The Jacksonville Jaguars learned a lot about themselves against the Buffalo Bills, who they beat 36-26 Sunday.
As a team, Jacksonville found out a few things about winning on the road. The Jaguars entered this Week 5 trip to Orchard Park having been blown out in their only other game away from Florida, a thorough 38-13 beating at the hands of the San Diego Chargers.
There's hope, too, that head coach Jack Del Rio will grow past a few of his sideline idiosyncrasies. He once again called a fourth down attempt on his own half of the field, but he sagely ignored a hot-headed challenge request from Rashean Mathis that might have swayed him in the past.
Unfortunately, not all of Jacksonville's revelations were hopeful. After the jump, check out 10 quick takeaways from Sunday's win listed by player.
With 1.5 sacks in the Jaguars' first four games, Aaron Kampman hasn't exactly been a statistical monster.
Still, the small-but-impressive sample of his game tape with Jacksonville obviously impressed Buffalo offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins. Throughout Sunday's game, the Bills' pass protectors paid double-team attention to Kampman and Ivy League quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was always wary of him.
In spite of that spotlight, Kampman rose to the occasion in his best game with the Jaguars, doubling his sack total, batting down a pass, and wreaking general havoc in Buffalo's backfield.
When second-stringer Rashad Jennings was ruled out for Jacksonville's clash with Buffalo, the general consensus was that the Jaguars would be relying heavily on Maurice Jones-Drew.
Fortunately for Jacksonville, offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter's memory extended past the regular season and his own unit. Before going under the knife for thumb surgery in August, Deji Karim had been impressive both as a return man and on offense.
Sunday, he contributed 70 yards on 10 carries and gashed the Bills' kick coverage team on several long returns. Going forward, he's earned a shot at joining Jennings in a relief role for Jones-Drew.
Were the Jaguars' offense backed by a league-average leg, Sunday's 36-26 win might have been uncomfortably close.
After all, few kickers in the NFL could do what Josh Scobee has done through five games this year. He entered Week 5 having made 100 percent of his kicks, including an epic 59-yarder to beat the Indianapolis Colts and even Jacksonville's record at 2-2.
Against Buffalo, he kept right on trucking, adding five more field goals to his perfect record—four of which were from 40-plus yards out. After missing 10 kicks in 2009, it'd be an understatement to say that Scobee is on-form.
Even as the Jaguars' much-improved defensive line has generated pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season, defensive end Derrick Harvey has lagged behind his fellow starters in terms of production.
Looking past Sunday's box score, where Harvey was credited for half a sack, Jacksonville will have to consider Jeremy Mincey for that job going forward. While Harvey was largely ineffective against the Bills' ground game and got in on the sack while piling on, Mincey pushed Buffalo's pocket in and applied heavy pressure on the passer when he rotated in.
A roster bubble competitor as an end/tackle 'tweener in years past, Mincey's slimmer physique and relentless work rate are obvious signs that he's buying into both the Jaguars' conditioning program and their defensive philosophy.
Sure, it's awfully nit-picky to find fault in a run defense that kept the Bills out of the end zone on several goal-to-go situations inside the five-yard line.
Still, Jacksonville's front seven will be much better off when injured linebacker Justin Durant returns. The Jaguars didn't exactly let Buffalo's Fred Jackson run wild, but he twice slipped past fill-in Russell Allen to add big chunks of yardage on carries that should have been short gains.
The uninspiring sight of an undrafted special teamer slipping and sliding flat-footed in open space won't earn Allen many snaps once the athletic Durant is cleared to play.
Early in Sunday's game, Jacksonville had hardly any of the control that put the Bills away during a 23-13 second half run.
But while the Jaguars managed to nip their turnover problem in the bud, they had to shorten the timer on their passing game for fear of defensive tackles teeing off on David Garrard. When center Brad Meester wasn't clinging to the jerseys of Buffalo's Marcus Stroud and Spencer Johnson for dear life, he was getting walked back into the pocket.
In past seasons, Meester's impressive combination of strength and savvy has given him a death grip on Jacksonville's starting center job. Without the first part of that equation, his tenure might not extend past this season.
As much as Russell Allen slipped up against the run Sunday, Gerald Alexander played well enough behind him to save his butt.
Able to play downhill while his teammates in the defensive backfield dealt with the Bills' underwhelming receiving corps, Alexander continued his two-week streak of making impressive hits the open field. Aside from a few punishing knocks to ring Roscoe Parrish's bell, he also dragged Buffalo's backs down in space on several occasions.
Until the Jaguars get Justin Durant back, they'll need Alexander to keep reinforcing the spine of their defensive front—especially considering their weak pass defense and consequent fondness for nickel packages.
In a year and change as one of Jacksonville's starting corners, Derek Cox has taken some flak from this corner for playing too far off his assigned receiver, a habit which inflated his 72-tackle stat line in 2009.
Out of Jacksonville's several bright spots from Sunday's win, none bode better for the future than signs that Cox has the ability to cover close for 60 minutes. Whether matched up on Steve Johnson, Roscoe Parrish, or even former first-rounder Lee Evans, Cox played physical and ran in lockstep with the Bills' wideouts.
When Buffalo did complete a pass to his side, it was on an impeccably-placed out route to Evans that required a stretching grab and some neat footwork on the sideline. You can't stop 'em all, but Cox held his marks in check for most of the game with athletic, heads-up play.
Had he re-injured his knee? Turned his ankle under a defender? Gotten the wind knocked out of him?
When Maurice Jones-Drew went down and stayed down late in the Jaguars' dominant second half Sunday, those worried questions swirled among Jacksonville's fans and between the CBS commentary team of Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker.
To put it lightly, Jones-Drew's important enough that seeing him injured isn't just cause for a TV timeout. With Rashad Jennings and Deji Karim behind him, the Jaguars aren't thin at the position, but Jones-Drew's injury (which turned out to be a sprained wrist) was an uneasy reminder of his summer knee problems and his potential fragility.
Even Herculean 5'8" workhorses have their physical limits.
Between an efficient 17-of-22 effort in the Jaguars' upset win over Indianapolis and three touchdown passes against the Bills, David Garrard seems to be getting the hang of this whole "passing" thing all over again.
After handing the San Diego Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles the ball five times in the air over the two weeks prior to Sunday's victory, it's a welcome development for Jacksonville. Garrard put his team behind the eight-ball with a tipped-ball interception and a kicked-ball fumble, but he led the Jaguars back out by finding Marcedes Lewis high, Mike Thomas low, and Mike Sims-Walker everywhere in-between.
More importantly, the decisions he made weren't high-effort, low-percentage options. On a day where only three of his passes hit the turf, Garrard made dink-and-dunk passing look easy for a change.
If the Jaguars are going to emerge as contenders in the AFC, easy is exactly what passing—and winning—against the Bills should be.