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Critical AFC game in Denver


The Jaguars face another critical AFC game on Sunday. For a team whose division title hopes are fading, these are the games that matter most in the wild-card race.

With a bye week ahead of them, this is a game that'll mean the difference between two weeks of joy or two weeks of angst. For sure, the Jaguars need a win to remain a postseason favorite.

"The big thing now is ending this week with a win because you never want to go into a bye week on a sour note. If we can get a win out of this, it would be huge," cornerback Rashean Mathis said.

At 2-3, the Jaguars are coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Steelers. Just when it appeared they were about to move into the plus category for the first time this season, Ben Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 80 yards in the final minutes of the game. It marked the fourth consecutive game in which the Jaguars defense failed to protect a lead late in the game.

The 4-1 Broncos are flying high on offense. They are number two in the league in total yards and also have the league's number two passing attack. Quarterback Jay Cutler has thrown 10 touchdown passes and has a 98.1 passer rating.

"Their quarterback is playing well and they've got weapons across the board," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said. Cutler's favorite receivers are Brandon Marshall and rookie Eddie Royal, number one and number three among AFC receptions leaders.

"They've yet to allow a touchdown in the first quarter. They start fast. (Mike) Shanahan's teams have always been teams that get out of the gate quick on you, so we're going to have to withstand that early surge and settle in and play a good, hard football game," Del Rio said.

The weather forecast promises the Jaguars will be playing their first game of the season in fall-like conditions. It's expected to be chilly in Denver on Sunday and there's a chance of precipitation.

"I understand it's going to be cool, which would be great. We like that stuff. I think we would welcome that," Del Rio said.

Sunday's game will mark the fourth game this season against a division leader. It has been a difficult opening schedule for the Jaguars, but it softens decidedly following the bye week.

"It has been a tough schedule for us but that is how we want it. We want to play the best teams. This is another week to go out and prove ourselves that we can hang with everybody and beat everybody. It's a good challenge for us," quarterback David Garrard said.

Garrard and the offense would seem to hold the key to victory this week. The Broncos defense is a lowly 29th in the league, 25th against the run and 30th against the pass.

Enter Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. This should be a week to return to the running game, after a dreadful performance against the Steelers that saw Taylor and Jones-Drew combine for a mere 26 yards rushing.

"I think our motivation is the fact that we have been playing a lot of close games and we definitely need a win to get back on track," Taylor said. "I know this is a game we are going to throw all (the stats) out the window and just go in there and try to come away with a win like we did last year."

Taylor needs 53 yards rushing to reach the 11,000 yards career rushing milestone. San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson is likely to reach the 11,000-yard mark later in the day.

"The Broncos have a nice history behind their organization. The fans are loud, crazy and they are screaming all day. It will be a great atmosphere to play football," Taylor said.

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