(Nov. 17) -- Two weeks ago the Jaguars lost their fourth consecutive game. In three of those games the Jaguars' opponent took an early lead, controlled the tempo of the game and held on to win. In the past two games, however, the shoe has been on the other foot.
The Jaguars used a big play offense, strong defense early, and heads up special teams to beat the Houston Texans 24-21 in their first visit to Reliant Stadium today. The Jaguars had four plays of over 20 yards in the first half, limited the Texans to 272 yards of total offense on the day, recovered two onside kicks, and recovered a fumbled punt return to set up a touchdown.
Jacksonville was hitting on all cylinders following Jermaine Lewis' fumbled punt return early in the third quarter. Mark Brunell rolled to the right on a play action pass two plays later and hit Jimmy Smith for a 13 yard touchdown to put Jacksonville ahead 24-7.
"We made plays. We had some big plays that helped us, and that was kind of the story of our day as far as our points," Brunell said.
The Jaguars offense, however, would stall from that point on, picking up just three first downs over the final 27:35 of the game. During that time David Carr led the Texans offense on scoring drives of 83 and 70 yards, capping both of them off himself with touchdown runs. The second of those two runs brought the Texans to within three with 2:04 remaining.
Brunell stated after the game that the Jaguars might have gotten a little conservative with the big lead.
"You have a tendency to get on your heels a little bit, but you have to fight to continue to be aggressive, to continue the attitude and the mentality that got you the 24 points," he said.
Houston got the ball back at their own 18 yard line for one final possession. The Jaguars defense, however, sent them reeling 15 yards backwards on the next three plays, including sacks from young defensive tackles Marcus Stroud and John Henderson. A Carr to Corey Bradford pass on fourth down was broken up by a crushing blow from Fernando Bryant, effectively ending the game.
"Our young defensive guys really rose up and made some plays there when they had to," Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin said. "The sacks there at the end of the game obviously were large."
Bryant appeared to knock himself out on the fourth down play, but he eventually walked off the field under his own accord. Coughlin stated after the game that Bryant never lost consciousness.
Jacksonville's offense used big plays and a mixture of Fred Taylor and Stacey Mack to set the tone from their first series of the game. Starting from their own 13, the Jaguars used runs of 15 and 23 yards from Taylor and Mack, respectively, to drive the ball into Houston territory. Although the drive eventually stalled at the 37 yard line, Chris Hanson sailed a punt that Jimmy Redmond caught and downed at the four.
Starting with their backs to the wall, Houston picked up two first downs before Jacksonville got their first big break of the game. On third and eight from their own 29 yard line, Carr tried to hit Jabar Gaffney on a curl route for a first down, but the ball bounced off of his chest and into the waiting arms of Marlon McCree, who returned it 35 yards to the two yard line.
It took the Jaguars four tries, but on fourth and goal from the one, Mack got the ball and crashed the left side for the touchdown to put the Jaguars ahead 7-0 with just over a minute remaining in the first quarter. Jacksonville controlled the game for the next 20 minutes.
On their next possession, it was the Jaguars who were forced to start from within the shadow of their own goal line, setting up shop at the four. But after one first down got them to the 21, Brunell hit Pete Mitchell coming across the middle. Mitchell then took off up the left sideline for 45 yards. Brunell hit Bobby Shaw on the next play on a post for 30 yards to the four. Brunell gave a play fake two plays later, then rolled left and hit a wide open Kyle Brady for the touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Houston showed big play ability themselves later in the second quarter when Carr hit a wide open Corey Bradford for a 52 yard touchdown pass to cut the lead, 14-7. Houston then pulled out some special teams trickery, as they did in their win over the Jaguars three weeks ago, by attempting a surprise onside kick. Houston had a shot at the recovery as the ball bounced around for a short time, but Bobby Brooks came up with the recovery for the Jaguars.
"It did not surprise me, I knew something was going to come in that particular part of the game," Coughlin said. "I knew that they were going to try to be aggressive and I take my hat off, I don't blame them."
Two possessions later, the Jaguars turned the good field position into a 22 yard field goal just prior to halftime to take a 17-7 lead into the locker room. That field goal would not have been possible had it not been for a remarkable play from Brunell. The veteran quarterback was seemingly wrapped up and surrounded by Texans on third and five from the Texans 25. Brunell somehow escaped, rolled to his left and fired the ball downfield to Jimmy Smith for a 21 yard gain.
"Fear," credited Brunell, was the reason for his escape. "There's a little life in these legs still. Not that old, yet."
The win is Jaguars first in the new AFC South division. They move to 5-5 on the season, one game back of division leaders Indianapolis and Tennessee who both won today.