This is an important game for the Jaguars. After all, they can make it into the playoffs with a win on Saturday.
The Houston Texans, on the other hand, have long since been eliminated from playoff contention, but all indications are this is also a big game for the Texans. After all, they'll be wearing their battle-red jerseys.
"Whenever the Texans and the Jaguars get together, you can throw all of that out the window," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said of the general circumstances for Saturday's game. "There's an intensity when the Jags and Texans play."
The root of that intensity in the Del Rio era can be traced back to his fourth game as coach, in 2003, when Byron Leftwich made his first pro start and was headed for a win until he fumbled on a late-game scramble. Texans coach Dom Capers nixed a game-tying field goal attempt and went for the win on fourth-and-goal from the foot line on the final play of the game. David Carr scored.
Last season, the Texans clipped the Jaguars twice. The first time was in Houston, as the Texans pulled on their battle-red jerseys and scored a 20-6 win, in a game in which Leftwich sustained a knee injury following a low hit by former Jaguars defensive tackle Gary Walker. Some thought it may have been retaliation for a low hit on Carr earlier in the game.
When the two teams played for a second time last season, the Jaguars were two wins away from making it into the playoffs. On the day after Christmas, the Texans scored a 21-0 win that ultimately cost the Jaguars a playoff berth and was the low point of an otherwise satisfying season.
"We have had some history with these guys. We'll be prepared this week," David Garrard said on Wednesday. Garrard, of course, will make his fourth consecutive start as Leftwich continues to recover from a broken ankle. Leftwich is listed as "out" on this week's injury report, and Del Rio said next week's regular-season finale against Tennessee remains the target for Leftwich's return.
With a win in Houston on Saturday, the Jaguars can provide a cushion for returning Leftwich to action. With a win in Houston, the Jaguars will have clinched a wild-card playoff berth and would be able to use the game against Tennessee as a playoff tune-up for Leftwich, as opposed to putting Leftwich in a must-win situation to make the playoffs.
"We're looking forward to going down there and playing (the Texans) in their battle red. Christmas Eve; I think it's a great choice," Del Rio said of the Texans' fashion selection.
A couple of weeks ago, it may not have mattered what jersey the Texans wore. They were a one-win team headed for what everybody thought would certainly be the first pick of the draft. Now, after last Sunday's 30-19 win over Arizona, the Texans would seem to be a much more dangerous team.
"They played their best football of the season last week in all three phases," Del Rio said of the Texans. "The NFL always comes down to match-ups and how you play on that given day. Teams play better at home and quarterbacks play better at home."
Why do the Texans match up so well against the Jaguars? Houston has won three of the last four games between the two teams and didn't allow the Jaguars a touchdown last season.
Here's an even more appropriate question: At 2-12 and nearing the end of a season that almost certainly will result in upheaval, will the Texans give their best effort against the Jaguars?
"I played for the 1-15 Dallas Cowboys. We played with more fire and determination in the last half of that year and had more fun than maybe I had in any other year of my career," Del Rio said.
In other words, Del Rio is preparing his team for an opponent that will be all out to spoil the Jaguars' playoff bid for the second consecutive year.
Del Rio announced one lineup change: rookie Gerald Sensabaugh will replace Deke Cooper at safety.
"The more we play him, the better he plays. He arrives with bad intentions. I like that. He arrives with a wallop," Del Rio said of Sensabaugh.
Del Rio also acknowledged that wide receiver Reggie Williams' playing time was increased in the win over San Francisco. "It's clear Reggie has played better. The guys who produce are going to play more," Del Rio added.
"You got 10 wins but you're still not in the playoffs, so we have to gear up for another win," Garrard said.
The Jaguars will be wearing their battle-black pants.