It's a question that begs to be asked. What might this Jaguars team accomplish if it could erase the first half of the season and have started the season in November?
Jack Del Rio nor his players are willing to answer the question, choosing only to focus on a "strong finish" to what remains of this season. But there are several undeniable facts about the way the Jaguars are playing, and following their first consecutive-wins victory in over a year, you could make the argument these guys should be playing for a playoff berth.
Consider these facts:
• The Jaguars have won three of their last five games and have a distinct opportunity to post a winning record in the second half of the season.
• Though they are 4-9 overall, the Jaguars are 4-3 at home and with a win over the New Orleans Saints on Dec. 21, the Jaguars will finish with their first home winning record since 1999.
• Fred Taylor is one of the hottest running backs in the league. He topped the 100-yard mark for the third consecutive game and is within 16 yards of 6,000 yards for his career after rushing for 163 yards against the Houston Texans today.
• The Jaguars' offensive line is playing at a Pro Bowl level. They've allowed just three sacks in the last five games, while opening holes for Taylor to reach personal milestones.
• Defensively, the Jaguars have moved into the ranks of the league's elite. They are the league's second-ranked run-defense, and the 70 net yards rushing they allowed the Texans helped the Jaguars close ground on top-ranked Tennessee.
• Most importantly, rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich has stopped throwing interceptions and losing fumbles. For the second consecutive week, Leftwich did not commit a turnover and his passer rating topped the 90 mark.
All right, what's up? Why is all of this happening now? After a first half of the season that produced only one win, why is the team playing playoff-caliber football long after it was eliminated from playoff contention?
"You could say play-calling. You could say players. We are truly an attacking defense now," cornerback Fernando Bryant said in offering an explanation for the defense's stunning ascent.
"It shows validity to what we're trying to get done," Bryant added of the defense's performance over the last month of the season. "When the coach says he has a plan, it shows he does."
All of a sudden, Del Rio is the miracle worker he was billed to be when he was announced as the Jaguars' new head coach. Go back to that wintry evening in Jacksonville, on Jan. 17. Del Rio was presented to the media and Jaguars fans at a Touchdown Club pep rally. Promises were made, all for the sake of cheers, and the rookie head coach never flinched. Del Rio never backed down from promises – heck, guarantees – that were made by him and for him.
He didn't back down through a four-game losing streak to start the season; to start his head coaching career. And he didn't back down in the face of harsh criticism for benching Mark Brunell, and even harsher criticism for not benching Leftwich.
Del Rio's defense isn't the only thing about the Jaguars that's bold and aggressive. So is Del Rio, in almost everything he does, including going for it on fourth down. It is his personality to be bold and aggressive, and now it is his team's personality.
"I know there was a turning point," Del Rio said, "but I didn't mark it on my calendar. I just continued to push and demand. My focus remains on demanding and driving."
You may call it the "attack style" Jaguars fans were promised when Del Rio was hired. Wayne Weaver promised there would be "no more three yards and a cloud of dust," and Del Rio promised he would put "the excitement back into Jaguars football," and Del Rio is delivering on both.
This was the best day of his young career. He left Alltel Stadium Sunday evening with the swagger of a coach who has a team on the rise. He left Alltel Stadium with his first-ever shutout as a head coach. There was almost nothing wrong in Del Rio's life, except, of course, his team's overall record.
But he never promised a winning record. Maybe that's for next year.