The Texans and their future will be on the line at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on Sunday.
At 5-6, it's do or die time for the Texans. This is the must-win of all must-win games for Gary Kubiak's team. A loss would drop the Texans out of the playoff hunt and might put Kubiak's job in jeopardy.
"I think anything can happen in this league. We're trying to stay focused on getting our next win," Kubiak said.
It's been a season of great disappointment for the Texans. This was supposed to be the year they became a serious playoff contender and it appeared they were headed in that direction when they were 5-3 at midseason. What followed, however, were three consecutive defeats, all of them of the heartbreak variety.
The first two, to the Colts and Titans, were by identical 20-17 scores, with kicker Kris Brown missing with the game on the line. This past Sunday, the Texans collapsed in the fourth quarter and saw the Colts rally from a significant deficit to win and remain undefeated.
It's become the Texans' trademark. They tend to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, just as they did against the Jaguars in week three. They appeared to score the game-tying touchdown, only to have it nullified by an offensive pass-interference penalty. Then, after having overcome that penalty, they were again on the verge of tying the game when running back Chris Brown fumbled into the end zone and the Jaguars recovered.
"We've been a very big penalty team the last three weeks. That's got to stop, number one. You can't play the Colts and give them 120, 125 free yards. They're tough enough to stop as it is," Kubiak said.
Stopping opponents has always been Houston's weakness, but the Texans defense is significantly improved since the Jaguars played in Houston on Sept. 27. The Texans were last in the league in run-defense back then, now they're up to 22nd against the run and 17th in overall defense, despite having played a rugged stretch of schedule that includes two games against the Colts. The Texans' signature win is against Cincinnati.
Quarterback Matt Schaub is having a huge year statistically, including 21 touchdown passes and a 97.7 passer rating. He suffered a fourth-quarter meltdown last Sunday, however, and it could end up costing the Texans a playoff berth.
"He's got a fine, fine future. The thing we have to do with him is try to eliminate some of these turnovers in the second half. He's got to protect the ball on game day, but he's obviously becoming a fine quarterback in this league," Kubiak said.
"Sunday, two teams that want it very much are going after each other, so it ought to be a good show. Somehow, some way we've got to find a way to get number seven, win number seven," coach Jack Del Rio said of his 6-5 Jaguars.
The Jaguars' big challenge will be trying to stop Schaub and wide receiver Andre Johnson with star cornerback Rashean Mathis still out of action due to a groin injury. Johnson is fourth in the league in receiving yards, 945. He has a 15.0 yards-per-catch average.
In the last game between the two teams, the Jaguars were able to hold Johnson to four catches, as the Texans turned to Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels for seven catches and one touchdown each. Daniels has since sustained a season-ending injury.
The Jaguars are counting on an assist from their homefield advantage, which has helped them win four of five games at home this season.
"I think we play better here. If we can get our best foot forward here and play well in December, then we can meet some of these challenges and find our way into the postseason," Del Rio said.