HOUSTON—They proved, beyond a hint of doubt, they are a playoff-worthy team. The next challenge for the Jaguars is to prove they can win in the playoffs.
As the regular season came to a close in Reliant Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the Jaguars could be forgiven if their focus was on another game; the next game. There was nothing left for the Jaguars to prove against the Texans. The Jaguars had already proven their worth in places such as Nashville and Pittsburgh.
Along the way, they had gained the respect of the nation's sporting media. That same media is now challenging the Jaguars to this: Show us you're more than just a playoff team. Show us you're a championship team.
That's what makes a team's collar fit a little tighter and stiffer. That's what the postseason is. It's about dealing with pressure, which will begin on Saturday night in Pittsburgh, in the only prime-time game of the wild-card round of the playoffs.
Welcome to the playoffs, Jaguars. We respect you. You're worthy of prime-time.
That's the message from the league and the TV execs. They're saying the Jaguars have arrived. Can they win? Can the Jaguars go deep into the postseason?
"Let's wrap this up so we can get home and get to work," coach Jack Del Rio said in his postgame press conference, following a preseason-like, 42-28 loss to the Houston Texans.
Before you leave, coach, would you answer this one question? Can your team go deep into the postseason?
"We're getting ready to find out. Does it matter what I think? What's most important is how we prepare. Is making proclamations worth any points?" Del Rio asked.
All around Jacksonville this week, fans will ask the question: Can the Jaguars go deep into the postseason?
"If I didn't think we could, I shouldn't be on this team," Fred Taylor said. "We believe in each other and we're not concerned with outsiders' opinion."
Yes, the Jaguars have the look of a team that can win in the postseason and in hostile environments, which is what they'll likely have to do on three consecutive weekends. Hey, they did it just a few weeks ago in the cold and snow and wind in Pittsburgh.
That was, however, in the regular season. Can the Jaguars win there in the postseason? There is a difference.
"There's no next week. You can't have the mental errors and mistakes. If you do, you're going home," Paul Spicer said of playoff football.
With that, Spicer chose to answer the question directly. "I believe we can go deep into the postseason. We have balance," Spicer added.
That's why the Jaguars can go deep. They have balance. With Willie Parker out of action, the Steelers may not have it. Can the Chargers say they have balance? Not even the 16-0 Patriots can say they have it.
The Jaguars may, in fact, be the most balanced team in the league as we turn into the postseason. They can move the ball on the ground and in the air. That's the difference between this team and last year's team. It's the difference between this team and the one that went 12-4 and lost in the first round of the playoffs two years ago. Remember that game? Bill Belichick took the Jaguars' run away and everything crumbled.
This team isn't like that. This team can run it and throw it. If you try to take one away, the Jaguars will hit you with the other. That's why this team can go deep into the postseason. It has a complete offense. No longer is the Jaguars offense a run and a prayer.
"We're a balanced team; run or pass. We play real good defense. We have everything to be a real good playoff team," Rashean Mathis said.
The postseason ingredients are there. The Jaguars have what it takes to go deep. Will they? That's what remains to be answered.