They were 6-3 a year ago and preparing to host the Tennessee Titans. They are 6-3 this year and preparing to play at Tennessee. Irony or a second chance?
This game was one of two late-season losses last year that cost the Jaguars a playoff spot. This Sunday, the Jaguars can take another big step toward their first playoff berth since the 1999 season by scoring a win over the 2-7 Titans.
"We know it's a different year," coach Jack Del Rio told reporters at Monday afternoon's press conference.
Heading into this game a year ago, the Jaguars were tied with the Colts for the AFC South lead. This year, of course, the Jaguars are three games behind the Colts and, realistically, playing for a wild-card playoff spot.
The prospects for making it to the playoffs, however, may be even more promising than they were a year ago. Byron Leftwich was about to miss his second consecutive game with a knee injury last year; following Sunday's 30-3 win over the Baltimore Ravens, Leftwich is riding a two-game high.
"I think our best football is ahead of us," Del Rio said when asked what he considers to be most satisfying about the state of his team heading into the final seven games of the season. "When we've been challenged by physical football teams, we've responded and played well. Yesterday was a battle against a physical football team; and the one at Pittsburgh a few weeks back. I think we're starting to find a little bit of an identity. I feel good about that. I think we understand where we are and where we want to go."
They want to go to the playoffs. Before they can do that, however, they must go to Tennessee, Arizona and Cleveland for consecutive road games. Though those three teams currently have a combined 7-20 record, they represent a daunting stretch of schedule that could decide the Jaguars' ultimate fate.
The Jaguars will take with them on the road emerging new stars, such as second-year running back Greg Jones and rookie wide receiver Matt Jones. They were the offensive stars in the win over Baltimore.
"We've got some young guys stepping up, complementing established stars. As long as we keep the focus on team first … the good things are going to happen," Del Rio said.
Greg Jones replaced an injured Fred Taylor at the feature running back position and gained 106 yards on 25 carries, Jones' first-ever 100-yard game. Matt Jones was the Jaguars' big-play receiver on Sunday, marking the third consecutive week a young receiver has been that guy. Second-year man Ernest Wilford was the Jaguars' star pass-catcher against Houston and St. Louis.
"I think we're less reliant on the two known quantities we have," Del Rio said, referring to Taylor and star wide receiver Jimmy Smith. "I think that's a good thing; not allowing teams to focus on stopping them as much."
Del Rio made a point of reaffirming Smith's status as the team's number one receiver. "Jimmy is our number one wide out. He's very talented and continues to play well for us. Nothing has changed there. We just happen to have guys making plays around him now," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars are also developing a deeper cast of stars on defense. Defensive end Reggie Hayward was credited with seven quarterback pressures and for having forced an intentional grounding; second-year defensive end Bobby McCray was judged to have lit up tackle Jonathan Ogden; "nickel" back Terry Cousin made two interceptions, tying him for second place on the team with three.
There is more good news: Wilford appears not to have sustained a serious shoulder injury, as it was first feared when Wilford fell on his shoulder while attempting to catch a pass late in Sunday's game.
The win over Baltimore provided a rankings feast for the Jaguars, who moved into the league lead in pass-defense. The Jaguars are tied for 18th in total offense (11th in rushing and 23rd in passing), and are fifth in overall defense (22nd against the run).
"For us to go to the next level we're going to have to be able to stop the pass because I remain confident in our ability to stop opponents from running the ball," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars would seem to be brimming with confidence as they pack their bags for a three-week journey. Where will their journey leave them?