Not many people in Jacksonville saw it, but the Jaguars earned a win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday that coach Jack Del Rio views as a sign that his team is ready to make a move toward playoff contention over the second half of the season.
“It’s time for us to surge. We need that,” Del Rio said after the win over the Chiefs, per the Florida Times-Union. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. I believe as we go through the course of this year, we should continue to improve. To be here at 4-4, we’re still alive. We still have everything in front of us.”
The game was blacked out on local television, as all Jaguars home games have been this year, and the announced attendance was just 45,546. Those few fans who turned out got to see some reasons to think Del Rio might be right that his team is on the right track — but they also saw plenty of reasons to think the Jaguars were nothing more than a mediocre team beating up a weak opponent.
The good news came in the form of Jaguars quarterback David Garrard, who completed 18 of 27 passes for 264 yards, with a touchdown, and no interceptions, and in the form of Garrard’s favorite receiver on Sunday, Mike Sims-Walker, who caught six passes for 147 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown.
“It was a big day for the offense,” Sims-Walker said. “Every man just tried to find a hole in that zone and whoever [Garrard] threw the ball to just made the play. It just so happened that was me today.”
Good news also came in the form of good contributions from some rookies: running back Rashad Jennings gave the Jaguars a 7-0 lead with a 28-yard touchdown early in the first quarter, rookie receiver Jarett Dillard had a 33-yard catch on a third-and-13, and rookie receiver Mike Thomas picked up 18 yards on an end-around. Del Rio said those young players were contributing exactly the way they’re expected to.
“This is a team that has had a tremendous amount of turnover and has a bunch of young players playing,” Del Rio said. “We expect to win when we go out there. We’re not settling.”
But the Jaguars couldn’t always get things going on offense. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew did score a 10-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, but that was his longest run of the day, and he never broke off any of the highlight-reel long runs for which he’s becoming known.
Jones-Drew finished the game with 97 yards on 29 carries, an average of just 3.3 yards per rush. That’s a far cry from the 177 yards he gained on eight carries against Tennessee last week, and it raises the question of why the Jaguars gave Jones-Drew the ball so much more against the Chiefs, when he was struggling, than they did against the Titans, when he was rolling.
Part of it is that the Jaguars were trailing most of the game against the Titans and protecting a lead most of the game against the Chiefs. The Jaguars didn’t do a very good job of protecting that lead on Sunday, though.
With four minutes to play, the Jaguars were up 24-6, and they looked like they’d coast to an easy win. But that’s when Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel and receiver Chris Chambers — just claimed off waivers — came alive. Cassel hit Chambers for a 54-yard touchdown with 2:32 to play. Then Chiefs kicker Ryan Succup recovered his own onside kick after it bounced off 322-pound Jaguars defensive lineman Atiyyah Ellison.
After the game, Ellison said he was surprised the ball came to him. An even bigger surprise is that the Jaguars put a 322-pound defensive lineman on the field in an obvious onside kick situation.
Cassel marched the Chiefs down the field and hit Chambers for a five-yard score, and the Jaguars started to sweat. Only after the Jaguars recovered the ensuing onside kick could the few fans in Jacksonville start to celebrate.
“Our back was against the wall,” Cassel told the Kansas City Star. “We’ve just got to start that earlier.”
It was too little, too late for the Chiefs, just as anything they do over the second half of the season will be. Now 1-7, Chiefs coach Todd Haley will spend the rest of the season trying to shape this team into the team he wants in 2010, which is what releasing Larry Johnson is all about.
As for the Jaguars, they have no hope of catching the Colts in the AFC South. Del Rio’s claims that they’re still in the mix at 4-4 would hold more water if the four wins had come against better teams than the Chiefs, Rams, Titans and Texans.
Realistically, the Jaguars aren’t a playoff team. So it’s no surprise that the fans have tuned them out.