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Payback not the motive


They want play-makers. Byron Leftwich says Ernest Wilford is a play-maker.

Will Sunday's game produce Wilford's emergence as the young, play-making wide receiver the Jaguars have tried to find, going all the way back to the selection of R. Jay Soward in the 2000 draft?

That would seem to be the sub-plot. The number one question, of course, is can the Jaguars finally beat the Houston Texans, or will the Texans do it to the Jaguars again, as they did twice last season?

"They swept us last year. We have to get prepared for a dogfight," coach Jack Del Rio told reporters on Wednesday, as the Jaguars began preparations for Sunday's AFC South clash at Alltel Stadium.

Jacksonville is 4-3 and firmly involved in the AFC playoffs race. Houston is 1-6 and capable of doing little more than achieving respectability in what remains of this season.

All thoughts for Jaguars fans, of course, go back to the day after Christmas last year, when the Jaguars were shut out by the Texans in front of a surprisingly small Alltel crowd. Had the Jaguars won that game, they would've made the playoffs.

"Worrying about the whipping we took last year isn't going to help us," Del Rio said.

"We can't get into payback and revenge because it gets your mind out of character. We need a win," quarterback Byron Leftwich said.

To help produce that win, Del Rio said on Monday he will increase Wilford's playing time. Del Rio didn't discount the possibility Wilford will be in the starting lineup. Today, however, Del Rio sidestepped questions about Wilford's playing time, obviously unwilling to divulge strategy secrets.

"I'm going to leave it at that," he said of his comments on Monday. "There's been enough discussion about playing time."

Wilford caught six passes for 145 yards and a touchdown in the Jaguars' 24-21 loss in St. Louis last Sunday. Those numbers stand as the best statistical performance by a Jaguars receiver this season.

"Ernest has just been making plays since the beginning; since the first game in Buffalo (in 2004)," Leftwich said when asked why he seems to be especially comfortable in throwing Wilford's way. "The ball just comes his way. The thing is I'm comfortable with everybody. Ernest is just a play-maker."

Wilford was the Jaguars' number four wide receiver in St. Louis, but his playing time increased when starter Reggie Williams was sent to the bench with a head injury he sustained early in the game. Del Rio said Williams would practice on Wednesday and expects Williams will be cleared to play this Sunday.

"He had the tests done and the signs are good. We anticipate him being able to play," Del Rio said.

So, how much will Wilford play?

"I really don't know. All I can do is go out there when my name is called and make plays," Wilford said.

In a reserve role, Wilford has made three touchdown catches this season, which is second to Jimmy Smith's team-leading four touchdown receptions. Wilford's 15 receptions are one fewer than number three receiver Matt Jones' total, but Wilford's yardage is nearly twice as much and Wilford's 17.5 yards-per-catch average leads all wide receivers.

"I've always wanted to be a starter. I want to be a Pro-Bowler. I critique myself very hard and I have high expectations," said Wilford, a fourth-round draft choice last year who has waited without complaint for his playing time to increase.

His time would seem to have arrived.

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