It has come to this: The team everyone picked to finish last in its division could possibly win the AFC South title for the first time in division and franchise history next Sunday, if the Jaguars beat the Indianapolis Colts.
You thought Sunday's 38-31 win over the Oakland Raiders was exciting? You thought that was dramatic? Oh, baby, you ain't seen nothin', yet.
It will be the most hyped Jaguars game since the Jaguars hosted the Tennessee Titans on Jan. 23, 2000, in the 1999 season's AFC title game. We all know how that ended and we all know what followed, which is to say a decade of what most would describe as disappointment. It's been 11 years since Wayne Weaver's football team won a division title. That could all end next Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium if the Jaguars beat Peyton Manning and the Colts.
Drama? How's this for drama? The whole shootin' match could be on the line. If the Jaguars win, they could be in. If they lose, they could be out, which is what would happen if the Colts win-out.
"There were a lot of moments that we showed a lot of gritty determination," the Jaguars' coach, the king of grit and determination, Jack Del Rio, said. "That's what this team has been about all year. That's what we have and we're going to hang onto it."
It sounded as though Del Rio was making a promise, but he can't, of course, promise a win in Indianapolis. Yeah, the Colts have a lot of injuries and they haven't been themselves this season, but they'll be tough to beat at home. What lies ahead for a fan base that is starting to buy into the Jaguars is seven days of high anxiety.
You could almost hear them biting their finger nails as the Jaguars fought back from deficits of 7-0, 10-7, 17-7 and 24-14. Through two and a half quarters, the Raiders were dominating the game. Then, Raiders coach Tom Cable made a questionable decision and quarterback David Garrard made Cable pay for it.
A holding penalty left Cable with this decision: Accept the penalty and leave the Jaguars with second and 18, or decline the penalty and force third and 13. Cable took the penalty which, in effect, gave the Jaguars an extra down in exchange for five yards.
On the next play, Garrard hit recently-acquired wide receiver Jason Hill with a perfectly-thrown, 48-yard touchdown pass that cut the deficit to 17-14 and pumped life into the crowd.
Cable had a bad day in the coach's box. He also challenged a 74-yard touchdown run by Rashad Jennings that cut the Raiders' lead to 24-21. Cable challenged because he believed Jennings had stepped out of bounds. Cable was wrong and it meant he was out of challenges when Mike Sims-Walker later caught a touchdown pass Cable said he absolutely would've challenged.
The Jaguars could've clinched the victory with about 10 minutes to play, when Jason Campbell was sacked and fumbled and Terrance Knighton returned the fumble for what would've been a touchdown except for the flag lying on the ground next to Campbell. William Middleton was called for an illegal hit to Campbell's head, causing Campbell to leave the field wobbly and miss the remainder of that series.
"That's today's NFL," Del Rio said. "It's a great football play. It should be part of our game. There are probably a lot of fans out there that feel as I do. If that's taken away, it's going to be a shame. I disagree with it completely."
The fans, of course, booed the call.
Campbell returned on the following drive and led the Raiders down the field to tie the game at 31-31 with 1:53 to play, when Darren McFadden scored on a 36-yard run. McFadden rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns and went 67 yards for a touchdown with a short pass early in the game. Campbell threw for 324 yards, two touchdowns and a 127.6 passer rating.
All of that was window dressing for a Raiders team that got whipped up front and on special teams. The Jaguars hit the 200-yard rushing mark for a franchise-record third consecutive game.
"They're a chippy team. They try to bully you," Knighton said of the Raiders, who clearly brought a lot of intensity with them from the West Coast. The Raiders were still alive in the AFC West title race until they lost to the Jaguars.
"We'll fight. We fought a little better today. They throw a punch, we throw a punch back. They kick, we kick back. That's the kind of team we are. You're not going to come into our house and bully us," Knighton added.
What about in the Colts' house next Sunday?
"We'll be ready. The guys are focused. We're not going to lose sight of the goal," Knighton added. "This is the best team I've been around. Everybody is in this together."
"I'm playing meaningful December football and it's a great feeling," linebacker and former Raider Kirk Morrison said.
Meaningful? Next Sunday is the definition of it.