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Jags have reached crunch time


Their season is right in the heart of the stretch drive. Directly ahead is one of the biggest games in franchise history. This is it. This is crunch time and all indications are that Jack Del Rio's Jaguars are ready for it.

"You have to play your best football down the stretch and here we are in the middle of the stretch playing our best football," Del Rio said following Sunday's stirring, 38-31 win over the Oakland Raiders, the team of Del Rio's youth as he grew up in Heyward, Calif.

The Jaguars are in the midst of five wins in a six-game stretch and should the Baltimore Ravens win in Houston tonight, the Jaguars will be able to clinch their first-ever AFC South title with a win in Indianapolis. These are the best of times for the Jaguars in the Del Rio era, but they remain, oh, so fragile, for a loss to the Colts could leave the Jaguars on the outside looking in.

"We saw some growth in our football team, from a culture we've tried to establish. We still have a long way to go and time is running out," Del Rio said on Monday, in a somewhat less-celebrative, more-preparative statement.

It's Monday. It's back to the grind. It is, as Del Rio is fond of calling it, "the process."

"We're sitting here in the middle of the stretch run and we recognize that we need to play at a higher level. We stacked a few wins together and we need to stack a few more together," Del Rio said.

Should the Jaguars win-out, they might even reach as high as a postseason second seed and the bye week that goes with it. Should they win-out, they're guaranteed to host a playoff game.

The irony in all of this is that the Colts are in a similar situation. Should the Colts win-out, they would claim no worse than a four seed and the home playoff game that goes with it. The Colts are also in a situation similar to the Jaguars inasmuch as a loss could leave them out of the playoffs entirely and that would be a crushing blow to a franchise that has qualified for the postseason in each of the last eight seasons.

"I'm looking at it from the standpoint of win the next game," Del Rio said when asked if he's given consideration to his team's wild-card possibilities, should the Jaguars lose in Indianapolis. "Until you play the last game, you just don't really know."

What we know for sure is the Jaguars will not produce a losing record this season. At 8-5, they have guaranteed they will enjoy their first non-losing season since 2007. Sunday's win over a spirited Oakland team quietly registered that achievement, and it was worth mild celebration.

"That Raiders team won four of their last six, beat San Diego convincingly. That's a big, physical outfit," Del Rio said proudly. "To have two 100-yard rushers is saying something. That bomb to Jason Hill was a beautiful shot.

"They were taking liberties," he added of the Raiders, who had targeted Kassim Osgood for rough play. "Hopefully, we'll take a look at that. It looks like something that would occur in an alley. It's not good for the game."

The Jaguars' postgame locker room was full of energy on Sunday. The Jaguars appeared to have enough energy to go out and play the Raiders again.

Indianapolis is not Oakland. The Colts play a completely different style of football and the Jaguars know the Colts well.

"I don't know that anybody is a good matchup with number 18," Del Rio said, referring to Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. "We just want to be the better team on Sunday. We recognize they are the reigning division champion."

Will the Colts' reign continue, or will the Jaguars' reign begin?

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