The Jaguars can turn the clock back one year and atone for their sins of Christmas past. You remember it; that infamous day-after-Christmas loss to the Houston Texans last season that cost the Jaguars a playoff berth.
This Saturday, in Houston, on the day before Christmas, the Jaguars can clinch a playoff berth with a win over the Texans. How's that for high drama?
"I think we're a little better team. I think our football team is getting better. I think we have gotten better," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said following a 10-9 win over the San Francisco 49ers that put the Jaguars into this win-and-in position.
It wasn't that simple a year ago. The Jaguars weren't in a win-and-in game but, as it turned out, the 21-0 loss to the Texans was the fatal blow.
Motivation? You betcha. The Jaguars will be loaded with motivation for this Christmas Eve special at Reliant Stadium.
The Jaguars may have struggled emotionally against the 49ers, who came into the game at 2-11 and on a six-game losing streak. It was not supposed to be a close game, but it doesn't get any closer than one point and that left the Jaguars to defend their performance.
"It's not going to look good in the stats. It was just one of those games you have to find a way to win. Fighting the temptation of a letdown after a big game the week before; it's just natural," middle linebacker Mike Peterson said.
Truth be known, the Jaguars flirted with losing this game. They lost the lead, 9-7, on a 33-yard Joe Nedney field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, regained the lead five minutes later on a 32-yard field goal by Josh Scobee, then found themselves having to stop the 49ers four more times.
"We knew they weren't real explosive offensively," Del Rio said of the 49ers, who had rookie Alex Smith at quarterback and lost their top receiver, Brandon Lloyd, in the first half.
The 49ers did a little bit of this and a little bit of that and found a way to coax three field goals out of what little offense they could produce. The 49ers defense, however, was not ticky-tacky. In fact, the 49ers dropped a couple of potential interceptions that would've each resulted in touchdown returns.
"I feel like they were playing pretty good defense. I need to do a better job of getting the ball out of my hands," Jaguars quarterback David Garrard said.
Garrard completed 21 of 40 passes for 216 yards and a 68.3 passer rating. Garrard was better with his feet, scrambling away from the pass-rush several times and running for a 13-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
"Today was not the best day for me. It was a win and it was ugly. There are a lot of ugly wins in the NFL. I am not down at all. You can never be down after a win," Garrard said.
Del Rio made a point in his postgame address to his players of applauding the victory and the fact that the Jaguars are on the verge of their first postseason berth since 1999.
"I felt we earned what we got," Del Rio said of the win, which was carved out of a dreary December sky that left Alltel Stadium half full.
"The fans who do come have fun. I don't know about the ones who didn't come or why they didn't come or even how many were there. Last week it was as good an environment as you can have. We're going to have more days like that where it's exciting and the fans get jacked up," Del Rio said.
Reliant Stadium isn't likely to be a hostile environment this Saturday. The Texans are 2-12 and fan interest faded long ago, but the circumstances couldn't be more important for the Jaguars. This is it; win and in.