After taking a week off from my Jaguars column to enjoy family and friends during my favorite of all holidays, I am happy to report back this week and write about not one, but TWO Jaguars victories on the road. A week ago, the Jaguars won a gritty 13-6 defensive battle against the Texans in Houston. The win allowed the Jags to usurp the reeling Texans and match 2012’s win total as they also left behind the cellar of the AFC South.
Suddenly road warriors, the Jags then turned around and knocked off the Browns 32-28 in Cleveland, never an easy task in front of the Dog Pound and with the possibility of treacherous lake-effect cold temperatures and wind. Luckily, freezing temps and brutal gusts didn’t factor much in this one. Browns’ wide receiver Josh “Flash, ah-aaaaaah” Gordon certainly did, however, racking up a ridiculous 261 yards receiving and 2 TD receptions on the afternoon. In the end, even those cosmic numbers put up by Gordon weren’t enough to propel his Browns to victory, and Cleveland’s slim post-season hopes were tossed out with the Thanksgiving leftovers. This was an exciting game that featured five lead changes, a TD pass from RB Maurice Jones-Drew to TE Marcedes Lewis, a couple of crucial interceptions of Browns reckless QB Brandon Weedon by the Jaguars at the end of the first-half, and a game-winning touchdown grab in the back corner of the end zone by Cecil Shorts III over Browns CB Joe Haden, who is perhaps is the game’s best cover corner.
So, here we are at 3-9. We now have concrete evidence of improvement over last season, right? Let us discuss. One of the better developments over the last two games is the return to relevance by Cecil Shorts III, who had but 4 catches and 64 yards total in the two combined games prior to the game at Houston. Shorts III has caught a much more respectable 14 balls to go along with 135 hard fought yards in the last two contests. He was a little skittish in the Browns game and dropped a few passes that should have been caught-perhaps intimated by mighty CB Haden, perhaps nervous that he was playing in front of dozens of friends and family in attendance from his hometown, not far from Cleveland-but he came through in the clutch and all errors were forgiven. Head Coach Gus Bradley getting a few wins under his belt certainly helps matters; the momentum that comes along with realizing that you CAN win is worth its weight in gold. Negativity has a tendency to snowball and Bradley has seemed to have avoided that, probably due in no small part to his persistent positive attitude.
As for the players, while certainly improving, you wonder how many of the key pieces who are on the current roster are even going to be a part of next year’s squad. As much as #JaguarsTwitter likes to play reality police and remind us how awful Tim Tebow is and how fluky his playoff run in Denver was a few years ago (which are both moot points right now as far as the Jaguars are concerned), they should be equally as eager to point out that QB Chad Henne throwing to TE Clay Harbor in 3 TE packages does not an NFL future make. They should also realize that the last two wins were against two very bad, self-destructive teams captained by inexperienced/sloppy QBs. If you peek under the hood it is easy to discern that these last two gift-wrapped wins were just as fluky as the flukiest of wins that Tebow has ever been credited with.
Of course, there are “nitpicky” concerns regarding this Jaguars team, like having an offense that seems to rely too much on lucky strikes and has seemingly no real identity or strategy (this may become clearer once the true future QB in place). Then there are much larger concerns, like the Jaguars secondary serving as a sieve to a couple of gaudy games by opposing WRs in two of the last three games. The analyst in me would be more satisfied with the Jaguars if I could witness a complete game on both sides of the ball…but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. Baby steps. We won’t dwell too much on the negative right now. No, not today. Today we revel in the wins, which are few and not-so-far far between these days. What can’t be questioned is that the Jaguars have won back-to-back games in hostile territory and, like Meat Loaf once sang, “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad.” Three out of four is even better.