They've won three games in a row -- the longest current streak in the conference -- and four of their past five games. Thursday night's 27-20 victory over Houston was the second time the Jaguars have beaten the Texans in 11 days.
They got production and big plays from both sides of the ball, so picking the top 10 playmakers this week was relatively easy.
Here we go, with last week's rankings in parenthesis:
1. RB Maurice Jones-Drew (3): He had his first 100-yard game since Week 3 of last season and ripped off a 48-yard run in which he broke four tackles. He missed the final 11 minutes with a right hamstring strain but still had his best game of the season.
2. WR Ace Sanders (4): Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch continues to use Sanders in interesting ways. Not only did he catch three passes for 26 yards, he also carried the ball out of the backfield for the second consecutive week. Oh, yeah, he also threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Todman on a trick play.
3. LB Geno Hayes (NR): Hayes had a solid but largely inconspicuous game (two tackles) until his interception of a Matt Schaub pass with 2:08 to play sealed the Jaguars' third consecutive victory.
4. TE Marcedes Lewis (NR): He caught two passes, a 41-yarder in which he plucked the ball from between two defenders and a 1-yard touchdown pass. He needs to be more involved in the passing game.
5. QB Chad Henne (8): His passing numbers don't warrant being this high (12-of-27 for 117 yards) but he did throw two touchdown passes and also kept drives alive with his feet. He ran for 33 yards on four carries.
6. LB Paul Posluszny (6): Just another typical Posluszny day: a team-high 13 tackles, one tackle for loss, and one quarterback hit on a blitz up the middle that forced an incompletion.
7. RB/KR Jordan Todman (9): He only gained 14 yards on seven carries, but he did make a nice catch on Sanders' 21-yard toss for a touchdown. He had to wait for the ball while safety D.J. Swearinger was bearing down on him and he took a pretty good hit after the catch.
8. CB Alan Ball (NR): It's hard to put a secondary player on the list considering how Schaub and Case Keenum lit it up and the fact that Andre Johnson caught 13 passes for 154 yards, but Ball did intercept a pass and that led to a field goal late in the first half.
9. DE Jason Babin (7): He recorded another sack and forced a fumble that the Texans were able to recover. He has 2.5 sacks in his last two games.
10. DE Andre Branch (NR): Branch recorded one sack, which gives him one in three of his last four games. He also chipped in four tackles.
"He threw a strike," Jones-Drew said. "It was unbelievable."
Sanders took a lateral from quarterback Chad Henne, took a few steps to his right, and lofted a pass to Todman, who had snuck out of the backfield and was wide open. The ball hung up in the air long enough for Texans safety D.J. Swearinger to make a run at Todman and hit him, but Todman made the catch just before contact and held on.
"Todman made a tremendous catch," Jones-Drew said. "I don't think Marcedes had to do too much because I tried to put it right on his facemask. It was a bad throw. It got there, but it wasn’t sharp.
"Ace had a nice, tight spiral to it and Todman made a great play."
The Jaguars now have two touchdown passes thrown by non-quarterbacks this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 31 other teams in the NFL have combined to throw three.
S Johnathan Cyprien: 83 of 83
S Winston Guy: 83 of 83
LB Paul Posluszny: 83 of 83
CB Alan Ball: 80 of 83
CB Dwayne Gratz: 75 of 83
DT Sen'Derrick Marks: 73 of 83
LB Geno Hayes: 72 of 83
DE Jason Babin: 65 of 83
DE Andre Branch: 54 of 83
DE Jeremy Mincey: 36 of 83
DE Tyson Alualu: 35 of 83
DT Roy Miller: 35 of 83
LB Russell Allen: 32 of 83
CB Will Blackmon: 29 of 83
CB Mike Harris: 25 of 83
DE Ryan Davis: 20 of 83
DT Abry Jones: 13 of 83
LB J.T. Thomas: 11 of 83
LB John Lotulelei: 8 of 83
CB Jamell Fleming: 1 of 83
Analysis: Marks played a season-high 73 snaps, which was more than twice the number of snaps Miller played. … Defensive tackle Brandon Deaderick was inactive for the first time this season. Coach Gus Bradley opted to have Jones active instead. ... Mincey was active for the first time since the Nov. 17 Arizona game. He made little impact, assisting on just one tackle. ... Davis recorded the first sack of his career. It came on the game’s final play. ... Branch has recorded a sack in three of the past four games. ... Guy made his first career start.
QB Chad Henne: 64 of 64
TE Marcedes Lewis: 58 of 64
WR Mike Brown: 58 of 64
WR Cecil Shorts: 57 of 64
RB Maurice Jones-Drew: 47 of 64
WR Ace Sanders: 34 of 64
FB Will Ta'ufo'ou: 21 of 64
TE Clay Harbor: 16 of 64
RB Jordan Todman: 11 of 64
TE Danny Noble: 6 of 64
WR Denard Robinson: 6 of 64
WR Kerry Taylor: 6 of 64
Analysis: Brown has been on the field for 118 of a possible 138 snaps the past two weeks, but has not been involved much offensively. He was targeted twice and caught one pass for 7 yards against Cleveland, and was targeted seven times and caught three passes for 16 yards against Houston. ... Sanders, however, has been more involved. He has been on the field for 82 snaps and has 11 catches for 93 yards, two carries for 4 yards, and threw a 21-yard touchdown pass. ... Shorts caught just two passes for 13 yards, but one went for a touchdown. He was targeted six times, including once on a deep ball that Henne overthrew by a couple feet. ... According to ESPN Stats & Information, Henne was 7-for-10 for 49 yards against five or more pass-rushers Thursday night. In two games against the Texans he has completed 76.2 percent of his passes for two TDs and no interceptions against five or more pass-rushers. ... Robinson got most of his work late in the game when Jones-Drew and Todman were out with injuries. Todman missed all but one play of the Jaguars’ second-to-last possession and returned for the final possession.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew is scheduled to have an MRI exam Friday on his right hamstring, which was injured late in Thursday night's 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans.
The injury didn't appear to be serious, though, and Jones-Drew said after the game that he expects to play against the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 15.
Jones-Drew ran for a season-high 103 yards against the Texans -- his first 100-yard game since Week 3 of last season -- and set up the Jaguars' final touchdown with a season-long 48-yard run in which he broke four tackles.
Jones-Drew was hurt when he was tackled by linebacker Brooks Reed after a 15-yard catch-and-run with 11 minutes remaining.
"The guy tried to take my legs out and I just tried to jump-cut underneath him," Jones-Drew said. "Then when I tried to explode out, it just grabbed a little bit. I'll be fine."
Jones-Drew has rushed for 719 yards this season, with 264 coming in the past three games.
It was the first time since the third game of the 2012 season that running back Maurice Jones-Drew surpassed 100 yards rushing. It was the first time the Jaguars had won at home since Nov. 25, 2012. It also marked the team's first three-game winning streak since the 2010 season.
It was an all-around victory, writes the Florida Times-Union's Ryan O'Halloran. In addition to Jones-Drew, quarterback Chad Henne contributed with two touchdown passes, receiver Ace Sanders added a touchdown pass of his own on a trick play, and linebacker Geno Hayes made a game-saving interception late in the fourth quarter that led to Josh Scobee's insurance field goal.
Here are some additional pieces of Jaguars content from around the Web in our daily Reading the Coverage feature:
The Jaguars are 4-1 since their bye and have a three-game winning streak. They're making plays at the end of games, too. They're no longer the laughingstock of the NFL.
CBSSports.com's Will Brinson writes that the Jaguars are giving their fans hope for the future.
T-U columnist Gene Frenette gives the coaching staff high marks in his report card. He also writes about how he likes offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch's creativity.
O'Halloran reviews how well the Jaguars met the four keys to the game in his Four Downs Analysis.
The Jaguars were unable to corral Texans receiver Andre Johnson as well as they did in the first meeting, the T-U's Hays Carlyon writes.
The T-U's Vito Stellino writes that tight end Marcedes Lewis helped the Jaguars' fast start with a big play early in the game.
There was another victory at EverBank Field on Thursday night. Watch as a serviceman's marriage proposal was accepted.
Big night for MoJo: Running back Maurice Jones-Drew surpassed 100 yards for the first time since Week 3 of the 2012 season. He ran for 103 yards despite not playing the final 11 minutes of the game because of a right hamstring strain. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Jones-Drew ran for a 98 yards and averaged 8.2 yards per carry between the tackles. Jones-Drew, who hurt his hamstring on a 15-yard reception, said his injury was minor and he expects to play in the Jaguars' next game against Buffalo on Dec. 15.
Nimble Henne: Henne actually looked more like Vick than Sanders. OK, that's exaggerating, but Henne did do a nice job of keeping plays alive with his feet and scrambling for positive yardage. He ran four times for a season-high 33 yards, including a 14-yard run. "They played a lot of man coverage and two-man and gave me some lanes up front with the pass rush, so I just took off instead of trying to force the ball downfield when it was covered," said Henne, who completed 12 of 27 passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns. "I just tried to get as much as I could get."
Shredded secondary: The Jaguars limited Texans receiver Andre Johnson to two catches for 36 yards in the first meeting. Johnson caught 13 passes for 154 yards on Thursday night. He was targeted 21 times. Case Keenum and Matt Schaub combined to throw for 357 yards and two touchdowns and did most of their damage over the middle, which has been a trouble area for the Jaguars all season. Tight end Garrett Graham caught eight passes for 73 yards and a touchdown. The Jaguars have improved against the rush since the bye week but have given up an average of 320.6 yards per game passing in the five games since the break, including 419 yards to Arizona's Carson Palmer and 370 yards to Cleveland's Brandon Weeden. Schaub threw for 198 and Keenum threw for 159.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Go ahead, Jaguars offensive lineman Uche Nwaneri said, make jokes now.
Bring on the snide remarks about 0-16 and being one of the worst teams in NFL history.
He's waiting ...
He knows nobody's going to have much -- if anything -- to say, not after Thursday night's 27-20 victory over Houston in front of 60,414 at EverBank Field. That was the Jaguars' third win in a row, which Nwaneri said proves they're no longer the joke they were in the first half of the season.
"Everybody who was talking noise can just eat some crow real quick," he said.
The Jaguars (4-9) are the hottest team in the AFC, having won four of their five games since the bye week. The fact that none of the teams they've beaten has a winning record and one, the Texans, has lost 11 in a row, is irrelevant. The Jaguars are winning games, which is something that looked darn near impossible in the first month of the season.
They scored just two points in the season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. They lost their first eight games all by double digits. They didn't score a touchdown at EverBank Field until Nov. 17.
They're starting three rookies in the secondary. They don't have their best receiver, who was suspended indefinitely for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy for a third time.
The Jaguars were a mess. They were hopeless. They were a joke.
And boy did people pile on. The season's first month wasn't even over before NFL analysts were comparing the Jaguars to the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 2008 Detroit Lions, the only teams in the NFL's modern era to go winless. The players answered those questions openly and honestly, but they were angry inside.
Thursday was another vindication.
"Nobody wants to hear that junk: 0-16, first pick," receiver Cecil Shorts said. "We tried to tune it out but when the media asks that or tweets that we're going to draft so-and-so every day, it's hard to get out of your mind.
"But we did a good job of staying the course and things are really paying off. But we've got a long way to go. Our goal is to get better each and every day."
They've done that since the bye week. Especially defensively, improving their run defense from 161.8 yards per game allowed in the first eight games to 70.8 yards per game allowed over the past five.
But more important, they're making plays in crucial situations. Their first two touchdowns against the Texans came on third down -- Chad Henne's 1-yard pass to Marcedes Lewis and Henne's 6-yard pass to Shorts -- and the third came on a well-designed trick play. Henne threw a lateral to receiver Ace Sanders, who lofted a 21-yard touchdown pass to running back Jordan Todman.
Linebacker Geno Hayes intercepted Matt Schaub with 2 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in the game, and that led to Scobee's 39-yard field goal with 25 seconds left.
They weren't making those plays in the first half of the season. Heck, they weren't even in position to make those plays.
But coach Gus Bradley never wavered in his message to the team. He told the players to trust in their preparation, trust in what the coaching staff was asking them to do, and trust that if they did those things the results would eventually be positive.
It was hard, for sure, because for so long the results did not come. But Bradley was so strong that the players stayed with him. They never doubted.
Then came a 29-27 victory at Tennessee on Nov. 10. Two weeks later, the Jaguars beat the host Texans 13-6. On Sunday, they beat the host Cleveland Browns 32-28. Then Thursday night.
"We talked a couple weeks ago about it validates what we're doing," Bradley said. "It really is a credit to our players for what they've gone through and to stick to it and have some results go their way, it's pretty cool."
Now the Jaguars are no longer a mess. In fact, their recent run has -- believe it or not -- kept them alive in the playoff race. It's obviously a ridiculously small chance, but the fact that they're still alive after the horrendous 0-8 start means they deserve respect, not ridicule.
"That just lets you know that all the analysts and people who [are] so-called professionals and geniuses don't know what they're talking about," defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks said. "It's the NFL. Any given Sunday any team can go out and beat any team."
That's no joke.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 27-20 victory over the Houston Texans.
What it means: The Jaguars have their first three-game winning streak since the 2010 season and their first victory at home in more than a year (Nov. 25, 2012). The Jaguars had lost six consecutive games at EverBank Field. They’re also 4-1 since their bye and somehow still alive in the playoff race.
Stock watch: The Jaguars had no answer for quarterback Matt Schaub, who came in for Case Keenum in Thursday's third quarter and led the Texans to 10 points. The Jaguars couldn’t mount much of a pass rush -- they sacked him only once until the game's final play, and he had plenty of time to pick out receivers -- and Schaub was able to exploit what has been the Jaguars’ weakness all season: the middle of the field. He feasted, too, completing 17 of 29 passes for 198 yards and one touchdown. He made one mistake, a pass that linebacker Geno Hayes intercepted to set up the game-clinching field goal. The secondary has been an issue all season but particularly in the four games before Thursday night, giving up an average of 291 yards per game passing in those contests.
Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch continues to show his creativity. One week after having Maurice Jones-Drew throw a pass to Marcedes Lewis for a touchdown, he called a play in which receiver Ace Sanders threw a touchdown pass to running back Jordan Todman. The creativity makes up for a lack of experienced receivers and an offensive line that struggles with consistency. Of course, it helps that the plays are working.
RB injuries: The Jaguars lost Jones-Drew late in the third quarter to a hamstring injury, and Todman suffered a minor injury late in the fourth quarter, which really hurt their chance to run the clock. Jones-Drew had surpassed 100 yards for the first time this season and it was the closest he has looked to the player who led the league in rushing in 2011. The Jaguars had to go to third-stringer Denard Robinson, who carried twice for minus-1 yard, to try to kill clock on their next-to-last drive. Todman did return on the final drive, which began after Hayes’ interception.
Costly penalty: The Jaguars played a pretty clean game, but they did commit one costly penalty that directly led to three points in the fourth quarter. Texans kicker Randy Bullock missed a 51-yard field-goal attempt, but the Jaguars were penalized for having 12 men on the field. The Texans decided to go for it on fourth-and-5, converted the first down, and Bullock went on to kick a 31-yard field goal that cut the Jaguars’ lead to 24-20 with 11 minutes, 31 seconds to play.
What’s next: The Jaguars host Buffalo on Dec. 15 in their next-to-last home game of the season.
QB Chad Henne: He got battered around pretty good in the last meeting but did not turn the ball over. In fact, it may have been one of his best games because of how poised he was despite the pressure. The Texans gave up a ton of passing yards to Tom Brady last week. Henne isn’t Brady, though. Verdict: Sit him.
RB Maurice Jones-Drew: He had a season-high 144 all-purpose yards against the Texans in the last meeting and the Jaguars’ approach of giving Jordan Todman some carries is keeping Jones-Drew fresher. Verdict: Play him as your No. 3 back or flex position.
WR Cecil Shorts: Shorts has a rough day against Cleveland until he finally beat Joe Haden for the game-winning touchdown. The Jaguars may go to some quicker passes to combat the Texan’s pass rush so Shorts should get a lot of action. Verdict. Start him.
TE Marcedes Lewis: It’s pretty clear by now that he’s not going to be a big factor in the passing game, although he did catch a touchdown pass last week. But if three catches is all you can expect, there are better options at tight end. Verdict: Sit him.
K Josh Scobee: He kicked three field goals last week and remains the team’s leading scorer at EverBank Field. There will be no weather issues and he should get a chance to score because of the Jaguars’ improved work in the red zone. Verdict: He’s as good an option as any kicker.
Defense/special teams: The Jaguars did a good job rattling Case Keenum in the last meeting, which helped them shut down Andre Johnson (two catches, 36 yards). The defense is giving up only 67.8 yards per game rushing over the last four games and has recorded nine of its 20 sacks and forced eight of its 16 turnovers in the same span. Verdict: They’re a solid option.
QB Case Keenum: He threw for 272 yards and one interception and ran for a touchdown in the loss to the Patriots last Sunday. More importantly, the offense scored 14 points in the second half. While that’s not great it shows some improvement. The Jaguars secondary has been torched in two of the past three games. Verdict: He might be worth a gamble if you’re in a league that plays two quarterbacks.
RB Ben Tate: He didn’t have a lot of success against the Jaguars (1 yard on seven carries) but he’s coming off a big day against the Patriots: 102 yards and three TDs. The Jaguars have been good against the run the last four weeks, but Tate is rounding back into form. Verdict: He’s a solid option as your No. 2 or 3 back.
TE Garrett Graham: He is one of the few tight ends who did nothing against the Jaguars. Verdict: Sit him.
WR Andre Johnson: The safest play this week is Johnson, who I can virtually guarantee will catch more than two passes against the Jaguars. Verdict: Start him.
K Randy Bullock: The Texans cannot be as inept offensively as they were 11 days ago, which should mean Bullock is a solid option. Verdict: Like Scobee, he’s as good an option as any kicker.
Defense/special teams: New England just torched the Texans for 435 yards, including 365 passing. The Jaguars don’t have the same kind of weapons, obviously, and the Texan’s pass rush really gave Henne trouble in the last meeting. Will they force mistakes, this time? Verdict: The Texans are a good gamble.
Ben Tate, RB, ribs/ankle, (probable): Tate has essentially been a fixture on the injury report ever since he suffered rib fractures back in Week 7. Somewhat unbelievably, he has not missed a game since. Along the way, he has acquired some other ailments, including an ankle injury that is listed next to his name this week.
Although some fantasy owners were alarmed when he was listed as a non-participant Monday, it's worth noting that Monday was only a walk-through. Tate had a huge game in Week 13, putting up over 100 yards rushing and three scores against the Patriots. Given only four days until his next outing, it seems the rest was certainly warranted. Expect him on the field Thursday night against the Jaguars. While he may not match Sunday's performance, it's tough to imagine him not outperforming his stats of two weeks ago against the Jaguars, when he managed only 1 total yard rushing.
Cecil Shorts, groin, and Mike Brown, shoulder, WRs, (probable): Shorts is another regular on the injury report. He has been listed with a groin injury for multiple weeks, but ever since he played through an extremely painful SC (sternoclavicular) joint injury earlier in the season, there has been little doubt he would take the field each week. He is expected to do so again Thursday night.
Brown suffered an AC (acromioclavicular) joint injury in Week 11 against the Cardinals and sat out the following game. The shoulder has kept him on the injury report, although he did return to action Sunday. Brown notched only one catch, while rookie Ace Sanders -- who has seemingly emerged as the second-favorite receiving target since Justin Blackmon's suspension -- had eight. Brown is expected to play again Thursday night, although fantasy owners may want to look elsewhere for help in advancing in the playoffs.
Where’s Andre? The Jaguars did a good job in the last meeting of limiting Andre Johnson to two catches for 36 yards. Part of the reason was how poorly quarterback Case Keenum played, but the Jaguars did have a hand in that as well, sacking him twice, hitting him five other times, and breaking up nine passes. But the Jaguars also made sure they knew where Johnson was at all times and gave the corners safety help over the top. Plus, a player without coverage responsibilities slid over to help on shorter routes. Expect the Texans to get Johnson involved early and often.
Playing loose: Coach Gus Bradley told the players he didn’t want them getting amped up because Thursday’s game will be on national TV. "What are we doing next Sunday?" Bradley said. "Don’t get amped up? I don’t want to send them that double message." Still, you can sense excitement among the players, who are eager to show they’re a significantly better team than the one that started the season 0-8. Does that mean they’ll play loose and trust their preparation, like Bradley told them, or will be they a big tight? Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to get from a young team until the moment happens.
Watt’s happening: Texans DE J.J. Watt had only one sack in the first meeting, but he hit quarterback Chad Henne five times and had two tackles for loss. The Jaguars have to do a better job of neutralizing him this time. Henne took quite a beating in that game (four sacks, 13 hits) but stood in the pocket and didn’t make poor throws. Look for some quicker throws to keep that from happening in this meeting.
More Todman: Running back Jordan Todman has gotten more work the past four games, in part to give Maurice Jones-Drew a bit of a break but also because he has proven he deserves carries. He has run for 82 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries in the last four games, including 62 yards on 16 carries in the past two games. He had a career-high 11 carries for 31 yards against Houston on Nov. 24, which was also the day that Jones-Drew produced a season-high 144 all-purpose yards.
Defensive line surprise: Bradley said defensive end Jeremy Mincey and defensive tackle Abry Jones will both be active against the Texans. That means another defensive lineman -- possibly tackle Brandon Deaderick or end Ryan Davis -- will be inactive. Tackle Roy Miller has been battling a shoulder injury all season but the Jaguars going non-contact this week because of the short turnaround gave him additional time to rest the shoulder.
Before and after
Why are the Jacksonville Jaguars 3-1 since the bye? Because they’ve played significantly better defense since the break. Linebacker Paul Posluszny said the coaching staff simplified things. They’ve concentrated on the alignments, coverages, stunts and blitzes the players do well and are relying on those instead of trying to be too creative.
The result has been a defense that’s much better than it was in the first eight games. With the exception of passing defense, the Jaguars have improved their rankings in the NFL in over the last four weeks.
The Jaguars have improved on offense as well, but the discrepancy between the first nine weeks and the last four isn’t as significant. For example, the Jaguars ranked 32nd in total offense (286.5 yards per game) in the first nine weeks and rank 28th (283.8 yards per game) over the last four.
The two areas in which they did improve significantly are third-down conversions -- going from 32nd (29.5 percent) to 23rd (32.2 percent) -- and red zone efficiency, going from 32nd (25 percent) to 10th (60 percent).
But the defensive improvements are even more striking. Here’s a breakdown of where the Jaguars’ defense ranked in six major statistical categories through the first nine weeks and where it ranks among NFL teams in games played over the last four weeks:
Weeks 1-9 (0-8)
Total defense: 392.2 yards per game (27th)
Rushing defense: 161.8 yards per game (32nd)
Passing defense: 230.5 yards per game (12th)
Third-down defense: 44.8 percent (28th)
Red-zone defense: 62.2 percent (26th)
Scoring defense: 33.0 points per game (32nd)
Weeks 10-13 (3-1)
Total defense: 358.8 yards per game (17th)
Rushing defense: 67.8 yards per game (3rd)
Passing defense: 291.0 yards per game (30th)
Third-down defense: 40.3 percent (23rd)
Red-zone defense: 53.8 percent (16th)
Scoring defense: 22.0 points per game (13th)