Sacksonville returns ... can Jaguars' elite defense stick around?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Sacksonville is back. For one afternoon, at least.

The Jacksonville Jaguars' elite defense -- which earned that nickname during its surprising 2017 season -- showed up after a two-month absence on Sunday with a three-sack, two-turnover 6-0 victory against the Indianapolis Colts at TIAA Bank Field.

It was arguably the unit's best performance since the 2017 season began, considering who it came against and the situation surrounding the game, but it likely is too late to turn around a disappointing season. Still, it was a welcomed sight for a franchise that had just this past week fired its offensive coordinator and benched its starting quarterback after losing seven consecutive games.

"We were back looking like Sacksonville," linebacker Myles Jack said about Sunday's game. "So that was good."

The Jaguars (4-8) stymied a Colts offense that had averaged 34.6 points per game during a five-game winning streak. They stopped the Colts (6-6) on three fourth-down plays -- including at the 1-yard line when defensive end Yannick Ngakoue tackled running back Jordan Wilkins for no gain -- and held them to 265 yards, which was their second-lowest output of the season.

Andrew Luck had thrown at least three touchdown passes in his previous eight games and had been sacked just twice since September ended. Luck had 248 yards passing but posted his lowest passer rating of the season (66.8). The Jaguars' third sack of the day was their biggest: Rookie safety Ronnie Harrison -- making his first career start over Barry Church -- blitzed and dropped Luck for a 9-yard loss on fourth down at the Jacksonville 28-yard line with 2:34 to play.

"I think the team really showed character today," said cornerback Jalen Ramsey, one of four defensive starters who played through nagging injuries. "We still have a really good defense. This year hasn't gone the way we wanted it to go, but it just felt like everybody's in it for pride and respect."

It's about time that happened, nose tackle Marcell Dareus said.

"We all just sat around this week, and we just kind of talked to each other, like, 'What do you want?'" Dareus said. "And so we kind of put our heads together. We're out here, we're playing for each other, playing for our coaches, playing for our organization, playing for our names on our back, and just played our ass off.

"I mean, this feels like the defense that I became a part of [when he joined the team via trade in October 2017]."

That defense went on to finish second in the NFL in sacks (55) and turnovers (33) and lead the NFL in pass defense and defensive touchdowns (seven). This year's defense entered Sunday with just 11 turnovers (24th), 21 sacks (27th), and only one defensive touchdown -- Jack's interception return in the season opener.

The criticism of coordinator Todd Wash has been pretty severe, especially after the Jaguars had three coverage busts that resulted in Luck touchdown passes to tight ends in the Colts' 29-26 victory against the Jaguars on Nov. 11 in Indianapolis. All of Indy's points that day came in the first half, and the Jaguars have held them scoreless for 91 minutes and 46 seconds since.

There have been calls for head coach Doug Marrone to fire Wash, especially after Marrone fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and benched quarterback Blake Bortles on Monday. Sunday certainly could be a redemptive moment for Wash.

"I think the score speaks for itself," Marrone asked.

The Jaguars, a team many picked to make the Super Bowl, had a 0.1 percent chance of making the playoffs heading into Sunday's game against the Colts per ESPN Analytics -- and it's even lower despite the victory in front of 67,030. But the way the defense played against Luck certainly gives the locker room hope that a .500 record -- the only way left to salvage what is without a doubt the most disappointing season in franchise history -- is not out of reach.

The offense didn’t exactly kick into high gear behind new starting quarterback Cody Kessler -- though that's partly because of the absence of running back Leonard Fournette, who was serving a one-game suspension -- so it will have to be on the defense to make a .500 record happen. The Jaguars are not exactly facing elite quarterbacks the next three weeks, either -- Marcus Mariota, Colt McCoy and Ryan Tannehill -- and the feeling is if they can shut down Luck, they can shut down anyone.

"Even though we've lost eight games and the [opportunity to make the] playoffs might be scarce, we still played this game with integrity, and we're going to go out there and keep fighting even though we don't know what the future holds for us," cornerback D.J. Hayden said. "But every chance we get, we're going to go out there and make the best of it."