JACKSONVILLE – They all matter. Now, they matter more.
It's late November, and the Jaguars are in first place – and as tight end Evan Engram sees it, that gives all games moving forward added meaning.
"It's time to really double down and finish," he said.
Such was the tone around the Jaguars Monday:
A day after a 34-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans (3-7) at EverBank Stadium, the AFC South-leading Jaguars (7-3) spoke positively of a complete victory over a division rival. They spoke more urgently of the need to move forward and prepare for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas.
"It's Game 11, but they're all big," Head Coach Doug Pederson said, with linebacker Foye Oluokun adding:
"It's just big because of the next divisional game and you know how important divisional games are. It's our second time against them. We lost the first time, so it's one for our own confidence, being able to be the team that we lost to and then being able to keep a bigger lead in the division.
"You don't want to lose to a team twice, but really it's about getting ahead in the division. It's the next game, so let's win it."
The Jaguars lead the Texans (6-3) by one game in the South. The Texans' 37-17 victory over the Jaguars in Jacksonville in Week 3 means Houston will be in first place in the division with a victory Sunday. A Jaguars victory will give them a two-game lead with six games remaining.
"Anytime you play in your division, they're all big games," Pederson said. "We understand what this team did to us a few weeks back. It's another game on the schedule, with a lot of football ahead still, but it's big. You don't ever want to go 0-2 against a division opponent.
"Our guys will respond again, much like they did this week. It's going to take a good week of prep and film study. It's a great opportunity. They're playing extremely well. We are, too. It should be a good matchup."
The Texans, after a 0-2 start, have won six of their last eight games – a stretch that began with the Week 3 victory in Jacksonville. They have won their last three games, with rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud throwing for 2,962 yards and 17 touchdowns with five interceptions for the season.
"We know what the implications are as far as our division," Jaguars wide receiver Zay Jones said. "We won't make it any bigger than that, but we have a healthy respect for what they're doing in Houston. C.J. is playing really well right now. Their offense looks to be firing and they have great players as well in their defense.
"We're going to have our hands full. I'm sure everyone's going to have everything to say on both sides, but it's going to be an exciting matchup."
The Jaguars enter the final seven games of the season in a dramatically different circumstance than last season, when they trailed Tennessee by four games after 10 games before winning the division with a five-game season-ending winning streak. The Jaguars have held the division lead this season since a Week 6 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in Jacksonville.
"Tennessee was the team that we kind of chased down," Engram said. "Now, we're at the top spot and we control our own destiny. Definitely, the things that we went through last year is helping in that, but this is new territory for us to really take control, make it a norm and create a standard for ourselves.
"Finishing strong at this part of the year is huge. Week in and week out, nothing's promised and we have to take what we want. This is where implications start rolling around about playoffs and seeding. This is where the football really matters and we have to go play our best ball for the rest of the year."
- Pederson called Sunday's victory one of the season's best games for the Jaguars' offensive line. The Jaguars did not allow a sack Sunday after allowing five in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday. The Jaguars also rushed for 128 yards – their second-highest total of the season – Sunday after rushing for a season-low 59 against San Francisco. Sunday marked the third time this season all five projected starting five offensive linemen – left tackle Cam Robinson, left guard Walker Little, center Luke Fortner, right guard Brandon Scherff and right tackle Anton Harrison – have started the same game. It's the first time this season the group has started back-to-back games. "I thought the offensive line played really well," Pederson said, adding that the guard Ezra Cleveland played well in his first work with the offense. Cleveland played 19 snaps at left guard with Little playing 52. "We'll just continue to work him in whenever we can," Pederson said. "It's hard to say that it'll be every week, but going into this past game, the plan was to get him some snaps. We'll see as we go."