The Jaguars' playoff hopes have been reduced to winning all of their remaining three games, as the Miami Dolphins moved into the driver's seat for a playoff berth on Sunday with a 14-10 victory over the Jaguars in front of the largest crowd to watch a game at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium this season.
"We know what it is," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said when asked if he'll put the playoff picture into perspective for his team. "Now we know we have to win-out, and we have a heckuva opponent coming in. It's a stern challenge but we have hope."
The league confirmed Sunday evening that the Jaguars control their own destiny and will win a wild-card playoff berth if they win their remaining three games: at home against Indianapolis and at New England and at Cleveland.
Del Rio set the tempo for a short week of preparation for Thursday's game against the undefeated Indianapolis Colts by beginning his postgame press conference sooner following the conclusion of Sunday's game than he had at any time previous this year. Everything is in rush mode for the Jaguars, who will have a mere three days to get ready for Peyton Manning and company.
The Jaguars won't spend a lot of time this week on what went wrong against the Dolphins. That's easy: The offense had six three-and-out possessions, at one point had run only six plays to the Dolphins' 33, trailed 14-0 midway through the second quarter and was unable to get closer to the end zone than the Miami 39-yard line in its final six possessions.
"It didn't feel real good. When you score 10 points, it's probably not a good day," Del Rio said when asked to comment on quarterback David Garrard's performance. "We needed one more drive at the end of the game and we didn't get it and I know he feels bad about that."
Miami's ultra-efficient offense in the first half went into stall mode in the second half. It deteriorated to the point that the Dolphins only crossed midfield three times in the second half, with two of those drives ending in punts and the other one in a missed field goal attempt.
The Jaguars cut the deficit to four points with a field goal midway through the third quarter, but that was more of a defeat than a victory and it was a delay-of-game penalty that was largely to blame.
"We've got to punch it in there, plain and simple," Garrard said of a possession that featured a beautifully-thrown, 63-yard completion to Torry Holt that carried to the Dolphins' 11-yard line. In the Jaguars' celebration, however, the play clock ran out on them and they were moved back to the 16.
"I hadn't even gotten to my second-color number and they were already blowing the whistle," Garrard said.
"Guys were excited about making a big play. All of a sudden, you look up and you're running out of time. We didn't handle that very well," Del Rio said.
Nonetheless, the Jaguars were in great position to win with a final-drive touchdown, when they took possession at their 31-yard line with 3:30 to play.
Garrard threw to tight end Marcedes Lewis for 16 yards. Two plays later, the Jags faced third and four at the Miami 47. Jones-Drew gained a yard. Now it was fourth and three with the game on the line. What to do?
The Jaguars turned to their time-honored quarterback draw play, the same one that won a playoff game on a fourth-down play in Pittsburgh two years ago. Miami, however, had done its homework. It was ready for it and tackled Garrard for a four-yard loss.
"I thought I'd get more of a lane. They did a good job," Garrard said.
The Jaguars had a similarly golden opportunity to drive for a touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter. On a fourth-and-one play from the Jags 35-yard line, Del Rio elected not to punt. Jones-Drew then ran 13 yards for the first down. Four plays later, Garrard threw incomplete on fourth and three, but Miami quarterback Chad Henne immediately threw his only interception of the game.
"I felt we were getting to a point in the game. We had to play to win the game. I'm going to play aggressively to win the game. I want them to feel my confidence in them. I have nothing but good feelings about that," Del Rio said of his fourth-down decisions.
Garrard was 11 of 26 for 139 yards and a 59.6 passer rating. Henne was 21 of 29 for 220 yards, one interception and a 79.7 passer rating, but he played much better than his stats would indicate.
Miami's Ricky Williams ran for 108 yards, whereas Jones-Drew gained only 59, but the Jaguars defense got a much better handle on the Dolphins' running game in the second half.
"We weren't very good passing the ball. Three of 13 on third down won't get it done," Del Rio said.
Henne, by comparison, was outstanding on third down in leading the Dolphins to an eight-of-15 conversion rate on third down that allowed the Dolphins a 10-minute time-of-possession advantage.
"Indy's clinched already. Who knows how they're going to come out and play. We had it in our hands," rookie defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. Knighton led the charge against Williams and Henne with four tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss, a quarterback hurry, a pass-defensed and a fumble recovery.
"We felt our backs were to the wall," Knighton said of the attitude that fueled the defense's second-half performance. "We knew we couldn't let them control the clock like they did in the first half."
With only a few days to prepare for the best team in the AFC, the Jags' backs are clearly against the wall.