In a battle with major implications on the top of the NFL draft order, the Jacksonville Jaguars earned their first home win of the season with a 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans on Thursday night.
Matt Schaub came on for Case Keenum in the third quarter and nearly put together a terrific comeback for the Texans, but a late interception sealed the win for the Jags.
Chad Henne threw for 117 yards and two touchdowns, and Maurice Jones-Drew tallied 103 yards on the ground for Jacksonville, which has now won four of its last five and sits at 4-9.
The @jaguars have won 3 straight games, the longest win streak in the AFC.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 6, 2013
For the Texans, who are now 2-11, Schaub threw for 198 yards and a score in limited time and Andre Johnson was once again dominant (13 catches, 154 yards), but they couldn't overcome the team's 14 penalties for 177 yards.
The Jaguars set the tone with a methodical opening drive that went 80 yards on 13 plays and took up nearly half of the entire first quarter. Fifty-two of those yards came on the ground from Chad Henne, Maurice Jones-Drew and Jordan Todman, but it was Marcedes Lewis capping the drive with a one-yard touchdown catch.
NFL's official Twitter feed gives us a look at the impressive throw and catch:
Following a couple of punts, the Jags once again marched nearly the entire length of the field, this time going 86 yards in under two minutes.
Lewis once again had the big play, pulling down 41 yards on a spectacular catch, and a few plays later, Cecil Shorts caught the touchdown from six yards out.
The Texans responded with an impressive drive of their own when Keenum found Keshawn Martin for an eight-yard score to put an exclamation mark on the 91-yard drive. But on the next drive, a Keenum interception and a couple of boneheaded penalties from the Texans put Jacksonville in position to kick a field goal and make it 17-7 before halftime.
The last possession basically summed up the half, per ESPN's Tania Ganguli:
From ESPN Stats & Info: #Texans' 115 penalty yards are 2nd most in a single half in any game this season (Jets - 123 in 2nd half of Week 3).— Tania Ganguli (@taniaganguli) December 6, 2013
Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle's John McClain wasn't exactly shy about the Texans' woeful performance:
This is my 34th full season and 37th counting backup roles, and that's about as bad a first half as I've witnessed.— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) December 6, 2013
Things would continue to get worse.
After the Texans cut the lead back to seven with a field goal, Jacksonville answered with an 88-yard touchdown drive that included a 48-yard run from Jones-Drew and a 21-yard trick-play touchdown throw from Ace Sanders to Todman.
When things were at their worst, though, Schaub proceeded to make things interesting.
The polarizing quarterback entered the game in the third quarter and immediately put 10 points on the board with a 76-yard touchdown drive and a 55-yard drive that ended with a field goal.
A failed fourth-down attempt in the red zone after yet another big drive handed the ball back to the Jaguars with under four minutes remaining, but with Denard Robinson forced to come in at running back following injuries to Jones-Drew and Todman, Jacksonville wasn't able to move the chains enough to hold onto the ball.
Schaub couldn't complete the comeback, however, as he threw an interception to Geno Hayes to assure the win for the Jaguars, who would add an insurance field goal.
Jacksonville got off to a horrific start this season, but the team has turned a new leaf and is now hitting its stride. NFL on ESPN provided a startling stat that really puts the Jaguars' hot streak into perspective:
The Jags currently have the longest win streak in the AFC. (Yes REALLY!)— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) December 6, 2013
Case Keenum, Texans: C+
Keenum made some nice throws here and there, but for the most part, it was an underwhelming performance, as he finished with just 5.5 yards per throw (16-of-29 for 159 yards) and tossed a bad interception that turned into three points for the Jags at the end of the first half.
It wasn't a terrible night by any means, and Keenum certainly isn't the one to blame for the loss. But he just couldn't move the ball consistently, and the fact that he was replaced by Schaub in the third quarter should tell you how effective he was.
After the game, Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle provided this quote from Gary Kubiak, who spoke about the quarterback battle:
Gary Kubiak: I thought Matt gave us the best chance to win. Case struggled.— Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) December 6, 2013
Kubiak said #Texans will consider starting Matt Schaub remainder of season. "Unbelievable pro."— Brian T. Smith (@ChronBrianSmith) December 6, 2013
Chad Henne, Jaguars: B
Henne was also pretty underwhelming, as he missed a lot of throws and completed just 44.4 percent of his attempts for a meager 4.3 yards per toss.
His worst moment also came late in the first half when he barely overthrew a wide-open Shorts on what would have been a long touchdown.
Even with the pedestrian numbers, Henne took care of the ball (zero turnovers), made some nice plays with his legs and did enough to win despite facing constant pressure. It was a very game-manager-esque performance.
Matt Schaub, Texans: B
Schaub came off the bench to play for the first time in nearly a month, and at first, he looked as good as he had all year. Although that may not be saying much considering the season he's endured, he was accurate and strong with his throws and made plays both inside and out of the pocket.
On his first three drives, he drove the ball down the field with ease. But on the fourth, he reverted to his old ways, throwing a bad interception to seal the loss.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars: A
Who was that guy?
Jones-Drew entered Thursday night's game averaging a career-low 3.2 yards per carry on the season, but he looked fairly explosive, hitting the holes hard and breaking tackles to gain extra yardage.
This run in particular looked like the MJD of two years ago:
He finished with 123 total yards (103 rushing, 20 receiving) on 16 touches before leaving with a hamstring injury early in the fourth quarter.
Jones-Drew was showing a spark that reminded us he still has the skillset to help a team win football games. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport provides this quote from Jones-Drew, who speaks about his future beyond the 2013 season:
MJD tells @richeisen & co “I want to be here” in Jax. Says his agent & GM Dave Caldwell will get together in the offseason “and get it done”— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 6, 2013
Now losers of 11 in a row, the Texans will look to savor some pride (or continue to work toward the No. 1 overall pick) in Indianapolis against the Colts, while the Jaguars remain home to host the Buffalo Bills.