Jaguars play it smart

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HOUSTON—Jack Del Rio wasn't bothered by the Texans' two touchdown returns or their 170 yards rushing. Del Rio explained them away, congratulated his team on its 11-5 regular-season record and then turned his attention immediately to the postseason.

"Any time you take 16-18 guys out of the mix, you've put a burden on the guys covering kicks. Our approach was to be smart," Del Rio said following the Jaguars' 42-28 loss at Reliant Stadium on Sunday in the 2007 regular-season finale. Next up: a wild-card round playoff game in Pittsburgh on Saturday night.

The Texans scored their first AFC South victory of the season and registered the first non-losing season in franchise history. At 8-8, the Texans will take some momentum into the offseason, but there's no denying that Sunday's win was against a Jaguars team that had already turned its attention to the playoffs.

David Garrard, Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew, Rashean Mathis, Brad Meester, Vince Manuwai, Daryl Smith, Tony Pashos, Dennis Northcutt and Paul Spicer were held out of Sunday's game to rest their legs for the first round of the playoffs. It was an especially smart decision by Del Rio, especially since it was announced after the game that the Jaguars would be playing in Pittsburgh on a short week; Saturday night at eight p.m.

Quinn Gray replaced Garrard at quarterback and turned in an impressive performance: 25 of 39 for 302 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 122.0 passer rating. It's a performance Gray might take into free agency in March.

"Quinn did a nice job; made some throws, made some checks," Del Rio said of his quarterback, whose favorite target was Matt Jones. In his most extensive playing time of the season, Jones caught eight passes for 138 yards and one touchdown.

The negatives on this day were kickoff returns of 97 and 104 yards for touchdowns by Andre Davis, and a rush-defense that allowed 88-yard (Ron Dayne) and 86-yard (rookie Darius Walker) rushers.

Asked if he was concerned by the performance of his rush-defense, Del Rio said: "(The Texans) did a nice job."

Garrard spent the afternoon watching from the sideline. "It was good to see the team from a distance," Garrard said.

Asked if he was ready to begin the postseason, Garrard said: "Why wouldn't I be? This team is definitely ascending right now."

The Jaguars aren't likely to spend much time in analyzing their play in Houston or making corrections. The goal on Sunday was to come away healthy and the Jaguars did. Kick-coverage star Montell Owens sustained what was thought to be a minor ankle sprain.

"We accomplished one of the two goals we set (for the season)," Mathis said, referring to winning the division title and making the playoffs. The Colts, of course, won the AFC South for the fifth consecutive year.

"The ultimate goal," Mathis said, "is the Lombardi Trophy."

To win the Super Bowl title, the Jaguars may have to defeat on consecutive weekends Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. All three quarterbacks have won Super Bowls; the last four, to be exact.

The Jaguars last played in the postseason two years ago, losing 28-3 in New England. The Jaguars' last postseason victory was on Jan. 15, 2000, over visiting Miami.

"We have people who got that taste and wanted to get back (to the playoffs)," Spicer said.

Taylor is the only player on the current team from the Jaguars' 14-2 team in 1999 that went to the AFC title game. Is this team as good as the '99 team?

"Until we get to that AFC title game, I can't make that comparison. In '99 we had some selfish guys. We don't have any selfish guys," Taylor said.

Taylor takes a five-game 100-yard rushing streak into the playoffs, along with fresh legs.

"I'll be rested and ready to roll. (They're) going to get my best," Taylor said.

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