JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The streaks the Jaguars and Texans are on entering tonight's game are ones that would have been hard to believe after the first two weeks of the season.
The Jaguars started 0-2 and played so poorly it looked like they would go down as one of the worst teams in NFL history. The Texans started 2-0, and while those victories were shaky, it looked like they'd be able to right the ship and be one of the top playoff seeds in the AFC.
Three months later, the Jaguars (3-9) are 3-1 since their bye and have won back-to-back games for the first time since 2010. The Texans (2-10) have dropped a franchise-record 10 consecutive games, including a 13-6 loss to the Jaguars in Houston on Nov. 24.
Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli break down the matchup:
DiRocco: Tania, the Texans felt like they were at rock bottom after losing to the Jaguars on Nov. 24. What's their state of mind heading into Thursday's game?
Ganguli: They were up for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. It was a big one for the Texans after the way the Patriots blew them out twice last season, and that was apparent in the game. The Texans' offense played what might have been its best game with Case Keenum at quarterback, moving the ball from start to finish. There were some positives in that game, but ultimately the loss officially knocked the Texans out of playoff contention. Now they’re playing for pride. They can still avoid the league’s cellar when the season ends. And while there’s a section of fans that cares about the No. 1 overall pick above all else, a win would mean a lot to the team.
The last time the Texans played the Jaguars, the Texans fell to 2-9 and the Jaguars rose to 2-9, causing the Texans to join the Jaguars with the worst record in the NFL. Now the Texans are there alone and the Jaguars have won three out of their past four games. Is that indicative of a turnaround, or of poor play by their opponents?
DiRocco: It's a little of both, but I'd say more that the Jaguars have improved. In the four games since the bye, they're much better against the run (68 yards per game allowed vs. 162), have recorded nine of their 20 sacks, and are plus-3 in turnover ratio. The offensive line has been more consistent and receiver Ace Sanders has begun to emerge as a reliable option. So they are playing much better than the first eight games, which they lost by double digits. But the Jaguars haven't exactly played against the league's elite: The four teams are a combined 18-30 and only one (Arizona) has a winning record. They haven't exactly had to deal with elite QBs, either: Jake Locker/Ryan Fitzpatrick, Carson Palmer, Keenum and Brandon Weeden. Still, that shouldn't take away from the fact that the Jaguars are a better team than they were a month ago and have played well enough to win three consecutive games on the road for the first time since 2007.
Ben Tate looked pretty good against the Patriots, and it's probably not a coincidence that he rushes for 102 yards and the Texans nearly win. Is he back to 100 percent and is he the key for the Texans against the Jaguars? He really struggled in the previous meeting.
Ganguli: The running game just didn’t seem to get going in these teams’ last meeting, but Tate rebounded in a big way against the Patriots last weekend. He was asked if it was the best game the offensive line had played, and he said it was definitely one of them. Tate won’t talk about it, but he’s playing for a contract, as this is his final year with the Texans. The Texans’ offense needs him to be productive, and he was on Sunday.
It feels, from the outside, like a completely different season has sprouted for the Jaguars, whose nine losses all have been by double digits. Who has been the MVP of their three recent wins?
DiRocco: It hasn't really been one player, which is indicative of the growth the team has made since the bye week. Against Tennessee it was linebacker Paul Posluszny, who set the tone for the defense on the game’s first offensive snap when he knocked the ball loose from Chris Johnson and recovered the fumble at the Tennessee 19-yard line. Three plays later the Jaguars took a 7-0 lead and never trailed. Against Houston it was running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who ran for a season-high 84 yards and one touchdown and had a season-high 144 total yards. Against Cleveland it was Cecil Shorts, who fought through two drops and dealing with cornerback Joe Haden. Shorts beat Haden on a double-move to catch the game-winning touchdown pass with 40 seconds to play.
The last time the teams met, the Jaguars held Andre Johnson to just two catches. What kind of game do you expect out of him on Thursday?
Ganguli: Johnson’s production in that meeting had as much to do with the shakiness of the quarterback as it did with Johnson. Keenum had a rough day with both his decision-making and accuracy. He was gun-shy, and it hurt him and his receivers. It was no surprise then that a better day for Keenum coincided with a better day for Johnson against the Patriots. He caught eight passes for 121 yards, becoming the second-fastest player in league history to reach 900 career catches. I think you’ll see something closer to that version of Johnson. I don’t see Keenum regressing to what he was 11 days ago.
To wrap up, let’s talk about Jones-Drew some more, a guy who is probably pretty happy with the events of the past week. His college team won its big rivalry game, his current team won again and he got to throw a touchdown pass. That followed a game against Houston with those 144 all-purpose yards. Do you expect similar production from him? And how thrilled was he to get to throw that touchdown pass?
DiRocco: Jones-Drew is riding a pretty good wave, isn’t he? He’s probably the most proud of the touchdown pass, which makes him the first non-quarterback to throw a TD pass in franchise history. It also makes up for his only other career pass attempt, which got intercepted. Jones-Drew’s production has increased the past several weeks because the offensive line has been more consistent and he’s more involved in the passing game. He says catching passes doesn’t result in as much pounding as running through the line of scrimmage, so he’s fresher in the fourth quarter. I expect him to get 20 touches tonight.