The Jaguars have set the table for two games that will provide an early indication as to whether or not the team will be a postseason contender this season.
Sunday's 17-7 win over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium leaves the Jaguars at 3-1 and perfectly positioned to make a run at the AFC South lead over the next two weeks. First up at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium is the Houston Texans, 3-2. That game will be followed by the long-anticipated Monday Night Football showdown against division kingpin Indianapolis, 4-0.
"It's going to be big for us coming home after two straight road wins," cornerback Rashean Mathis said. "We're already 0-1 in the division so this is a must-win game for us."
Mathis helped lead a defensive effort that thoroughly dominated the Chiefs on Sunday. The Jaguars allowed a franchise-low 10 yards rushing. They forced seven Chiefs punts and would've bagged a trophy shutout had the Chiefs not scored a meaningless touchdown on the final play of the game.
"Everyone in this division is winning games. When we meet up, it's extremely important to win," defensive end Reggie Hayward said.
The Jaguars swarmed on running back Larry Johnson, holding him to 12 yards on nine carries. After a slow start against the pass, they rallied to sack quarterback Damon Huard three times and eventually knock him out of the game with a bruised shoulder.
"We were playing hard and it just seemed like he got frustrated," Hayward said of Johnson. "He got frustrated and the offensive line got frustrated."
"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Larry Johnson," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said. "I feel like the team came in with a great mindset."
Quarterback David Garrard was on top of his game, again, and the Jaguars' rushing attack picked up where it left off in Denver two weeks ago. Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 82 yards on nine carries, including a 52-yard touchdown burst that is the second-longest run of his career. Fred Taylor added 51 yards on 16 carries.
Making the Jaguars' performance complete was the punting of rookie Adam Podlesh, who had struggled through the first three games. Podlesh punted four times for a 45.0 net, with a long of 56 yards and kill jobs at the Chiefs three, five and eight-yard lines.
"Podlesh had some really big kicks for us," Del Rio said. "I feel like he can be a weapon for us."
The Chiefs came out smokin'. They moved swiftly down the field in their first possession but stalled at the Jaguars 13 and kicker Dave Rayner followed by missing a chip-shot field goal attempt. The Chiefs never recovered.
Garrard drove the Jaguars to a field goal and a touchdown in the team's first two possessions and the defense made it stick. The clinching blow came early in the fourth quarter when Garrard completed a 40-yard strike to wide receiver Dennis Northcutt, then followed that with a three-yard touchdown pass to Northcutt that emptied Arrowhead Stadium of its fans.
"A very solid road win; second challenge in a row in the AFC West," Del Rio said. "We were pretty solid on third down," he added, referring to having converted eight of 15 third-down plays.
"The first quarter of the season is over and we've earned a 3-1 record," he added. "We came in here with a resolve to play 60 minutes."
Houston kept the Jaguars out of the playoffs last season by winning both games between the two teams. The Jaguars now have a chance to avenge those defeats.
"It's right there in our laps. We have to take care of business," said middle linebacker Mike Peterson, who added that it's important "not to pat ourselves on the back; don't get complacent. Come back to work on Wednesday ready to work.
"I told you not to panic. Everybody wanted to panic after the first game," Peterson said.
Panic has been replaced by anticipation.