Photo: Jacksonville Jaguars' Josh Scobee (10) celebrates with teammate Zach Miller (86) as New York Jets' Marquice Cole (34) looks on after Scobee hit the game-winning field goal during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Jaguars won 24-22. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
Despite the balmy temperature at kick-off, the Jaguars' Week 10 game against the New York Jets definitely had the feel of December football. Both teams entered the game with equal records and "must-win" attitudes that normally don't appear until later in the year. Win, and you're still in the playoff hunt. Lose, and you're basically out of contention and just playing out the rest of your schedule. Fortunately, with post-season hopes on the line, the Jaguars failed to disappoint.
In a game that looked to be slowly slipping through their fingers, the Jaguars were able to rally at crunch time and allow Josh Scobee to kick the game-winning field goal as time expired. With the win, Jacksonville improved its record to 5-4 and remains a legitimate contender for one of the two heavily coveted AFC Wild Card spots.
Interestingly enough, the term "wild card" seems like an appropriate handle for this young, upstart football team. At the beginning of the season, if anyone had predicted the Jaguars would be in this position at this point of the year, I might have laughed in their face. Then I probably would have lectured them about rebuilding.. and patience.. and tempered expectations. But, here we are. The Jaguars have proven to be unpredictable.
Heading into the game New York was one of the league's best defenses and ranked number two against the pass. Against all logic, the Jaguars offense had considerable success, in the first half. By halftime, David Garrard had thrown for 142 yards, a touchdown, and a passer rating of 127.7. He also ran for a touchdown. On the ground, Pro Bowl (Vote NOW!) running back Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 93 yards and a touchdown, on his way to becoming the only 100-yard rusher that the Jets allowed this season.
Photo: Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, left, runs for a touchdown as New York Jets' Dwight Lowery (21) pursues during the first quarter Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Even more surprising than the offense was the performance of the defense. In its first true test after switching base schemes, the Jaguars' more "bulky" 4-3 defense rose to the occasion and proved to be the more successful and natural alignment for the second week in a row. Throughout the game, the front four were able to successfully stop the run and force the ball into the hands of rookie quarterback, Mark Sanchez. The defense was also able to get decent pressure on Sanchez at times and came away with three takeaways, including two interceptions.
Unfortunately, for as well as they played in the first half, the Jaguars came out completely flat in the second half. Half-time adjustments made by Rex Ryan and the Jets coaching staff seemed to effectively neutralize the Jags' offense. Pro Bowl cornerback Darrelle Revis was assigned to exclusively cover Mike Sims-Walker, essentially taking the Jags' number one receiver out of the game. Ryan also decided to throw the defensive kitchen sink at Garrard, sending pressure from everywhere but the press-box. As a result, the Jaguars went three-and-out on four of their five possessions to start the second half and fumbled away another on the one-yard line.
Photo: New York Jets' Jim Leonhard (36) sacks Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard (9) during the third quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
The sputtering of the offense allowed the Jets to score nine unanswered points and take a one point lead (22-21) heading into the closing minutes. For the Jaguars, the game and all their postseason hopes were circling the drain. Visions of meaningful December football were slowly leaving our minds, and flashbacks of the 2008 season began to creep into their place. It was under this sense of urgency, with just over five minutes left, at crunch time, that Garrard and the offense came back to life.
Starting from his own 17-yard line, Garrard completed 4 of 6 passes, including a huge third-down conversion to wide-receiver Mike Thomas and a 33-yard strike to tight-end Marcedes Lewis. Led by their quarterback, the Jaguars were able to march 69 yards, to the Jets' 14-yard line, just as the clock reached the two-minute warning.
It was then that "unpredictable" became an understatement for the Jaguars. On the first play after the two-minute warning, Rex Ryan told his defense to give Maurice Jones-Drew a "free-way". The Jets would "try to make it look good", but still allow Jones-Drew to score. Hoping they would get the ball back in the hands of their offense with enough time left to march down-field and score.
However, Jack Del Rio suspected Ryan's plan, so he instructed Maurice Jones-Drew to get as close to the end zone as possible... then take a knee. Say whaaa?! If you tell me you saw it coming, then you better have fire-retardant pants. I mean, we've seen this type of thing before, but why would you forgo the go-ahead touchdown and six free points? It's a question that sports analysts and football pundits around the country are debating this week. However, in Del Rio's mind, it was never a question. Rather than to take the touchdown and kick-off to the Jets with the issue still in doubt, he wanted to seal the game right then and there. Milk the clock. Kick the walk-off, three-point "extra-point".
I can't say I agree wholeheartedly with the strategy, considering it was a crazy, gutsy, against the percentages, "feast-or-famine" type of call, but hey; that's why I'm not a head coach. However, I feel obligated to mention that Del Rio's decision cost me and countless others some serious MJD fantasy football points! (Kidding!... Kind of...)
Fortunately though, JDR's fourth quarter gamble yielded dividends in real life (unlike this guy's). With 3 seconds left in regulation, Josh Scobee came on and drilled the 21-yard game-winning field goal. Game over. Del Rio is a genius. Or very lucky. Either way, I'll take it.
Photo: Jacksonville Jaguars' Josh Scobee (10) kicks the game-winning field goal during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game against the New York Jets on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009, in East Rutherford, N.J. The Jaguars won 24-22. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
With a finish that no one could ever have predicted, the Jaguars have positioned themselves to get in the driver's seat of their post-season aspirations. At 5-4 in Week 10, there is no doubt that the Jaguars are playing well-beyond everyone's expectations. But you know what? Forget expectations and predictions. Let's focus on the right now. Right now, the Jaguars are winning games. They're playing with passion. They're putting on that entertaining show that so many people have cried out for. This team is giving this city all it's got, trying to turn nothing into something. But they can't play the games and sit in the stands too.
This Sunday, the Buffalo Bills will be coming to Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, and the Jaguars will try to continue their pursuit of an entertaining, over-achieving, "wild card" 2009 season. As of this morning, the Jaguars are about 4,000 tickets shy of reaching their blackout number of about 50,0000 for next Sunday's game against the Bills. If they fail to reach 50,000 by Friday, the game will be, once again, blacked out. People in this town are still searching for a reason to come watch the Jags.
So I guess the question is: "Is being a wild card enough for Jacksonville?"
This post is republished from my blog Urban Jacksonville and is written by Gil Samson. If you enjoy this, let me know and I'll ask Gil to begin reposting his articles here. Thanks for reading and let us know if you have any feedback. More Jaguars articles on Urban Jacksonville