Fred Taylor thanked Houston for the 21-0 beating it handed the Jaguars last season.
"You can't help but learn from it. This team matured from that," Taylor said on Monday morning, following a workout that welcomed the Jaguars back from their bye week.
They are 4-2 and clearly in control of their playoff destiny. Though the Jaguars trail the 7-0 Colts in the AFC South title race, the Jaguars are at the head of the class in the wild-card chase and the combined record of their remaining opponents is a meager 21-43. Only one of those teams, the Colts, has a winning record, and the Jaguars will play that game in Jacksonville.
The Jaguars brought healthy bodies and high spirits back to work on Monday following three days off. Everything about this team's season is looking up, but Taylor offered these words of caution: "We were 5-2 last year."
What's the difference between last year and this year? The 2004 Jaguars, of course, missed the playoffs by one game when they were beaten at home by the Texans on the next-to-last weekend of the season.
"The difference is we know we're better," Taylor said.
"This is the best I've felt since before the Dolphins game in the preseason," quarterback Byron Leftwich said. "I have no nicks or bruises."
Leftwich went through a stretch in the first month of the season in which he was physically battered by the opponents' pass-rush. In the Jaguars' last two games, however, Leftwich has received much better protection from his offensive line.
Taylor missed the Jaguars' most recent game with a sprained ankle, but he's back to full strength and is expected to be in the starting lineup in St. Louis this Sunday.
There will be only a few names on the Jaguars injury report this Wednesday and those names are almost certain to be accompanied by the word "probable." Coach Jack Del Rio may have to include razor cuts to even have an injury report.
"I feel energized. The bye couldn't have come at a better point," Jimmy Smith said.
So what's ahead for the Jaguars? Is a playoff berth in their headlights? Will they narrow the gap and challenge for the division title? If they do, in fact, make the playoffs, will they be at peak performance?
"We need to not look too far down the schedule. We have the Rams this week. They will score on you so we need to score some points this week," Smith said.
The Jaguars' ultimate destination this season will probably be decided by whatever gains they make on offense. Their defense is fifth in the league and clearly playing at a postseason-caliber level. The offense, however, is 24th in total yardage and the team is 22nd in scoring, which includes one defensive touchdown and several short scoring drives set up by takeaways.
"I see great things ahead," Leftwich said. "We've been banged up so we haven't been playing with a full deck of cards. We haven't been playing fresh. There's no limit to the things we can do on offense and I think we'll begin to show that."
In his third season, Leftwich is the key man in the Jaguars' efforts on offense. His 82.7 passer rating ranks in the middle of the league's quarterbacks. He will attempt to take his game to a higher level against what everyone is describing to be a favorable schedule.
"People say favorable schedule but I don't believe in things like that. It comes down to a few plays here and a few plays there. We won't look at any teams lightly. If you start to look down the road, that's not a good thing," Leftwich said.
The Jaguars need no more evidence of the pitfalls of schedule-watching than last year. Against what was considered to have been a favorable second-half schedule last year, the Jaguars were 4-4 following their bye week. It's all the reminder they need of the challenge confronting them in the final 10 games of this season.
"A lot of scrapping to the end; all-out war," Taylor said of what's ahead. "Houston did us a favor last year and beat us. You realize nothing can be taken for granted."