At the halfway point in the season, the Jaguars are 4-4 and well-positioned to make a postseason run, which must be considered startling for a team whose roster was gutted following last year's 5-11 finish.
"We've left ourselves in a spot where we can continue to fight," coach Jack Del Rio said following Sunday's 24-21 win over visiting Kansas City. "We had tremendous (roster) turnover. This is a group of men who are willing to work at it. I believe we will improve. Being at 4-4, we are still alive."
A quick survey of the AFC shows a bunched wild-card race. Only two wild-card contenders have fewer than four losses.
Eight games into the season, the Jaguars will prepare for a meaningful game against the Jets next weekend. It's a game that will go a long way toward deciding both teams' playoff hopes. Del Rio even spoke of it in his pregame address to his team.
"I said the Jets are 4-4 and in their bye week waiting for us, so let's get a win, get to 4-4 and go visit them," Del Rio said.
A strong defensive effort, mistake-free play by quarterback David Garrard and big plays by wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker led the way against the Chiefs. The Jaguars led 24-6 with 4:26 to play.
"It was a strong effort by the team for 56 minutes. We didn't finish the way we wanted," Del Rio said.
Garrard completed 18 of 27 passes for 264 yards, one touchdown and a 110.7 passer rating. Sims-Walker caught six passes for 147 yards that included a 61-yard touchdown, and Maurice Jones-Drew got plenty of touches this week, including 29 rushing attempts for 97 yards.
The Jaguars offense continues to show signs of significant development. Jones-Drew has rushed for more yards through eight games than any back in franchise history, and the Jaguars have 12 plays of 30 or more yards, the most in the first eight games of any season in Jaguars history.
"Although this is a team with tremendous (roster) turnover, we expect to win when we go out there," Del Rio said.
The lone negative on this day, as it has been all season, is the continued weak attendance at home games. Only 45,546 tickets were distributed for this game and the actual attendance was a paltry 40,541 on military appreciation day. The crowd included a large contingent of military and a surprisingly large delegation of Chiefs fans dressed in vivid red.
"When you have an unselfish team, you can do a lot. I think that's what we are," defensive tackle John Henderson said.
Cornerback Rashean Mathis returned to action following a week of inactivity due to finger surgery, and the Chiefs rarely threw in Mathis' direction. Mathis and the Jaguars' defensive backs benefitted from an improved pass-rush, which may be the result of a switch from the 3-4 to the 4-3 defense and the fact that the Chiefs are one of the league's most-sacked teams.
"It was a great sign that we were able to come back to our roots," Mathis said.
"We were comfortable playing the scheme that was drawn up," linebacker Clint Ingram said.
"All the talk has been about a rollercoaster and all that stuff. I want to be on that rollercoaster, I just want to be on it as it's ascending the whole time," said Garrard, who followed one of his worst-ever performances with one of his best. "I'm not going to get too high on this performance – it was a good performance – but we need another one next week."
Few thought this year's Jaguars team would be playing in a big game this late into the season, but that's exactly what next Sunday's game against the Jets will be.