TAMPA - Rashean Mathis turned away from his locker and smiled, knowing he landed the final blow in Sunday's 15-round bout at Raymond James Stadium.
He would have raised his arms above his head in a champion boxer's pose - if only he had the energy.
'It was breathtaking and it was beautiful,' said Jacksonville's Pro Bowl cornerback, whose jarring fourth-down hit against Ike Hilliard at the Buccaneers 29-yard line resulted in an interception that sealed a 24-23 victory. 'I'm drained emotionally and physically right now. We have playmakers on this team, and luckily, I was able to punch the ball out just when he was trying to secure it.'
Rookie Reggie Nelson plucked the football out of the air, and the former Gator standout had every intention of returning Jeff Garcia's third interception of the day.
Then fellow safety Sammy Knight made a veteran play, literally tackling his teammate with 19 seconds remaining.
'All I thought about was getting to that ball before it hit the ground,' said Nelson, whose helmet-to-helmet hit against Garcia in the second quarter might draw the attention of the league office this week. 'It was a long fight out there, and we stuck together ... people showed up tonight.'
Rookie Quinn Gray, subbing for injured David Garrard, showed little touch in completing seven of 16 passes for 100 yards in his first NFL start, but the Bucs couldn't post a takeaway for the second consecutive week.
Everywhere they looked, the Jaguars found contributors.
•Rookie Adam Podlesh reversed field position midway through the fourth quarter, booming a 76-yard punt over the head of Joey Galloway with the help of a strong north wind. Instead of assuming possession near midfield, Tampa Bay began on its 17 after the second-longest punt by a Bucs opponent.
•Veteran cornerback Aaron Glenn, filling in for injured Brian Williams, jumped Garcia's hitch pass intended for Galloway and returned the pick 28 yards to open up a 17-3 advantage midway through the second quarter.
'I've been in this league 14 years, and when my number is called, I'm ready to go,' Glenn said. 'I used some film study and noticed what they like to do from that formation. All the good corners take an educated guess sometimes, and that's what I did on that play.'
•Matt Jones made his only catch of the game count, providing the winning score with an acrobatic one-handed grab from 8 yards out with 11:37 left. Jones used his seven-inch height advantage to catch Gray's fade over 5-foot-11 Phillip Buchanon.
•On his only touch of the day, fullback Greg Jones turned a short flip into an 18-yard gain on third-and-6 in the final minutes, forcing Tampa Bay to burn its final two timeouts.
'Tampa's a hard place to win, so this one feels real good,' guard Chris Naeole said. 'That's one of the better defenses we've played all year, and I fully expect the Bucs to be there in the playoffs at the end of the season.'
The Jaguars, 3-0 away from home for the first time in franchise history, are off to an uplifting start on a three-week road trip that will take them to New Orleans and Nashville.
With Gray likely to be under center for the next few games, the Jaguars will continue to rely on inspired defense and a conservative game plan that saw Jacksonville open with 14 consecutive runs Sunday.
'Pretty or ugly, it doesn't matter, we got the win,' said Fred Taylor, who gained 68 tough yards on 24 carries. 'Tampa did a great job of containing us on the ground and they were flying around all day, but we needed this victory and we got it.'
Coming off a 29-7 home loss to AFC South rival Indianapolis on Monday night, the resourceful Jaguars somehow found a way to hand the Bucs their first home setback.
'Garcia kept them in the game with his arm and his feet, but we took care of business on the road, and we did it together as a team,' defensive end Paul Spicer said. 'If I had to pick a player of the game today, I'd just say, 'Jaguars.''