JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) The Jacksonville Jaguars have a bright spot in the franchise's darkest season.
Coach Gus Bradley's defense ranks fourth in the NFL in yards allowed and has been at its best the last five weeks. The unit has surrendered 258 yards a game over the last five weeks and given the Jaguars (2-10) a chance to win each time out.
''We're becoming the defense that we're supposed to be,'' defensive tackle Malik Jackson said Wednesday.
It clearly hasn't been enough since Jacksonville has lost seven in a row heading into Sunday's game against Minnesota (6-6), which has dropped six of seven . But it's surely something for owner Shad Khan and general manager Dave Caldwell to consider when they start making moves at the end of the season.
It wouldn't be surprising to see first-year defensive coordinator Todd Wash stick around and get a chance to take his 4-3 scheme to the next level, especially with so much young talent on that side of the ball.
Rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Telvin Smith and defensive ends Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr. are cornerstones. Jackson, veteran safety Tashaun Gipson, cornerback Aaron Colvin and rookie linebacker Myles Jack provide more building blocks for a defense that was among the worst in the league in 2015.
The Jaguars committed nearly $130 million in free agency to sign Jackson and Gipson, and then got better-than-expected contributions from Ramsey, fellow rookie Ngakoue and third-year pro Smith.
Combining seven newcomers with a handful of returners took time to jell. But the results have shown in recent weeks.
''You never know how fast it's going to happen,'' Bradley said. ''I think guys really understand their roles and they're playing fast because of it. It's impressive what those guys have done in how they have come together.''
The Jaguars enjoyed their best defensive effort in Bradley's four seasons last week against Denver. They held the Broncos to 206 yards and 1-for-13 on third down. Denver still won, though, because it forced Jacksonville into three turnovers that led to 10 points.
''When you know you have arrived is when a defense starts dictating the outcome of the game,'' Bradley said. ''You saw Denver get a Pick-6, another interception and you feel like their defense really dictated the outcome of that game. That's the mark of a really good defense. Really good defense. Right now we're not there yet. We're not dictating the outcome of it, but not to be confused with a talented defense that really has the arrow up.
''You're really excited about this group of guys. Really excited.''
The one thing the Jaguars need to do better defensively is create turnovers. They have an NFL-low seven takeaways and have gone eight games with an interception.
''In every other category, we're killing it,'' Jackson said. ''But we've just got to do more.''
The defense has had plenty of chances to do more, including dropping interceptions against Kansas City and Denver. The unit also got robbed of a turnover against Buffalo, when officials inadvertently whistled a play dead as running back LeSean McCoy was getting the ball stripped out of his grasp.
''The ball's just not bouncing our way right way,'' safety Johnathan Cyprien said. ''We're causing a fumble, but the referee blow the whistle and it's dead. Or maybe we drop an interception. It's just problems, weird things happening. It's plays we can do in our sleep, but it just so happens that we're not capitalizing. We've got to continue to fight through it.''
Regardless, there's much more good going on than bad on defense - a significant change from recent years and something to build on moving forward.
''Obviously, this season didn't work out the way we wanted,'' veteran linebacker Paul Posluszny said. ''But we still have four games to kind of make our mark. It took a little time for everyone to catch on, but we're starting to go now.
''Imagine when all these guys are second-, third- and fourth-year players. If these guys can be together for several years, they have a chance to be an awesome, awesome defense.''
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