never had thrown an NFL touchdown pass. Until the second quarter Sunday. His eight-yard pass to tight end Marcedes Lewis tied the game at 14-14. He said later it wasn't a very good pass. It looked pretty good to the Jaguars Sunday.
7. Josh Gordon is good.Remember when there were rumors the Browns would try to deal Gordon before the trade deadline. Um, good decision by the Browns to not do that. He has elite receiver tools and right now he has the look of a player on his way to being just that.
8. The young secondary is getting better all the time.What? A secondary that allowed Gordon 261 yards receiving is improving? Yes. Safety Winston Guy made a mistake on Gordon's 95-yard touchdown reception, and when it's a 95-yard-touchdown-mistake you can't brush it off. But the Jaguars' secondary made two interceptions late in the first half that led to 10 points. Just as you can't overlook Gordon's yards, you can't overlook turnovers that become points. You want your secondary to have a knack for interceptions, and these guys are starting to show that knack.
9. Sen'Derrick Marks was a find in free agency.Twelve games in, here's what's notable about Marks. There have been a lot more games this season when you've noticed him in a positive way than there have been games in which he has been invisible. That's rare for a defensive tackle. On Sunday, he not only had a sack and a quarterback hurry, he also had a pass defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. That's play-making and that has been the norm for Marks this season.
10. Josh Scobee's as valuable as anyone on the roster.OK, that's not breaking news. He has been real good for a long time. But when you're playing close games – as the Jaguars have been doing lately – you can't leave points on the field. Scobee converted all three field goals Sunday. If he misses any, the game has a different feel at the end. He has been clutch this season. If he hadn't been, the Jaguars probably wouldn't have their three victories.
11. This team is starting to get used to this.The locker room afterward had a weird vibe – but weird in a good way if you're a Jaguars fan. There was no jubilation, and not even a great deal of satisfaction. When Jones-Drew and Marks and other veterans spoke, there was a tone of players who weren't surprised to have won, and they didn't act like it was the most thrilling moment of their careers. That's good. You don't want nonchalance after a victory, but you also want a team to expect it. The Jaguars are starting to feel like that sort of team.
12. Winning is fun.Well, isn't it? So, forget the talk about draft order. The Jaguars have won three of four games. They've won back-to-back games. They're improving in real ways that matter. They're only going to get better as they add talent. Watch the process, and enjoy the winning. It's supposed to feel good, and it does.