The Jaguars are the Rodney Dangerfields of the NFL. They don't get much respect, but they continue to march toward the playoffs.
Sunday, in front of the smallest crowd (42,079) in franchise history, the Jaguars scored one of the biggest wins of the season, 23-18 over the visiting Houston Texans. It's a win that leaves the Jaguars with a one-game lead in the race for the second AFC wild-card berth.
"Must-have game against a division rival that was in a must-have situation itself," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio called it. Clearly, the Texans' flickering playoff hopes were extinguished. The Jaguars' flame, however, burns even brighter today.
A 17-0 lead that was built while Texans quarterback Matt Schaub was in the locker room having his injured left shoulder treated, began to slowly dwindle after Schaub returned to action midway through the second quarter. When the Texans lined up for a first-and-goal play at the five-yard line with 8:36 to play in the game, the tension was palpable. The Texans were moving with ease.
That's when coach Gary Kubiak made a mistake he might regret for a long time. He will have undoubtedly fueled the talk shows in Houston this week, and they won't be calling in to compliment coach Kub.
As Chris Brown ran right with the ball, it became apparent he wanted to throw a pass. That's when cornerback Tyron Brackenridge came flying up, hit Brown and forced a "duck" of a pass that fell harmlessly into safety Gerald Alexander's hands.
Kubiak was without explanation for his folly. "It's on me. I put him into a tough situation. I thought it gave us a chance for an easy score right there, but I was wrong," Kubiak said.
The Jaguars are glad he was.
It could've been one of those comebacks on which a team builds a late-season charge. Schaub suffered a dislocated shoulder while being sacked on the first play of the game, but he fought it off and played in warrior-like fashion.
"They were able to get it back in and he wanted to come back in to play, so it was gutsy on his behalf," Kubiak said.
The Jaguars' gut-check was a kill-the-clock drive to end the game. Despite having been bottled up by the Texans for most of the game, Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jaguars running game came to life after the Texans cut the deficit to five points with 4:01 to play.
Kubiak elected to kick deep, instead of attempting an onside kick. He was relying on his defense to force the Jaguars to punt. His offense never got the ball back.
Jones-Drew pounded out three first downs, expiring the Texans' times out and leaving quarterback David Garrard to take three knees and call it a day, which he was happy to do because Garrard was worse for the wear.
"When you give the ball to your offense and say don't let them have it and you're able to close out a game like that, that says a lot. When you get down to December football, it's about being able to close out people," Del Rio said.
Garrard had an up and down day. When he was good, he was great. When he was bad, it was nearly costly. He finished with 15 completions in 28 pass attempts for 238 yards, two touchdowns and a 106.0 passer rating. He was on fire as the Jaguars built the lead to 17-0. He cooled in the second half.
"I don't know that he was particularly sharp. He got hit more than I'd like. We have played better football than we played today. Our offense, at a few points in this season, has carried this team," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars' pass-rush was much improved, sacking Schaub twice and forcing several throw-aways. A hard hit by Alexander knocked the ball loose from a Texans receiver and into the hands of Justin Durant (pictured). Had the catch been made, the Texans would've had a first down at the Jaguars 33-yard line with the score 20-9 in the third quarter. The interception resulted in a field goal by the Jaguars.
"We played pretty well. The first play he got hurt. You could see him, sometimes, looking at the rush," Alexander said.
The Jaguars are looking at a four-game stretch drive. The field of playoff contenders is beginning to shrink. The Texans and Titans fell by the wayside on Sunday.