The Houston Texans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars rematch had more scoring than the first, but the result was the same: a seven-point victory for Jacksonville. This win was the Jaguars' fourth in five games since their bye and their third win in a row, a welcome change after losing their first eight games and nine of their first 10.
Tonight's win also marked the Jaguars' first home victory since November 2012 and signified the power shift occurring between these two franchises. Jacksonville is on its way up. Though it finished last in the AFC South in 2012, it has taken big strides forward in the second half of this season and is trending upward as this rebuilding process progresses.
Houston, meanwhile, won the division in 2012, but has been a disaster this season. It barely won its first two games, meaning a team some picked to win the Super Bowl is only a few plays away from being 0-13. At 2-11 and with two losses against Jacksonville, the chances Houston finishes anywhere but the AFC South cellar are low.
We learned a lot about both of these teams during this Week 14 Thursday Night Football contest. Let's see what the Jaguars can take from this game to apply to their final three matchups.
This is not the same Jaguars team that took the field in Weeks 1 through 8. That team lost all eight games, every single one by double digits. The Jaguars were listless against the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks, outmatched against the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers and got plastered by the division rival Indianapolis Colts on their home field.
After the bye, though, a new Jaguars team emerged. Clearly Gus Bradley's hard work has paid off. The Jaguars now give max effort at all times and don't get psyched out when they get down or take a gut punch like Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon's 95-yard touchdown last week.
With four wins in their last five games, including three straight, it's safe to say the Jaguars have developed a winning mentality. Every game, Jacksonville feels like it can compete, regardless of the opponent.
Houston has been arguably the league's worst team in 2013, but part of that is the two losses it has suffered at the hands of the Jaguars. In a league where parity is king, the Jaguars are trending upward. By the way, just a note...
Maurice Jones-Drew's 103 yards rushing against the Texans were a season high for the Jaguars' starting running back, but it was how he picked them up that was especially impressive. He only carried the football 14 times, good for an average of 7.4 yards per carry, and looked as tough and slippery as he did back in 2011 when he led the NFL in rushing.
Though he left in the fourth quarter with a hamstring cramp, MJD was a beast all game long, shedding tackles and bursting through holes almost at will. Head coach Gus Bradley knew before the game that Jones-Drew was raring to go. As he told the Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran, "You could see in warm-ups he was really excited about this opportunity." He went on to say, "He ran like it and made some big plays for us."
In addition to MJD's great game, Chad Henne picked up 33 yards on scrambles, and among Jones-Drew, Henne, Jordan Todman and Denard Robinson, the Jaguars rushed for a combined 149 yards on 28 carries for an average of 5.3 yards per carry.
In their three consecutive wins, the Jaguars have rushed for 118, 112 and now 149 yards. Perhaps running the ball is a key to their success? You know, similar to Seattle? Who knew? They entered this matchup dead last in the NFL in rushing yards per game with 70.6, but this performance might be enough to push them out of the cellar in that category.
The second half of this game started with punts by each team, after which the Texans drove downfield for a field goal to cut the deficit to 17-10. Jacksonville picked up a holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff, meaning it would start its next drive from its own 12-yard line.
A few plays, a pair of Houston penalties and one impressive 48-yard run by Maurice Jones-Drew put the Jaguars at the Texans' 21 with a full set of downs. On first down, Chad Henne took a short drop and threw what appeared to be a wide receiver screen to Ace Sanders, but the pass traveled backward.
It quickly became obvious the play was a double pass. Sanders looked right and found a wide-open Jordan Todman streaking toward the end zone. He lofted a pass Todman's direction and found him in the end zone for a touchdown to push the Jacksonville lead to 14 points and swing the momentum back in Jacksonville's direction.
As the University of Miami's offensive coordinator, Jedd Fisch had a reputation of being a creative play-caller who wouldn't hesitate to pull the trick plays out if he thought they would help win the game.
In the first half of the season, he hesitated to call some of his more creative plays, perhaps feeling like the offense needed to be able to execute the game plan before throwing wrinkles into the mix. Now? The offense is clicking, and the availability of plays like that one gives the Jaguars added flexibility they didn't have in the first half.
A couple weeks ago, it was Denard Robinson launching a pass downfield. Last week, the play was a sweep pass by Maurice Jones-Drew. This week, it was a throwback double pass by Ace Sanders. Looking forward to seeing Austin Pasztor's first career throw next week.
The Jaguars' pass defense was simply destroyed by Josh Gordon last week, allowing an insane 261 yards on 10 catches to the Browns' young star receiver. The secondary was victimized again this week, this time by old nemesis Andre Johnson.
Johnson was targeted 21 times by the Texans' quarterback combo of Case Keenum and Matt Schaub and pulled down 13 of those passes for 154 yards. Dwayne Gratz and Alan Ball struggled to keep Johnson from getting open, often allowing him to sit down in zone coverage before they could break on the ball.
It's a lot more difficult to win when the pass defense can't keep the other team's best player from getting the ball at will. The Jaguars have managed to win despite allowing a combined 415 yards to Johnson and Gordon the past two games, but they would do well to try their hardest to reverse that trend.
With the Buffalo Bills, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts remaining on the schedule, the Jaguars don't face any truly elite receivers the rest of the way. However, these teams each have talented pass-catchers that could burn the Jacksonville secondary if Dwayne Gratz, Alan Ball and company aren't careful.
Jacksonville can't continue to allow opposing receivers to slice and dice its secondary if it wants to maintain its winning streak. Hopefully, it can reverse the trend against Stevie Johnson, Marquise Goodwin and the Bills next week.
In the photo, Maurice Jones-Drew has a lot of room to run. The reason? Jacksonville's offensive line stepped up its game against the Texans.
All the talk going in was about Houston's stars: Andre Johnson and J. J. Watt. Johnson did his part, but Watt was held largely silent. In the box score, Watt was credited with three quarterback hits and a pass defensed, but he didn't pick up any sacks and wasn't all over the field like he often is.
As a whole, the Jaguars offensive line allowed one sack, four quarterback hits and the one pass defensed. It only allowed one tackle for a loss and moved the Houston defensive line out of its path en route to 149 rushing yards on the day.
Early in the game, color commentator Mike Mayock mentioned how well Jaguars right tackle Austin Pasztor had played this year, and Pasztor responded by holding his own against one of the league's premier defensive players.
This is the type of line play the Jaguars were hoping to get when they drafted Luke Joeckel with the second overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft, but Joeckel isn't even active; he's on injured reserve. Pasztor, Cameron Bradfield, Will Rackley, Brad Meester and Uche Nwaneri get all the credit for this one.
Hopefully, the Jaguars offensive line can continue to gel through the remaining three games and carry over to 2014, when it'll get Joeckel back as well as other likely additions that can take this line from one of the league's most suspect to one of its most solid.
For a game between teams with a combined record of 5-19 going in, this matchup had a crowd more deserving of a playoff game. Jacksonville's finest stepped up to the plate on a national stage and delivered a performance of which Duval should be proud.
The fans booed the Texans when they were introduced, and it simply escalated from there. Signs were all over the place, and the commentators made note of how boisterous this group of fans was.
Early in the second quarter, the Texans had just received the ball back after Jacksonville had extended its lead to 14-0 on a touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts. Houston picked up one first down, but a couple of runs and an unnecessary roughness penalty left them with a 3rd-and-19.
As Houston approached the ball to line up for the next play, the crowd started screaming, and the noise was deafening on television. It apparently affected the Texans as well because they committed a false start and were backed up five more yards.
They're self-imploding under the weight of Duval. I'm loving this. #Jaguars— Chris Burdett (@digital_jag) December 6, 2013
Jacksonville showed up loud and proud for its one nationally televised game in 2013. If the way this team has played in the second half of the season is any indication, we may be looking at multiple prime-time games in 2014.
I don't think anyone would argue with the notion that Chad Henne isn't the long-term answer at quarterback for the Jaguars, but this game was just reminder of that fact.
For how bad Case Keenum was (and he was REALLY bad), Henne nearly matched him in terms of futility. Henne threw 27 passes against the Texans and ended with two touchdowns, which seems good enough, but he only completed 12 throws and only picked up a scant 117 passing yards on those throws.
With their win today, the Jaguars essentially ended their hopes at getting the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft, also likely ending any hope of landing Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
The Texans, meanwhile, took a step toward securing that first overall pick with the loss, meaning for the second time in three years the Jaguars may have had a major part in helping a division rival land its quarterback of the future. In 2010, their Week 17 win over the Colts locked Indianapolis into the first overall pick, with which it selected Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, widely believed to be a future star.
Does this mean all hope is lost for the Jaguars' chances of finding their quarterback of the future? Heck no!
Teddy Bridgewater isn't a lock to be a franchise quarterback himself, and there are other high-quality signal-callers available in the 2014 draft as well. Some like Fresno State's Derek Carr as much or more than Bridgewater. Many are enamored with the seemingly ceiling-less upside of a versatile weapon like Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. Others are fans of Alabama's A. J. McCarron, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Central Florida's Blake Bortles or numerous other quarterbacks.
Don't worry about the Jaguars missing out on Teddy. Don't even worry about the Texans potentially ending up with him. The way this Jaguars team is progressing, it will find its guy at the quarterback position, and it'll beat Teddy in his Houston battle-red uniform more often than not.
Make no mistake: The first half of 2013 was ugly for Jacksonville. Eight double-digit losses and not a single win before the bye had some questioning whether Gus Bradley was the right man for the job.
Five games later, it's clear he's everything we had hoped for and more. This team is taking on the identity of the man at the helm, and it's fascinating to watch. The second-half Jaguars are more focused, determined and able to overcome adversity than any Jacksonville team I can remember since the last time the Jaguars made the playoffs.
Jaguars players aren't the only ones Bradley rubs off on; he seems to energize and positively influence everyone he communicates with:
Just had a 10 minute chat with Gus Bradley. Like having five coffees, three Red Bulls, and 2 shots of 5 Hour Energy. Might go for a run now.— P. Schrager (@PSchrags) December 6, 2013
Gus Bradley is a human cup of espresso.— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) December 6, 2013
Gus was suck a good hire by the Jags. Positive approach, aggressive philosophy and has kept his team playing hard throughout the year.— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) December 6, 2013
This is the right man for the job, folks. No matter how the final three games go, it's clear the plan is in place in Jacksonville, and the right people are manning the helm. As this team keeps climbing, remember the first half of 2013 as the calm before the storm. The black and teal clouds are rolling in, and it's going to be glorious.