ORCHARD PARK, NY—The table is set for a showdown on Monday Night Football between the Jaguars and their archrival, the Tennessee Titans, in front of what's expected to be a sellout crowd of fans wanting to make a statement about the future of professional football in Jacksonville.
"It's two weeks in a row that we found a way to gut out a win. Our best football is ahead of us," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said following his team's 36-26 win over the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday.
The win marked the first time since last Nov. that the Jaguars won consecutive games, but it didn't happen without the Jaguars having to weather some tense opening moments. A fumbled punt by Mike Thomas and a David Garrard pass that was intercepted produced a 10-0 lead for the winless Bills just six minutes into the game.
"Our guys showed some grit and then took control of the game," Del Rio said.
There were two turning points in the game. The first occurred with the Bills on the Jaguars one-yard line. A Bills offensive lineman was penalized for holding, which caused the Bills to have to settle for a field goal and a 13-3 lead.
Following the second of what would be five Josh Scobee field goals, Garrard put together a high-efficiency, 85-yard touchdown drive that tied the game with 25 seconds to play in the first half. The Jaguars then opened the second half with a three-play, 39-yard touchdown drive, following a kickoff return by rookie Deji Karim, to take a 20-13 lead. Garrard pitched a 27-yard scoring strike to tight end Marcedes Lewis, the second Garrard-to-Lewis touchdown pitch-and-catch of the game.
At that point, the Jaguars were in control of the game, but momentum would swing one more time when the Jaguars failed on a fourth-and-one play at their 45-yard line on their next possession.
"I take full responsibility for that fourth and one. That wasn't real good. I'm going to be aggressive," Del Rio said.
Buffalo moved 45 yards in six plays to tie the game on a short touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to wide receiver Steve Johnson. Cornerback Rashean Mathis was animated in his protest that Johnson had pushed off to get open.
It was then time for turning point number two: Garrard drove the Jaguars 53 yards in nine plays, following another sizeable Karim kickoff return. The touchdown pass went to wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker from seven yards out.
Sims-Walker suddenly came to life in the drive after not having even had a pass thrown in his direction up to that point in the game. Sims-Walker caught four passes for 46 yards in the drive.
"I was pretty much getting doubled. They loosened up a little bit," Sims-Walker said in explaining why he suddenly started catching passes.
"They were rolling to his side. We might have to move him around more so he can get his catches. As a quarterback, you have to be able to keep the boys under control," Garrard said of Sims-Walker, who expressed frustration last week for not having the ball thrown in his direction more often.
Second-year cornerback Derek Cox is another player who emerged in the win. He replaced starting cornerback David Jones in the first quarter, after Jones had been beaten for a long touchdown pass by wide receiver Lee Evans.
"We just let that go over the top of us. That's unacceptable. Follow that up with a bad job of run-force. Derek was thrust in and played pretty well all day," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars would seem to be peaking at a dramatic time in the season.