The doom and gloom that had permeated the Jaguars locker room for two months had finally disappeared. It was replaced by loud music, teammates exchanging barbs and jokes with each other and most importantly a sigh of relief that the losing streak was a thing of the past.
As far as beauty contests go, this one wasn't close to a 10 rating, unless you were a member of Jacksonville's defensive unit. Offensive players were seen getting towels and wiping foreheads of their counterparts, promising them that they would be better for the next outing.
Using one of their strongest defensive showings in a number of years, the Jaguars put an end to a seven-game losing streak by posting the team's first home shutout since 2006 (41-0 over the New York Jets). The offensive highlights in Sunday's 6-0 win over Indianapolis could be counted on one hand, and that's without the use of several fingers. But it would take all 10 fingers and then some to record the best moments of the defensive effort. And every one of them was needed. Just one slipup resulting in an Indy touchdown would have turned this victory into another agonizing defeat.
That had been the mantra the last four weeks for the Jaguars, a span that saw them come up 3, 4, 3 and 6 points short. Any of the four were winnable contests as the Jaguars either had the ball marching for a winning score in the final minute or allowed a winning touchdown in the final seconds. That's why there was plenty of apprehension when Andrew Luck, arguably the hottest quarterback in the NFL the last month, had one final opportunity to lead the Colts to the end zone.
Luck and the Colts started from their own 15 with 1:53 left to play and no timeouts. That didn't appear to be a problem for Luck who had generated 20 previous fourth quarter or overtime game-winning drives. Four plays netted 52 yards and gave Indy a first down at the Jaguars 33 with 35 seconds left. But two short passes netted just four yards each and more importantly, the Jaguars kept the clock running by preventing the receiver from getting out of bounds. When the clock ran out after the second completion, it was a relief that the Jaguars and their fan base had not experienced in two months, dating back to a Sept. 30 win over the New York Jets.
"Obviously it wasn't pretty and there's a lot I left out there, but at the end of the day, it feels good," said Cody Kessler, who had replaced Bortles as starting quarterback following last week's 24-21 loss at Buffalo. "Obviously, here it's special for me, but as a starter to get that first one, our defense played great today and just overall as a team."
It was Kessler's first start since 2016 when he started eight games for the Cleveland Browns and came out on the losing end each time. Kessler only passed for 150 yards and was sacked three times, but had no turnovers and did enough to lead the Jaguars on two scoring drives that resulted in field goals. Kessler was also without the services of the team's biggest offensive weapon, running back Leonard Fournette, who was serving a one-game, league-imposed suspension after he left the Jaguars bench and exchanged punches with the Buffalo Bills' Shaq Lawson last week. The Jaguars netted just 79 rushing yards and averaged less than three yards a carry. Kessler's 8-yard scramble was the only run over eight yards.
Once again, the Jaguars were utilizing a patched-up offensive line, with reserves starting at three positions, and a fourth needed for one series when starting right tackle Jermey Parnell went out with a foot injury. With three O-line starters on injured reserve, the Jaguars will have to make do with who is currently available. Last year's starting left guard, Patrick Omameh, got his first start this season for the Jaguars. Omameh had been released by the New York Giants and the Jaguars, short on healthy linemen, signed him to a contract. He'll likely stay at that spot the rest of the season unless an injury sends him to the sidelines as well.
As much as they would like to savor this win, the Jaguars have had to quickly put it behind them. They make their only Thursday night appearance this week when they travel to Tennessee to meet the Titans, who are still in the hunt for an AFC wild-card berth. These two teams met two years ago on a Thursday night prime-time show and the Jaguars embarrassed themselves by allowing Tennessee to score on five consecutive drives in the first half for a 27-0 lead at the intermission before losing 36-22 in one of the lowest-rated national telecasts that year.
Fournette will return to the starting lineup on Thursday, which should be a big boost and make Kessler's passing more effective. Teams have continued to load the box in trying to stop the Jaguars' elite runner, which will leave more single coverage on receivers. That will work in Kessler's advantage. He connected on 75 percent of his passes against Indianapolis with the Colts more concerned about the Jaguars' passing game rather than their running attack. Kessler's accuracy is one of the main reasons why he replaced Bortles as the starter. During the team's seven-game losing streak, Bortles completed more than 60 percent of his passes in just one of the seven games.
There was no talk about the playoffs last week in the Jaguars locker room, nor is there likely to be any this week or in the final month of the season. What the Jaguars will be looking for now is to finish strong, get some of their younger players, i.e. safety Ronnie Harrison (had his first start in the Indy game), defensive tackle Tevan Bryan (increased reps in this game) and wide receiver DJ Chark (currently sidelined with an injury) more playing time and reach the .500 mark with four more wins this month.
--DE Yannick Ngakoue recorded his co-team-leading seventh sack of the season when he dropped Colts QB Andrew Luck for a 7-yard loss at midfield in the second quarter. Ngakoue had a strip-sack in the first quarter but a holding penalty on the Jaguars negated Ngakoue's effort.
--P Logan Cooke got off to a shaky start early with punts of 29 and 37 yards, but otherwise was on target with kicks of 55, 50, 47, 56 and 55 yards to finish with a gross 47.0 average and a strong 45.1 net mark. Two of the kicks were placed inside the 20 and none went into the end zone.
--RB Leonard Fournette was back in the locker room Monday, ready to resume practicing with the Jaguars. Fournette served a one-game suspension last week issued by the NFL office for an incident in the Buffalo game the previous week. Fournette was scheduled to meet with the media on Monday but left the locker room without talking.
--LB Myles Jack had not recorded more than three tackles in any of his last three games but came through with 10 tackles and recovered a fumble in the Indianapolis game.
--OT Patrick Omameh, who started six of seven games with the New York Giants this season before he was waived, started his first game with the Jaguars this season on Sunday against the Colts. Omameh started 13 games for the Jaguars during the 2017 season.
--CB Jalen Ramsey had six tackles and two pass break-ups against the Colts. His biggest tackle came on the last play of the game when he knocked Colts' TE Erik Swoope backwards which allowed the clock to keep running and ended the game without the Colts getting off another play.
--OT Jermey Parnell missed a series on Sunday with a foot injury but was back in the lineup when the Jaguars started their next drive. Omameh moved to tackle to replace Parnell with Chris Reed taking over at the left guard spot while Parnell was out.
--DE Dawuane Smoot, who was inactive for each of the first eight games this season, saw his most action of the season against Indianapolis. He was credited with two tackles and two quarterback hits.
--CB D.J. Hayden had another strong game with four tackles, two passes broken up and the Jaguars only interception on Andrew Luck. Hayden now has 18 tackles in his last three games after missing six games earlier in the season with a toe injury.
--DT Abry Jones was seen in the locker room Monday in a walking boot. Head coach Doug Marrone called it "a contusion, nothing structurally damaged."