JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars' healthy stars and front-line players will play Sunday, and they will play hard.
Doug Pederson said he knows no other way.
"There is never a meaningless game – never ever, ever, ever," Pederson said.
The Jaguars' head coach on Wednesday said he will play all healthy players against the Houston Texans (2-12-1) at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, Sunday – despite the following week's regular-season finale guaranteed to be for the 2022 AFC South title.
"That's kind of what we expected," Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. "That's what we want. You have to finish strong. That's the message. We get to finish with two division games, so it's a great opportunity for us.
"It's another opportunity to show who we are, to put our best foot forward, to play another complete game, to keep this momentum that we have. If you go out there and lay an egg, no one's feeling good about that, especially heading into the last week."
While NFL teams sometimes rest front-line players in similar late-season situations, Pederson said that's not his philosophy – and that the Jaguars on Sunday will be "full steam ahead."
"You play to win every game," he said. "The only way I rest players is if they're hurt and can't go."
The Jaguars (7-8), winners of three consecutive games, will win the AFC South by beating the Tennessee Titans (7-8) at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville in Week 18. They cannot clinch the South Sunday, but beating the Texans would improve their chances to win the South. That's because they can win the South with a tie against Tennessee if they beat Texans.
The Jaguars can still qualify for an AFC Wild-Card berth, but need to beat the Texans Sunday and have multiple teams lose in Weeks 17 and 18.
"I don't think anybody was expecting to get rest," Jaguars veteran outside linebacker Josh Allen said. "This is another opportunity for us to keep ascending. You feed off what you do. Right now, we fed off our first win, then our second win, then our third win.
"We have to keep on stacking up days. If we keep stacking great days and great days and great days, we're going to be in a good position to win."
With or without the postseason at stake, the Jaguars have incentive Sunday. They have lost nine consecutive games to the Texans since sweeping them in 2017 en route to the AFC South title. They must win their last two regular-season games to finish with a winning record for the first time since '17. The Texans also beat the Jaguars, 13-6, in a Week 5 game at TIAA Bank Field this season.
"It's an AFC South opponent, and they beat us in Week 5," Pederson said. "We've got to have a great week of preparation – we understand that. We've still got some unfinished business."
- Lawrence missed practice Wednesday with a toe issue originally sustained in a Week 13 loss to the Detroit Lions; he has played through the issue the last three games. Long snapper Ross Matiscik (back) was the lone other Jaguars player missing practice Wednesday. Safety Andrew Wingard (shoulder), right guard Brandon Scherff (ankle/abdomen), defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi (ankle) and rookie outside linebacker Travon Walker (ankle) practiced limited Wednesday. Wingard played through the issue in a 19-3 victory over the New York Jets Thursday, while Fatukasi missed Thursday's game. Scherff played through the abdomen injury and sustained the ankle injury against the Jets. Walker, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, has missed the last two games with a high-ankle sprain sustained in a Week 14 victory over the Titans. "He's close," Pederson said of Walker. "We'll see each day this week as we, as we get closer to game time."
- The Jaguars on Wednesday signed long snapper Garrison Sanborn to the practice squad. Matiscik played through back spasms against the Jets. "We just want to make sure that we've got everything protected," Pederson said. "Ross will be fine for the game. We're not worried about that. It just kind of gives us a little protection there."
- Pederson on kicker Riley Patterson, who was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week after converting a career-high four of five field goals against the Jets despite difficult rainy and cold conditions at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.: "Four out of five field goal in those conditions was pretty impressive. He's well deserved of that. He's just shown consistency throughout the course of the year and keeps getting better with every game." Patterson, a second-year veteran in his first season with the Jaguars, has converted 27 of 32 field goals with 30 of 31 extra points this season.
New field, same hard work. Swipe through photos of the Jaguars Wednesday practice at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville ahead of the Week 17 game against the Houston Texans.