Jags show growth in comeback
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.- Admit it. You had every reason to believe the Jaguars were heading down the same old road. This looked like just another wasted business trip.
Whenever things imploded early for the Jaguars the past two years - be it in San Diego, New England, Cleveland, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago or wherever - they'd stay in a game-long funk and never come out of a football coma.
The Jaguars were too discombobulated, too bereft of real leadership and too immature to overcome the 10-0 and 13-3 deficits they faced Sunday against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
"I told you guys this is a different team from last year," said running back Maurice Jones-Drew. "We stumbled a little bit in the beginning, but we just kept fighting until we started making plays."
Nobody in the Jaguars' locker room revels more in telling the media I-told-you-so than Jones-Drew, even when his argument is as shaky as his personal injury denials.
But on this gorgeous afternoon near the shores of Lake Erie, the Jaguars' franchise back - while admitting he has played more hurt than he previously let on - and his teammates reveled in taking a major step forward.
Maybe, just maybe, these aren't the Jaguars of old.
They actually climbed out of those 10-point holes with relative ease. They went on a 30-7 run against the winless Bills en route to a 36-26 victory. They showed a side of themselves that few people outside the locker room thought the Jaguars had in their repertoire.
"I like the resiliency," said Jaguars general manager Gene Smith.
"Would I have rather came in and we just ... " added defensive end Aaron Kampman, making a bulldozer-type noise. "Yeah, it would have been easier, better. But I think, for the growth of our football team, this is good."
If Josh Scobee's 59-yard game-winning field goal against the Colts was a turning point in the season, this might have been a bigger leap in the Jaguars' growth process.
The Jaguars' recent history is littered with examples of not handling adversity early in games. Any opponent getting off to a fast start on Jack Del Rio's team was destined for an easy win.
Not this time. And what made this rally so inspiring was the Jaguars recovered behind the people most responsible for the early deficit, as well as players who were previously chained to the sideline for different reasons.
Mike Thomas didn't let a fumble the first time he touched the ball, a punt return turnover that led to a Buffalo touchdown, unravel him. The Jaguars receiver combined for 104 total yards on seven catches/runs, including 55 yards of production on the game-tying touchdown drive before halftime.
"I don't get down on that stuff, man," Thomas said about his fumble. "I've played football my whole life. I know what kind of player I am. My plays are going to come. Things happen. It's a part of football. I can't let things like that get in the way of me continuing to grow and doing my part in the offense."
The same can be said of the Jaguars' maligned quarterback, David Garrard, who refused to let an interception on his first pass lead to more bad plays. He was a model of efficiency the rest of the afternoon, completing 16 of his next 19 passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns.
Remember that quarterback who wilted after bad starts during those 25-point blowouts against San Diego and Philadelphia? He was a no-show in Buffalo.
"You're going to have those moments," Garrard said. "The really good teams, the great teams are able to withstand that. They're going through it, and coming back from it.
"Those were just really bad days. It wasn't indicative of what our team is. I think that's us showing maturity, being able to bounce back from that."
And the best part is the Jaguars didn't just get contributions from regular standouts such as Kampman, tight end Marcedes Lewis or Jones-Drew.
Rookie Deji Karim, after sitting out four weeks with a thumb injury, had 145 yards worth of kick returns and 70 yards rushing in his NFL debut. Cornerback Derek Cox, after going from full-time starter into Jack Del Rio's dog house, might have won his job back by playing solidly in coverage after Del Rio benched David Jones.
"That's two weeks in a row, really, where we found a way to gut out a win," Del Rio said, "having not played anywhere near our best football."
So does this mean the Jaguars (3-2), now in a four-way tie for first place in the AFC South, are ready to seize control of the division and be a playoff contender? I wouldn't go that far just yet. But shuffling off to Buffalo and going home with this kind of a comeback win, that's a good sign.
Maybe Jones-Drew is right. These aren't the same old Jaguars.
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