JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton look back at the Jaguars' 17-7 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Week 16 and forward to Sunday's game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.
1. Reviewing the preview. When previewing Jaguars-Dolphins, the thought here was the Jaguars needed to get points defensively or on special teams, play for pride and make a play or two in the passing game. The passing game once again stagnated, allowing six sacks and failing to produce a touchdown. But the Jaguars for a second consecutive week got a non-offensive touchdown, with linebacker Telvin Smith registering the defense's second touchdown of the season – a 33-yard fourth-quarter interception return that clinched the game. Still, perhaps the major Jaguars story Sunday was pride. Many wondered entering the game if the Jaguars would be motivated – and the Jaguars' defense looked bad on a 78-yard game-opening Dolphins touchdown drive. But the Jaguars scraped back and won for the first time this season in a game they trailed. A team without heart wouldn't have done that.
2. As I saw it. This was an impressive victory for the entire Jaguars team, especially the defense. The defense looked bad on the game's first possession, allowing an easy-touchdown drive that ended with a just-as-easy four-yard touchdown reception by Dolphins running back Brandon Bolden. The Jaguars for the final 55 minutes played perhaps their best defensive game of the season, allowing just 105 more yards and shutting out the Dolphins thereafter. Yes, Miami entered the game struggling offensively, but this was a Miami team that entered the game still in the playoff chase. Miami's motivation didn't define the game Sunday. What defined it was the pass rush of Jaguars ends Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue and tackle Malik Jackson. The Jaguars' defense has allowed zero, 16 and seven points in three of their last four games. The unit may not be quite at its 2018 level. But it's playing at a high level in the last month.
3. Looking ahead, briefly. Up next for the Jaguars: the Houston Texans. The Jaguars enter the final week of the season with a chance to play the spoiler role – to an extent. While the Texans clinched a postseason spot Sunday, they still must beat the Jaguars to secure the AFC South title. The Texans, once as hot as any team in the AFC with a nine-game winning streak, enter Week 17 having lost two of three games – including a 32-30 loss to Philadelphia this past week. The Jaguars showed against Miami that they haven't quit, but Sunday's season finale is a trickier task. With no playoff spot as motivation, can the Jaguars beat a team playing for a division title? This would mark a major upset. The positive is the defense is healthy enough and playing well enough to pull it off.
1. Reviewing the preview. I didn't expect the Jaguars' revamped offensive line with four starters on injured reserve to hold off a Miami defensive front featuring Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake. It did not. The Miami rush caused problems from first snap to last, including six sacks and at least one game-changing hit on quarterback Cody Kessler. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone said after the game that Kessler might have returned despite soreness from a first-half shoulder injury, but that they went with quarterback Blake Bortles because of his ability to escape. I knew the defense and special teams needed to come up big again this week and both did. Coverage teams were excellent, wide receiver Dede Westbrook set up a scoring opportunity with his 44-yard punt return at the end of the first half and kicker Kai Forbath booted the game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Telvin Smith sealed it shortly thereafter with a pick-six made possible by tremendous pressure on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and incredible coverage by the back seven. Those two components of the game, defense and special teams, were the difference.
2. As I saw it. The Jaguars missed a chance to play well and lose, which would have kept them among the top five picks in next April's NFL Draft. Good. The energy level on the field and in the locker room showed that this team hasn't quit on Marrone or each other. A season that long ago careened off the tracks didn't slide toward the finish line; the Jaguars got it together against a franchise that long has been the big dog in Florida. It had to feel good for everyone involved to show some of the things – like defense and the running game – that were supposed to be the hallmarks for a team that was going to contend in 2018. It gave a little life – a lot, actually – to a locker room that needed something to rally around. The Jaguars on Sunday were challenged by the coaching staff – and an outside world that considered them irrelevant – and they responded. That's a good way to end the season.
3. Looking ahead, briefly. The Jaguars will close the '18 against a Texans team that has won 10 games and secured a playoff spot – but that hasn't clinched the AFC South and that could still manage a first-round bye. I don't know how they Jaguars will block Texans pass rushers J.J. Watt and Jadaveon Clowney; I suspect they're still working to figure that out also. If the Jaguars play Bortles – and they SHOULD – it gives them a guy who knows what's coming and who can keep those two guys honest with his ability to run from pressure. Still, let's not kid ourselves: this offense is going to struggle to score against the Texans' defense. Special teams and defense will need to come up BIG and I think they can because the Houston offense has a bad offensive line, a beat-up running back and is down a receiver. Plus, this Jacksonville defense showed in Miami it's capable of being the unit that took over games last season. It's a tall order, but there is some hope and plenty of motivation. Let's see if the Jaguars can pull off some heroics in Houston.