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Despite suffering yet another critical injury, the Jacksonville Jaguars hope their defense can remain one of the NFL’s best. Considering the breakout performance the Buffalo Bills offense produced last week, Jacksonville might need to its defense to be just that.
The Jaguars look for their fourth win in the last five games and try to boost their playoff positioning when they face the Bills on Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Jaguars (6-4) held a fourth straight opponent to fewer than 14 points in their 26-10 home win over the New York Giants on Monday. However, safety Donovin Darius suffered a broken right leg in the first quarter. He became the Jaguars’ eighth defensive player on injured reserve, and saw his season cut short due to injury for the second year in a row.
“He was our leader on the field and he’s a tough guy to replace,” said safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who will replace Darius Sunday. “But once somebody goes down, we can’t stay down about it. We have to fill his shoes and move on. We’ve already had several guys do that this season. Now, it’s my turn.”
The Jaguars hope Sensabaugh can replace Darius just as defensive end Bobby McCray has filled in for the injured Reggie Hayward. McCray has seven sacks in nine games after Hayward ruptured his Achilles’ tendon.
Jacksonville’s defense received a boost, though, when tackle Marcus Stroud returned from a five-game absence after recovering from an ankle injury.
“You rally around the guys you have,” Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said, “and you go compete.”
The Jaguars enter the week ranked third in the NFL in total defense (279.9 yards per game) and scoring defense (13.7 points per game), but their defense has not performed at its peak on the road. Jacksonville has gone 5-1 at home while giving up a total of only 47 points over the six games, but has allowed an average of 22.5 points and 332.3 yards while going 1-3 as a visitor this season.
All but two of the Jaguars’ 17 takeaways have come at home this season.
Continuing their home defensive dominance, the Jaguars held New York running back Tiki Barber to 27 yards on 10 carries, and the Giants finished with just 25 rushing yards as a team.
“We pride ourselves on having talent, having depth and being a well-coached defense,” Sensabaugh said.
If Lee Evans and the Bills execute as they did last week, it might take more than pride to stop them.
Buffalo (4-6) reached a season high in points with its 24-21 win on Sunday at Houston, its second victory in three games. Evans hauled in a pair of 83-yard touchdown catches en route to a franchise-record 265 yards on 11 receptions.
Quarterback J.P. Losman connected on 26 of 38 attempts for a career-high 340 yards and tied a personal best with three touchdown passes.
“I hope this is the start that we’re all looking for, for the Buffalo fans and our team,” Losman said. “It takes time with a new offense, but hopefully, it’s the start of something special.”
Buffalo’s running game could receive a big boost if leading rusher Willis McGahee is able to return. McGahee, who rushed for 579 yards in eight games this season before missing the last two games with broken ribs, took part in his first practice in full pads Thursday.
McGahee is listed as questionable, however, and Bills coach Dick Jauron was “guardedly optimistic” he would play.
“When did he tell you that?” McGahee asked. “Today?”
Asked if it was a fair assessment, McGahee said: “I guess. To tell you the truth, I don’t even know. I would like to (play).”
Just as the Jaguars’ defense has relied on a replacement, so has their offense. Filling in for Byron Leftwich, who might be out for the season because of an ankle injury, David Garrard improved to 3-1 as a starter this season. Garrard completed 19 of 32 passes for a season-high 249 yards last week, when the Jaguars finished with a season-high 414 total yards.
The Jaguars look to exploit the Buffalo defense—ranked 23rd in the NFL in total yardage allowed with 340.8 per game—with their running-back tandem of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. Taylor ran for 79 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries Monday, and Jones-Drew added 45 yards and a score on nine attempts.
The Bills’ defense has allowed at least 380 yards in each of the last three games.
Jacksonville improved to 2-3 in the all-time series with Buffalo in the last meeting, a 13-10 Jaguars victory on Sept. 12, 2004, in Orchard Park, N.Y.