Jack Del Rio sensed his team was undergoing a change for the better during the days leading up to their upset win over the Indianapolis Colts four weeks ago. Now, he hopes this shift in the positive direction will continue and produce a strong December finish that'll carry into next season.
"I've felt good about the way the team has worked in the last month," Del Rio told reporters at this afternoon's press conference. "The time I'm referring to is prior to the Indy game. I was looking for leaders to step forward. During the week of that game we had guys step forward," he said, specifically naming Mike Peterson, Donovin Darius, Brad Meester and Fred Taylor.
The Jaguars were 2-2 in November and clearly played their best football in this new era of the franchise's history. The win over the Colts and Sunday's impressive victory over Tampa Bay sandwiched strong performances against Tennessee and the New York Jets, in which the Jaguars lost those games but dominated the action.
Is this the turn for the good Jaguars fans have awaited? With a win over visiting Houston this Sunday the Jaguars would claim their first two-game winning streak since beating Washington and Houston in November of last season.
"Until you get that, it's difficult to be a good football team," Del Rio said of leadership within the team. "Once you get that, the sky is the limit.
"We are doing the little things you need to do to be a good football team. I believe guys are understanding what it feels like, what it looks like, what it tastes like. Teams that finish strong have a tendency to come out and play strong the next year," he added.
After hosting Houston this Sunday, the Jaguars will travel to New England, return for the season's home finale against New Orleans, then travel to Atlanta for the season-ender. How many wins will that slate produce? Might the Jaguars even finish with a winning record over the second half of the season?
The reality is the Jaguars are 3-9 and out of playoff contention, but it should also be said they are playing at a much higher level than their record would indicate. If they've seen the light, why did it take so long?
"There's been a complete change in the styles; in what Tom (Coughlin) was looking for and what I'm looking for. The change is part of it; new staff, new ways of doing things," Del Rio said, referring to the upheaval the Jaguars franchise has undergone in 2003. "There are obvious differences. That's not to say there's one way of doing it. I just believe in what I do," he added.
Quarterback Byron Leftwich remains the symbol of that change. Leftwich has started nine consecutive games and with his impressive performance against the Bucs, he is entrenched as the Jaguars' starting quarterback for the present and for the future.
Del Rio was asked if Mark Brunell is recovered from his October elbow surgery and able to play. "Probably," Del Rio said.
Questioned further about Brunell's status, Del Rio said Brunell will "most likely" remain third on the team's depth chart through the remainder of the season, citing Leftwich and backup David Garrard as the reasons. "They represent the future of the Jaguars," Del Rio said, and he added that he was not inclined to provide for a Brunell farewell-game appearance.
And what about Garrard? Might he be offered in a trade?
"It's possible, but it's not our interest," Del Rio said, citing the need for two quality quarterbacks as reason to retain Garrard. "He knows he's one step away from being in the game."
The metamorphosis of the Jaguars -- at least as much as is possible in one season -- is near completion. There have been changes in philosophy, operation, personnel and attitude. Now, it would seem, there's a perceptible change in the team's performance.