JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley delivered the news on the flight home.
He stood up in the middle of the plane and announced a day off. Players reacted with subdued celebration.
"They were excited and then they showed disappointment because I think that's what they wanted me to see," Bradley said Monday.
It was the first day Bradley has given his team off this season, a "Victory Monday" that followed a 13-6 win at Houston. It was Jacksonville's second win in three weeks, more evidence that Bradley has the rebuilding Jaguars (2-9) headed in the right direction.
Jacksonville gave up a season-low 218 yards — the team's fewest in more than two years — and made the most of several big offensive plays.
Ace Sanders' 51-yard reception set up Maurice Jones-Drew's 1-yard touchdown run on the opening possession. The Jaguars made it 10-0 in the second quarter after Jones-Drew got loose for a 44-yard gain, his longest run of the season. The defense did the rest, keeping steady pressure on Case Keenum and holding Andre Johnson to two catches.
Ryan Davis, a first-year player who spent most of the season on the practice squad, sealed the win when he intercepted Keenum's final pass.
Jacksonville is 2-1 since its bye week, when Bradley simplified the defense scheme by eliminating most 3-4 aspects.
Since then, the Jaguars forced four turnovers in a win at Tennessee and then held Arizona to 14 yards rushing in a loss.
"We really locked into a couple (defenses), but I think our guys are starting to understand it better," Bradley said. "I think they're getting a comfort level now of how to play their responsibility yet keep themselves alive for the whole play. That's what you're seeing on tape. You're seeing guys do that now, and because of it, they're playing with more confidence."
Second-year defensive end Andre Branch, who wasn't a lock to make the team after a sub-par training camp, has been one of the bright spots. Branch had a sack in his second straight game.
The Jaguars needed him to step up, too, since Jeremy Mincey didn't make the trip after violating an unspecified team rule.
Bradley spoke with Mincey on Monday.
"He's going to be challenged now," Bradley said. "I thought it was best for him to stay home this weekend. I thought it was best for the team for him to stay home this weekend. For Mince, it was just a challenge to get refocused on what's important, and we needed him to have his focus on the team.
"Not that it wasn't, but I think there was a sense that maybe he was straying away from that. He's got a lot of things going on and I just wanted to refocus his attention on football and I thought it was the best way to do that."
The Jaguars lost their first eight games — all by double digits — and prompted speculation they might become the third team in NFL history to go winless.
But they've played considerably better since. And things could get better down the stretch, with games against Cleveland (4-7), Houston (2-9), Buffalo (4-7), Tennessee (5-6) and Indianapolis (7-4) remaining.
"What's been really cool is to validate (the work)," Bradley said. "Let's really keep it about us getting better. It doesn't matter who we play, it's another test on every Sunday to test the preparation that we've had during the week. I think that if everybody on our team plays to the best of their ability, that's even better than winning.
"Our objective is to really sustain this and play at a high level all the time regardless of who we play. That's what we're really striving our team to get to, where they play their best all the time. If we do that, the wins will take care of themselves."
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