JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser examines what we learned in a 6-0 Jaguars victory over the Indianapolis Colts at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville Sunday…
1.The Jaguars can still win … We were pretty sure this was true, but the Jaguars had gone two months without a victory. They went oh-for October and oh-for November since a 31-12 victory over the New York Jets at TIAA Bank Field on September 30. So, yeah … they can still win.
2. … and they can win a close game. Here's how close the Jaguars are to being in the playoff chase. The last four losses of their seven-game losing streak were by six points or less: 24-18 to Philadelphia, 29-26 to Indianapolis, 20-16 to Pittsburgh and 24-21 to Buffalo. For a month, they couldn't make a play late to win a close game. On Sunday, they did.
3.The Jaguars have heart. The Jaguars' to Buffalo last week essentially eliminated them from the postseason. Sunday easily could have been a case of a team playing selfishly or without motivation. The Jaguars Sunday played as a team – and sure didn't lack motivation.
4.Jalen Ramsey is tough. The Jaguars' All-Pro cornerback on Sunday started his 44th consecutive game to start his career, playing through a knee injury that kept him out of practice Wednesday and Thursday. This was not a case of Ramsey being "sort of questionable." There was a real chance entering the weekend he wouldn't play. He fought through the injury in a "meaningless" game – and played well.
5.The Jaguars miss Leonard Fournette. Remember early in the season? When it was vogue to say the Jaguars were as good offensively without their starting running back? They're not. The Jaguars rushed for 179 and 226 with Fournette playing at a high level the past two weeks. They rushed for 79 yards Sunday with him serving a one-game suspension.
6.The Jaguars' defense is still good. This never should have been in doubt. The Jaguars' defense proved it again on Sunday.
7.The Jaguars' defense is still good, part 2. The defense has been criticized too much too often this season. No, it hasn't produced the turnovers and interceptions it did last season, but that's mostly because it hasn't played with a lead. The defensive performance Sunday may have been the best for the franchise in a long time – maybe ever – but it's not as if the defense has been down this season.
8.Yannick Ngakoue is still a force. As has been the case for the entire defense, criticism of defensive end Yannick Ngakoue this season has been largely silly and misinformed. No, Ngakoue's seven sacks this season aren't quite on pace with his 12 sacks from last season. But he consistently provides pressure and he is well within range of double-digit sacks. He had a sack and a huge tackle on a first-quarter goal-line stand Sunday. He also had a strip-sack negated by penalty and multiple pressures on Luck. On a day of standout defensive performances, Ngakoue's stood out Sunday.
9.Dawuane Smoot is improving. The Jaguars' young defensive linemen appear to be improving. Rookie Taven Bryan had a bad unnecessary roughness penalty Sunday for hitting the long snapper on a field goal, but he has improved in recent weeks. Smoot, a second-year veteran, had perhaps the best game of his career Sunday – playing more than half the defensive snaps and finishing with two tackles and two quarterback hurries.
10.D.J. Hayden continues to play well … The veteran nickel corner had a big-time interception early and finished with two passes defensed. The defense missed Hayden when he missed six games with a toe injury. The Jaguars are better with him on the field.
11. … and so do defensive end Calais Campbell and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. There's a looooooog list of defensive players who mattered Sunday. The list isn't complete without Campbell, who had two tackles for loss, a sack, two quarterback hurries and a pass defense. Nor is it complete without Dareus, whose strength and athleticism on the interior continues to be a problem for opposing interior linemen.
12.Telvin Smith is good when he's right. The Jaguars' weak-side linebacker after fighting through a shoulder issues earlier in the season had perhaps his best, most-physical game of the season Sunday. The effect on the defense was notable from the start.
13.We still don't know much about Scott Milanovich. Fournette's absence didn't help. Neither did the injured state of an offensive line that at one point Sunday was playing with one Week 1 starter – guard A.J. Cann. Milanovich's first game as the Jaguars' offensive play-caller mostly featured a lot of checkdowns from quarterback Cody Kessler and a struggling running game. Fournette is expected to return Thursday against Tennessee. Stay tuned.
14.Kessler is 1-0 as the Jaguars' starting quarterback. Kessler went 0-8 as the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback in 2016. He did little downfield in his first start with the Jaguars. In fact, he checked down a lot and made few throws downfield. Some of that may have been design. Some appeared to be because he was sensing pressure quickly. The reality is there's not a big difference right now between Kessler and the player he replaced, Blake Bortles. Still, Kessler is now 1-0 starting for the Jaguars – and 1-0 is 1-0.