Although the Jacksonville Jaguars lost to unbeaten Indianapolis last week, they didn’t lose any ground to their primary pursuers in the AFC wild-card race.
In fact, with a win over the San Francisco 49ers this week and some help, the Jaguars can clinch their first playoff berth since 1999.
Jacksonville was eliminated from the AFC South Division race with its 26-18 defeat to the Colts on Sunday. The Jaguars fell behind 14-3 in the first 20-plus minutes, and David Garrard was unable to rally the team to end the Colts’ run at perfection.
“We have to put it behind us, dust ourselves off and go to the next game. It doesn’t really matter,” Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said. “We would’ve loved to have won, but that opportunity was going to be there win or lose.”
The Jaguars hold a one-game lead over San Diego, Pittsburgh and Kansas City for the first wild-card spot. If Jacksonville wins Sunday, all three of those teams lose and Denver wins or ties its game against Buffalo, the Jaguars will clinch a playoff berth.
“Anything that helps our cause is good,” Del Rio said. “Right now for us, the biggest focus is the 49ers game this week. I haven’t had time to look at all those scenarios and implications.”
The Jaguars missed the presence of center Brad Meester, who is out for the season with a biceps injury, rushing for just 74 yards against Indianapolis. Fred Taylor, who had missed three of the previous four games with an ankle injury, was limited to 19 yards on 10 attempts.
Del Rio has made it a point to split time between Taylor and backup Greg Jones, who had a team-high 43 yards on seven carries. Taylor has 625 yards on the season, while Jones has 531.
Sunday’s game marks the beginning of what appears to be an easy stretch run for the Jaguars. Their final three opponents, the 49ers, Houston and Tennessee, have a combined record of 7-32.
For the 49ers, the learning process for quarterback Alex Smith continues. He completed just nine of 22 passes for 77 yards with one interception in San Francisco’s 41-3 defeat at Seattle on Sunday.
In two games since coach Mike Nolan returned the rookie from Utah to the starting lineup, Smith is 25-for-46 for 262 yards and four interceptions without a touchdown.
Smith, the first overall pick in the 2005 draft, has nine interceptions and no touchdowns in 96 pass attempts over six games, four of them starts. In addition to struggling to run the offense, Smith is having issues simply holding onto the ball. He had three fumbles Sunday, one of which led to a touchdown for the Seahawks.
“If I want to play quarterback here, I can’t let that happen,” said Smith, who has nine fumbles overall and been sacked 19 times. “Inexcusable. I didn’t give this team a chance to win. It’s something I’ve never had a problem with at any level until now. I’ve got to find a remedy, got to get it fixed.”