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It's November


Jack Del Rio made sure his players know what month it is.

"I said to our football team that good teams get hot in November. This is the time good teams turn it on," Del Rio said of his address to his players on Wednesday.

This is the midpoint in the season. Against the Houston Texans on Sunday, the Jaguars will turn to the critical second half of their schedule; eight games that will decide whether this team will make it into the playoffs for the second consecutive year, or spend January on the outside looking in.

The Texans would seem to be a perfect opponent for the Jaguars to kick off the second half of the season. Three weeks ago, the Jaguars sustained an embarrassing 27-7 loss in Houston that clouded the Jaguars' playoff forecast. Wins over the Eagles and Titans have followed, however, and now the Jaguars find themselves at 5-3 and in solid playoff contention.

Is payback the motivation against the Texans?

"I don't think that would be the wisest thing to do. We've got more going on than a grudge game. We're entertaining thoughts of being a postseason team," Del Rio said.

The Jaguars' current rankings bear the look of a playoff contender. The Jags are seventh overall on defense (11th against the run and seventh against the pass), and sixth in rushing. The only category in which the Jags lag is passing; they're 26th in the league, which has dragged down the offense's overall ranking to 21st.

The Texans aren't the same team the Jaguars faced three weeks ago. At that time, Houston was last or next to last in every category except passing. Since then, the Texans have moved up to 25th against the run and 23rd against the pass, but their passing game has fallen.

"They've done a nice job defensively the last three, four games. They limited the Giants. They limited us. You can see the development of their first-round pick (Mario Williams)," Del Rio said.

The Jaguars, of course, are different than they were in Houston on Oct. 22. David Garrard has replaced Byron Leftwich as the team's starting quarterback, and the running game has exploded with 209-yard and 173-yard performances.

These are the Jaguars Del Rio wants to take into the playoffs: Run the ball and play great defense. That's pro football, playoff style.

Amazingly, the Jaguars are in a surge period on defense though they continue to lose players to injury. Reggie Hayward and Mike Peterson have been long lost for the season to injury, and Marcus Stroud will miss his fifth consecutive game this Sunday. Now, the team is having to deal with new losses on defense.

Rookie pass-rusher Brent Hawkins was put on injured reserve this week with a nagging groin injury. Linebacker Jorge Cordova is "doubtful" with a hamstring injury, and safety Donovin Darius (knee), defensive tackle John Henderson (hamstring) and cornerback Rashean Mathis (hamstring) are all "questionable" and missed practice time on Wednesday.

How do the Jags do it? How do they keep playing at such a high level on defense despite so many injuries to key players?

"I have been pleased with the approach of the staff in developing these young guys. You talk about guys like Tony McDaniel; guys like Scotty Starks. The longer we have those guys, the more we can do with them," Del Rio said.

McDaniel is an undrafted free agent who led Jaguars defensive linemen in tackles this past Sunday and got credit for half a sack. Starks intercepted a pass and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown.

Rookie linebacker Clint Ingram has been a sensational performer since stepping in for Daryl Smith after Smith was moved to middle linebacker to replace Peterson. Ingram led the Jaguars in tackles against the Titans.

As the season heads toward Thanksgiving, the Jaguars are developing depth among their young players and hope for the day when the team's star players are healthy and playing at top speed. That's also the formula for late-season success.

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