This is new stuff for Kirk Morrison. At no time in his five seasons in Oakland were the Raiders a playoff contender, so Morrison can be forgiven if a 4-4 record on the second Sunday of November excites him.
"I've never had a second-half run before. We had always been out of the playoffs in November. It feels great to be in the hunt," Morrison said on Tuesday, as the Jaguars returned from their bye week to begin preparations for what every player is calling a must-win game.
The Jaguars will host the 4-4 Houston Texans on Sunday. The winner will remain no worse than a game out of the AFC South lead. The loser's division title chances will have been dealt a mortal blow.
"Every week is the one. If you want more, you have to win. Every game you lose in the second half, you're taking notches off the belt. Every game is sudden death," Morrison said.
Tennessee and Indianapolis are tied for the AFC South lead at 5-3 each. Tennessee plays at Miami and Indianapolis hosts Cincinnati.
"We've seen the good, we've seen the bad. I think we're finally feeling comfortable. Going into the bye week, we won a football game we needed. I think guys are ready," the Jaguars middle linebacker said of this Sunday's game.
Desperation is the order of the day for each team. The Texans are on a two-game losing streak and are staring down the barrel of a brutal stretch of schedule that will see them play the Jets, Eagles, Ravens and twice against the Titans.
The Jaguars will follow Sunday's game by hosting the Browns, before traveling to the Giants and Titans. Clearly, the Jaguars are out of wiggle room, too. It's win-or-else time.
"Last home divisional game, coming off a bye week on a weekend we gained ground in our division, I don't think there's going to be any underestimating the importance of this game," defensive end and team leader Aaron Kampman said in putting Sunday's game into perspective.
Houston brings the league's number five offense to EverBank Field and for the first time in franchise history, the centerpiece of the Texans' offense is its running game, not the passing game. Breakout running back Arian Foster has rushed for 864 yards and nine touchdowns. He's helped make the passing game even more effective.
"They want to run the ball to set up the play-action pass game; make it look like run," Kampman said of the Texans. "They pick up big chunks that way. The key is making them one-dimensional. It's no secret. Stop the run and the play-action pass game doesn't look as effective."
It's a tall challenge for a Jaguars defense that is 28th-ranked (22nd against the run and 28th against the pass). Any chance the Jaguars have of stopping the Texans must begin with stopping Foster in the run game.
"He's a good back," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "They've got a good scheme. With the stretch game they run, he's just looking for a hole and then hit it."
Morrison, Kampman, Knighton and the Jaguars defense will be at the test on Sunday, with their hopes of pursuing a division title on the line.