It wasn't just another double-digit loss for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Nope, this looked and felt much different — significantly better — for players and coaches.
The Jaguars (0-6) dropped their 11th consecutive game Sunday, a 35-19 loss at unbeaten Denver. Despite being 27-point underdogs, the Jaguars used three turnovers and some early defensive pressure to make it a tight game for much of the afternoon. Jacksonville trailed 14-12 at halftime and 21-19 in the third quarter before fading down the stretch.
Although energetic coach Gus Bradley wasn't satisfied with the result, he was pleased with his team's effort, attitude and progress — especially given outside circumstances.
"There was a lot of noise this week," Bradley said Monday. "We're going to Denver and we're facing Peyton Manning and his offense that scores 48 points a game, and there's a lot of doubters and there's a lot of things.
"We tried to make that world smaller for our guys ... and they competed from start to finish."
For much of the game, the Jaguars looked nothing like a winless team that had lost every game by at least 10 points.
They hit quarterback Peyton Manning several times early. They recovered both of his fumbled snaps. Linebacker Paul Posluszny returned an interception 59 yards for a touchdown late in the first half. Justin Blackmon looked unstoppable, catching in 14 passes for 190 yards. Maurice Jones-Drew ran roughshod over the league's No. 1 defense, finishing with a season-high 71 yards and a touchdown.
"There were some positives that we can take from this game," Posluszny said. "Moving forward, we can learn from this game. We definitely need some improvements in some areas. We're definitely headed in the right direction. We still do things on the field that are inexcusable. We make huge mistakes at times.
"We're not anywhere where we want to be or what we want to become, but we're at least headed in the right way."
There were mistakes, some costly.
Chad Henne underthrew Clay Harbor on the first snap for what would have been a huge gain. Jacksonville's fake punt moments later failed, leading to Denver's first touchdown. And defensive end Andre Branch was flagged for a personal foul after a third-down stop, keeping alive the Broncos' second TD drive.
There was a muffed snap on a field goal attempt, Bradley's failed decision to go for 2 after Posluszny's interception return, and a pass interference penalty that helped Denver on its opening drive of the third quarter. In all, Jacksonville did enough silly things to lose despite racking up 362 yards of offense.
"We'll go anywhere, anytime to compete," Bradley said. "We'll eliminate the distractions and worry about us performing at our highest level. We did that. The tough thing is they're saying, 'What happened then? We did all the things that you talked about. We ignored the noise. We competed. We played with great effort. We executed for the most part, so now what?'
"Well, we've got to clean up. Did we play hard? Yeah. Did we play fast? Yes. Did we play together? Yes. Did we go after the ball? Yes. Did we pick and get a touchdown? Yes. We did all of those things. Those opportunities that we had, even though they're fewer than in other games, we've got to capture those. And the turnovers, the missed opportunities in the red zone, those areas we've really got to focus on."
Jacksonville became the first team since the 1984 Houston Oilers to drop its first six games by double digits.
The Jaguars will try to end the streak Sunday against San Diego.
Henne, who threw for 303 yards and two interceptions, will make his second consecutive start in place of Blaine Gabbert (hamstring). Receiver Cecil Shorts III hopes to play despite injuring the joint that connects his breastbone to his collarbone.
"I'm going to do what I can," Shorts said. "We'll see what happens. My goal is to get out there and play this week. ... I'm in a whole lot of pain. I'm supposed to be wearing a sling, but I'm not going to.
"It's something I've got to deal with."
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