The Jaguars are the AFC's number one team for a wild-card playoff berth. Begin the playoffs countdown.
Sunday's 31-28 win over the Tennessee Titans left the Jaguars in that premium position 10 games into this season. The Jaguars are 7-3 and though the Indianapolis Colts may be too far ahead to catch in the AFC South title chase, the Jaguars have the tiebreaker edge over the 7-3 Bengals and Steelers and hold nothing less than a one-game lead over any other wild-card contender.
"On the road is never easy," coach Jack Del Rio said of his team's gritty win at The Coliseum, where the Jaguars had to rally from deficits of 14-7 at halftime and 21-14 in the third quarter. "We had a lot to overcome. We didn't play our best football today," Del Rio added.
The Jaguars endured an 85-yard kickoff return by rookie Pacman Jones that led to the Titans' second touchdown, and a Byron Leftwich fumble that was returned 27 yards for a touchdown by Antwan Odom put the Titans back on top in the third quarter. Those two scores left the Jaguars needing to rally against a Titans team that was, otherwise, decidedly overmatched.
"They did a lot of different blitzes. Maybe they caught us off-guard," Leftwich said of the Titans' defensive strategy.
On a bye-week preparation period, the Titans were armed with an attack strategy and a take-no-prisoners mindset. It left the Titans' rookie cornerbacks, however, alone in single coverage and the Jaguars began their attack on the two corners late in the second half.
"They had two weeks to study us and they came out with a lot of energy," said Leftwich, who threw three touchdown passes for the first time in his three-year career. "As long as it's a win; that feels better than the three touchdowns."
The Jaguars rushed for a mere 49 yards and were at minus-two yards rushing at halftime. The Titans' strategy of crowding the line of scrimmage left the Jaguars' fate in the hands of Leftwich and the passing game, and the two responded fully.
There was, however, another hero. Chris Hanson's 74-yard punt left the Titans at their one-yard line, trailing 28-21 with six minutes to play. Pacman Jones failed to field the punt, which added another 30-some yards to the boot.
Tennessee failed to make a first down, the Jaguars regained possession at the Titans' 44-yard line and Josh Scobee kicked a game-clinching, 31-yard field goal at the two-minute warning.
"That was huge," Del Rio said of Hanson's punt.
Though it wasn't the Jaguars' best performance, it was responsive at the critical times of the game. The Jaguars defense dominated the Titans offense and, though the Jaguars offense didn't come to life until late in the first half, it was veritably unstoppable in the second half.
The win marked the first of three consecutive road games. It's a stretch of schedule that will have a major impact on the Jaguars' playoff hopes and, if the win over the Titans is any indication, the Jaguars could enter the final month of the season with one of the league's hot quarterbacks for the team's late-season charge.
"I don't think I'm at my highest level. I still have a lot to do," said Leftwich, who completed 22 of 38 passes for 258 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 104.9 passer rating.
"We still have a ways to go," Jimmy Smith said of the passing game. "I say we. We still have a ways to go and that's the good thing."
Smith was the Jaguars' top receiver, making five catches for 89 yards. Leftwich's touchdowns passes were caught by Kyle Brady (one yard), Ernest Wilford (18 yards) and Matt Jones (seven yards). Smith was the catalyst to the Jaguars' surge on offense, beating rookie cornerback Reynaldo Hill repeatedly in the second half.
"It was a battle," offensive tackle Maurice Williams said. "Whenever we play the Titans it's going to be a battle."
At 2-8, the Titans are headed toward their worst record under head coach Jeff Fisher, but the Titans gave a spirited effort against the Jaguars. The Jaguars needed someone to lead them out of their slow start and Leftwich did.
"He's tough and he knows how to deal with adversity. You just know he's going to push ahead. He's maturing fast," Williams said of Leftwich, who has made a steady climb up the NFL passer rankings the last three weeks.
The Jaguars have climbed along with their quarterback and take a three-game winning streak to Arizona next weekend.