The Jacksonville Jaguars were the NFL's laughing stock until November, but now, they hold the AFC's longest winning streak—three games—and the future appears drastically brighter than it did just a few weeks ago.
While the 2013 season will almost assuredly end with Gus Bradley's team falling short of the postseason‚ there've been a handful of encouraging developments this year.
Here's what we've learned about the future of the Jaguars organization.
What Steady Quarterback Play Can Do
During the Jaguars 4-1 stretch, quarterback Chad Henne has completed 98-of-164 passes (59.7 percent) at 6.01 yards per attempt with five touchdown passes and five interceptions.
Relative to just about any other signal-caller in the NFL, those aren't good numbers.
But based on the standard set by Blaine Gabbert and Henne himself over the past few seasons, those numbers have been pretty good.
Take a look:
|Completion %||Yards Per Attempt||TD:INT|
|Chad Henne's Overall (minus past five)||56.6||6.71||19:21|
|Blaine Gabbert Overall||53.3||5.60||22:24|
|Chad Henne's Best Five-Game Stretch||51.8||7.01||8:5|
|Blaine Gabbert's Best Five-Game Stretch||55.0||5.65||6:5|
Pro Football Reference
While Jacksonville's recent string of wins hasn't solely been about the play of Henne, he hasn't been atrocious enough to single-handedly lose games for his team.
Barring an unforeseen wave of underclassman quarterbacks staying in school for another season, the Jaguars will get a chance to draft a young, naturally talented signal-caller in May.
In today's NFL, it's almost impossible to successfully rebuild if a franchise quarterback isn't in place.
After Jacksonville swung and missed on Blaine Gabbert, there was essentially no hope for the team to win consistently and to compete for a playoff spot on an annual basis.
Henne's been a below-average, unspectacular stand-in who's only shown rare glimpses of legitimate competence at the game's most vital position.
Even though his recent five-game stretch hasn't been a positive statistical outlier, it hasn't been a hindrance to the rest of the team.
If anything, Henne's close-to-average play has displayed what this Jaguars team can do if the quarterback play isn't abysmal.
One would have to think that the next signal-caller—likely an early-round pick—will be much more viable than Gabbert and Henne have been over the past few seasons in Jacksonville.
Gus Bradley's Defensive Speciality Showing
As the Jaguars skidded to an 0-8 start in 2013, they allowed 23.37 first downs, 392.25 yards and 33 points per game.
After the bye week, Bradley's defense has surrendered 19.2 first downs, 314 yards and 21.6 points per game.
Sure, some of that is due to their schedule, but such a considerable defensive improvement can't be ignored for a rebuilding club like the Jaguars.
Bradley was hired after he morphed the Seattle Seahawks into, arguably, the best defense in the NFL from 2009 to 2012.
With only one offseason to construct his type of roster, growing pains should have been expected from Jacksonville this season, especially in the early stages of the season.
It would have been a bit worrisome if its defense showed little-to-no progression late in the year. But it has.
Expect more roster turnover during the upcoming offseason and the 2014 Jaguars to more closely resemble the team Bradley wants to field.
The success of the current Jaguars coaching and front office regime will mainly hinge on the success of the quarterback who'll take over next season.
But having a sound defense on his side will benefit that young signal-caller as he acclimates to the professional game.
Just ask Russell Wilson.
Maurice Jones-Drew May Have A Future Role
The Jaguars offensive line needs work. Although Pro Football Focus (subscription required) ranks it as the 15th-best pass-blocking unit heading into Week 15, it's also been rated by PFF as the worst run-blocking unit by a wide margin.
Jacksonville's running backs have paid dearly for the offensive line deficiency.
The Jaguars average an embarrassing 3.2 yards per carry, and Maurice Jones-Drew leads the team with a 3.5 yards-per-carry average among backs who've received at least 10 carries.
Though MJD will be 29 in March and will likely finish the season with around 1,800 career carries on his NFL resume, he's proven to be serviceable enough to stick in Jacksonville beyond 2013.
GM David Caldwell hasn't ruled out the possibility, either:
Caldwell says "realistic possibility" of Jones-Drew staying with #Jaguars after this year.— Ryan O'Halloran (@ryanohalloran) November 27, 2013
Jones-Drew's contract is up at the end of the year, but in all likelihood, he won't command much money on the open market.
He did suffer a hamstring injury in Week 14's win over the Houston Texans, a game in which he ran for 103 yards on 14 attempts, but that shouldn't factor into his chance to stick around, as it's not a serious injury.
The veteran runner has averaged 5.17 yards per rush over his last three games, and although the Jaguars will look to add a young, franchise running back this offseason, there's a good chance Jacksonville can inexpensively re-sign MJD to be a situational runner and pass-blocker—the latter being extremely important—for the next few seasons.