Last week it was the Jaguars. This week it's the Texans' turn.
Just as the Jaguars faced a must-win in Indianapolis last week, the Houston Texans must beat the Jaguars this Sunday to have any realistic hope of being an AFC South title contender this season. After the game against the Jaguars, the Texans travel to Denver and to Indianapolis. Simply put, what the Texans do in these next three games will probably determine whether or not they will be a playoff contender this year.
"The Texans are playing awesome," Jaguars wide receiver Jimmy Smith said. "We're not going to let any slip. We know we have a bye week coming up and we have to take care of business first."
Three weeks ago, after a loss to Indianapolis, the Jaguars were flat in a lopsided loss in San Diego. Coming off a rousing win in Indianapolis and now facing an AFC South foe who has designs on joining the division title race, the Jaguars shouldn't have any trouble finding motivation for Sunday's game.
"I don't even think that deserves consideration, about talk of a letdown," coach Jack Del Rio said. "This is a huge divisional game against a team we split with last year; a team we recognize that, like us, has made improvements and is seeking to establish themselves in the league. So I don't think letdown is something that should be discussed. I think it should be what a challenge it is. This is a good football team. We're going to play them at their place. It ought to be a heckuva battle."
Yeah, it really should be a heckuva battle, especially between two young quarterbacks who are sizzling hot right now. Houston's David Carr is third in the AFC with a 97.8 passer rating, while the Jaguars' Byron Leftwich has soared into the upper half of the passer ratings in October and is currently at 90.1.
"All you have to do is watch film of these guys. You should not take those guys lightly. We understand how important the game is. We won't take this game lightly," Leftwich promised.
Carr's favorite receiver is 2003 first-round pick Andre Johnson (33 catches for 591 yards and four touchdowns). Carr to Johnson has become one of the game's top deep-ball combinations this season, and it represents the greatest challenge the Jaguars will face in this game.
"He's gone out and made big plays for us. He's a type of matchup you like to have," Texans coach Dom Capers said of Johnson, who offers a combination of size and speed that often overwhelms smaller, slower cornerbacks.
Smith remains the number one receiver in Jacksonville. The 12-year veteran has caught 33 passes for 586 yards and two touchdowns and he has a quarterback who is the toast of the league this week.
"Byron can throw as good as any quarterback in the league. We're still getting better on offense. We're not there, yet. That's the scary part of it," Smith said.
This could turn out to be another shootout game. The Texans' are 26th in the league in pass-defense (27th overall and 25th against the run) and the Jaguars are 22nd against the pass (18th overall and 15th against the run). Houston's pass-offense is ranked seventh and the Jaguars' is 11th.
Whereas the Texans' (3-3) motivation for winning is survival in the division title race and playoff chase, the Jaguars' motivation is on a slightly higher plane. With a win in Houston, the Jaguars would reach the halfway point in their season at 6-2 and as a definite homefield advantage contender.
Must-win game for the Texans? Absolutely.
Letdown by the Jaguars? No way.
In other news, Del Rio provided a positive forecast for running back Fred Taylor and guard Chris Naeole, both of whom missed practice on Wednesday and were listed as "questionable" on the Jaguars' injury report. Del Rio said Taylor (quadriceps) and Naeole (ankle) would practice on Thursday and expected both to "make the game."
Tight end George Wrighster will be held out of practice with a back injury from which the Jaguars hope Wrighster will be recovered after the bye week. "We thought with the bye week coming up the best thing to do was not practice him this week. That gives us the best opportunity to have him back healthy," Del Rio said. Wrighster is listed as "doubtful" for Sunday's game.
Kick-returner Jermaine Lewis, who missed last week's game due to a concussion, and guard Vince Manuwai (knee) are "probable."
Houston lists wide receiver Corey Bradford (groin), safeties Glenn Earl (hip) and Jason Simmons (head) and offensive tackle Todd Wade (ankle) as "questionable," and cornerback Aaron Glenn (hip) as "probable."