NASHVILLE—The Jaguars moved a step closer to their first division title since 1999, with Sunday's 17-6 win over the Tennessee Titans, in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the final score would indicate.
"We take it game by game but we know that if we win our division games, we'll be in (the playoffs). The winner of (the game in Indianapolis) will more than likely win the division," cornerback Rashean Mathis said in assessment of the AFC South race, referring specifically to a showdown with the Colts on Dec. 19.
At 7-5, the Jaguars are in first place, a game ahead of the 6-6 Colts. At 5-7, the Titans joined the Houston Texans.
It marks the second consecutive season the Jaguars are 7-5 with four to play. Last year, the Jaguars lost four in a row to fall out of playoff contention.
"We feel like we're getting better," coach Jack Del Rio said following Sunday's win.
This much is for certain: Maurice Jones-Drew is playing the best football of his career. He rushed for a career-high 186 yards on 31 carries against the Titans. The Jaguars' 53 rushing attempts is a franchise record.
"Maurice was special today," Del Rio said. "We rode Maurice hard."
The Jaguars rode Jones-Drew to a 12-play, 77-yard touchdown drive on the Jaguars' first possession of the game. Eleven of those plays were runs and it was a drive that set the tone for the whole game and technically produced the game-winning points.
"It was a convincing way to begin the game," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars' performance was so dominant that their 53 rushing attempts were six more than the Titans' total number of plays. The yardage difference was 377-220 and the Jaguars held the ball nearly twice as long as the Titans. Clearly, it was not how the Titans like to play football under coach Jeff Fisher.
"The team that wins the hitting battle usually wins the game," Del Rio said.
Tennessee scored a 30-3 win in Jacksonville on Oct. 18. What was the difference this time around?
"We just played a lot better football and made plays. We didn't let them get Chris Johnson going and we ran the ball very well," Del Rio said.
"I only had to make one guy miss most of the time," Jones-Drew said in praising the play of his offensive line. "We're great when we're balanced."
Quarterback David Garrard didn't have to do much, but he was efficient in completing 14 of 19 passes for 126 yards. The Jaguars were six of 15 on third down and Garrard did some damage with his legs, too.
"I felt I was seeing exactly what they were giving us," Garrard said.
The game was played in playoff-like cold and snowy conditions and was, yet, another reminder of the late-season run that carried the Jaguars to the playoffs in 2007. They were a hot team then and now, without question, they head into the final four weeks of this season as the hottest team in the AFC South.