The buzz around the Jaguars this week is there actually is a buzz.
That may seem strange for a team that’s 2-9 and essentially out of the postseason, but the Jaguars have played better the last two weeks, taking the 10-1 Houston Texans to overtime, then winning this past Sunday at home for the first time this season.
A couple of significant differences?
The play of quarterback Chad Henne, and partly because of that, the play of the offense.
The Jaguars’ offense, ranked 32nd in the NFL before Henne replaced an injured Blaine Gabbert in the first quarter against Houston, has played significantly better the last two games. Against Houston, Henne passed for four touchdowns and 354 yards and the offense scored a season-high 37 points.
This past Sunday, Henne didn’t quite match his Houston numbers, but he overcame a first-play interception and seven sacks to complete 17 of 26 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns.
The touchdowns went to a pair of wide receivers who also have helped give the offense new potency. Second-year veteran Cecil Shorts, who leads the NFL averaging 20.8 yards a reception, had his third 100-yard game of the season in the 24-19 victory over the Titans, catching four passes for 105 yards.
Shorts’ 59-yard touchdown reception not only gave the Jaguars a 14-6 third-quarter lead, it marked his fourth 50-plus-yard reception of the season, a franchise record.
Shorts the last two weeks has been complemented by rookie wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who after catching 26 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown in the first nine games of the season has caught 12 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns in the last two.
The Bills (4-7), as often has been the case in recent seasons, are struggling. They won two of their first three games, but followed that with five losses in six games and were essentially eliminated from postseason contention with a 20-13 loss at Indianapolis this past Sunday. The Bills, largely because of former Lake Butler (Fla.) Union County running back C.J. Spiller, have emerged as one of the NFL’s best rushing offenses, with Spiller having rushed for 830 yards and four touchdowns on 123 carries, a 6.7-yards-per-carry average. But overall, the Bills’ offense has struggled and has failed to score more than 19 points in five of the last seven games. Chan Gailey is in his third season as the Bills’ head coach, with a 14-29 record. The Bills haven’t made the postseason since 1999, the NFL’s longest such stretch.
The Jaguars-Bills game at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday at 1 p.m. will be broadcast regionally on CBS and locally on WETV CBS 47 (Channel 6). Spero Dedes will handle play-by-play with Steve Beuerlein on analysis.
Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson says
“Really, we’ve still got action. I’m not going to say we’re out of it yet. I think we’ve still got action at being 9-7 and making the playoffs. We’ve still got to rely on other teams, but I seriously think we can still win out and make it to the playoffs.”
Early matchup to watch
Jaguars MLB Paul Posluszny versus Spiller. This isn’t necessarily an all-the-time, one-on-one matchup, but as was the case last week against the Titans, stopping the run is key for the Jaguars Sunday. Spiller, like Titans running back Chris Johnson, is a player who can score from anywhere, and Spiller also has been consistently productive, producing 100 yards from scrimmage in each of the last six games. The Jaguars limited the explosive Johnson to 80 yards on 21 carries, preventing him from making a game-changing play. If the Jaguars can do the same to Spiller, that will create opportunities to get a rush on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Player to watch
Marcedes Lewis, tight end. While Blackmon and Shorts have made headlines in recent weeks, Lewis – a seven-year veteran – also has been critical to the offensive improvement. Lewis, who struggled throughout 2011, has played significantly better this season, even more so the last two weeks. Since Henne entered the lineup, Lewis has seven receptions for 96 yards with two touchdowns, and for the season, he has 33 receptions for 330 yards and four touchdowns. That’s up from 39 receptions for 460 yards and no touchdowns last season.
What to watch
* Running back Maurice Jones-Drew, the NFL’s leading rusher last season, is expected to miss a sixth consecutive game with a sprained foot after sustaining the injury on the first play of a loss to Oakland in Week 7. Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said Monday the team does not plan to put Jones-Drew on injured reserve.
* With Jones-Drew likely still out, third-year running back Rashad Jennings could get the start at the position again. Jalen Parmele got the start at running back this past week, replacing Jennings, but Parmele sustained a groin injury during the game. Jennings, who started Week 1 and the four games immediately following Jones-Drew’s injury, rushed for 43 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries against Tennessee and has 263 yards and two touchdowns on 93 carries this season.
* Cornerback Derek Cox will be monitored this week after leaving the Titans game with a leg injury. That’s the latest in a series of injuries this season to the fourth-year veteran, who has missed three full games and parts of others with groin, back and leg injuries. Veteran Rashean Mathis returned last week, but with Will Middleton out following a concussion, the Jaguars’ healthy corners with extensive experience are Aaron Ross, rookie Mike Harris and Kevin Rutland. That will be an area to watch this week.