JACKSONVILLE – Here's What We Learned from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans at EverBank Field in Jacksonville Thursday…
1. The Jaguars are legitimately hot …The Jaguars have won three consecutive games for the first time since midway through the 2010 season. They have won four of five games since the Week 9 bye. They won at home for the first time this season Thursday. There are a ton of streaky statistics for the Jaguars, and all of them are positive. Who'd a thunk? Well, Gus Bradley and the players woulda thunk, but few others.
2…. as in, the hottest team in the AFC.The Jaguars' three-game winning streak is the longest in the AFC. You can look it up.
3. Maurice Jones-Drew can still run …OK, so we keep learning this over and over again the second half of the season, but for a second time in three weeks, the three-time Pro Bowl selection did more with a lot less opportunity. Two weeks ago against Houston, he rushed for a then season-high 84 yards on 14 carries while sharing carries with Jordan Todman. On Thursday, he rushed just 14 times, but finished with a season-high 103 yards before leaving with a fourth-quarter hamstring injury.
4….and he can run far.OK, so Jones-Drew isn't the breakaway back he was a few years ago, but while that may be true, he keeps turning in significant long runs. He had a 44-yarder against Houston two weeks ago and a 48-yarder Thursday. And guess what? His yards per carry number keeps increasing, too. It was under 3.0 yards much of the season; now it's up to 3.5.
5. MJD wants to stay in Jacksonville.Jones-Drew's contract runs out at the end of this season. General Manager David Caldwell said recently Jones-Drew playing for the Jaguars next season is very possible, and Jones-Drew told the NFL Network Thursday night after the game that's what he wants. "I want to be here," Jones-Drew told the network after the game, adding that his agent and Caldwell will "get it done" in the offseason.
*6. Josh Scobee is clutch. *The Jaguars veteran kicker has converted 19 of 21 field goals this season, with one of those misses a block. And his reliability has been huge during the recent five-game run. On Thursday, he converted a 40-yard field goal and a 39-yard field goal, each of which extended Jaguars leads at key times. If Scobee misses his attempts Thursday, the Jaguars are down 21-20 at the end of the game instead of leading by a touchdown. A dramatic difference.
7. Ace Sanders is a weapon.He's quick, athletic and Jaguars offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch keeps finding different ways to use him. A week ago, the rookie wide receiver picked up a first down taking a pitch after lining up in the backfield. On Thursday, his 21-yard touchdown pass to running back Jordan Todman was the Jaguars' lone touchdown of the second half. He also has developed into a reliable receiver in recent weeks, catching 23 passes in the last four games.
8. Marcedes Lewis is a beast.He always has beast potential. On Thursday he had beast production early in the game. Lewis' out-physicaled cornerback Kareem Jackson for a 1-yard touchdown reception on the Jaguars' first series, and his 41-yard catch and run on the final play of the first quarter was the third time this season he had turned in an impressive catch-and-run that lifted the team.
9. Andre Branch is helping this team.Is there a more improved player on the team after the bye than Branch, the second-year defensive end? He struggled in preseason and his only sack in the first half of the regular season came when he touched Rams quarterback Sam Bradford down in a Week Five loss. Branch has three sacks in the last four games, is getting significant pressure consistently and he had a 10-yard sack in the fourth quarter on Friday.
10. Andre Johnson is still good …Remember two weeks ago? When the Jaguars held the Texans' perennial Pro Bowl wide receiver to two receptions for 36 yards? It was a different story on Thursday, with Johnson catching 13 passes for 154 yards. If it seemed like the Texans threw the ball to Johnson every play … well, not quite; but they threw to him a lot. The Texans ran 80 plays and targeted Johnson 21 times. And why not? It worked ... big time.
11….and the Jaguars secondary is still young.First, there was Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd three weeks ago. Then, there was Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon last week. If you add in Johnson's performance, it's a lot of yards against the Jaguars' secondary. Well, yes, it is, but this is a group starting three rookies many weeks; on Thursday, the Jaguars started two rookies and second-year safety Winston Guy. This is a group with a lot of potential and it's a group that's improving. Until it matures, it's a group that may give up yards, but rookies grow up and this group will, too.
12. The Jaguars can run …The Jaguars have rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last three games. No coincidence that the offense has looked efficient during the same span. Credit the Jaguars' offensive line. It was under constant criticism early in the season and it has looked very good in recent weeks.
13….and stop the run.The Jaguars have held five consecutive opponents under 100 yards rushing. That has kept the Jaguars in games even with the pass defense struggles.
14. The Jaguars believe in Gus Bradley. OK, we've known this for a few weeks, but with each passing week it gets more obvious. The belief in Bradley is a huge reason for this turnaround. If this team didn't believe in the coach, no way does it win four of five games after an 0-8 start. Not even close.