Jacksonville’s last trip to the West Coast more than a month ago proved to be a turning point in its season.
A more confident team since then, the Jaguars look for a fourth straight victory when they again head west to face the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.
Even before they took the field, the Jaguars (6-4) should have known their trip to Seattle on Oct. 11 wouldn’t be a good one.
Defensive end Quentin Groves(notes) caused a three-car accident on his way to the airport, missed the charter flight and got fined by coach Jack Del Rio. Receiver Mike Sims-Walker(notes) missed curfew before the game and got benched. On the field, David Garrard(notes) was sacked five times and Jacksonville lost 41-0 for its most lopsided defeat in Del Rio’s seven seasons.
Since then, the Jaguars have climbed back into AFC wild-card contention after winning four of five, including three straight over Kansas City, the New York Jets and Buffalo - teams currently on the outside of the playoff picture.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” said running back Maurice Jones-Drew(notes), who called out the team and questioned play-calling, personnel decisions and the offense’s identity after the loss in Seattle. “We learn from our mistakes.”
Jacksonville is facing San Francisco (4-6) for the first time since a 10-9 home win Dec. 18, 2008. The Jaguars are 2-0 all-time against the 49ers, but have never played at Candlestick Park.
San Francisco has dropped five of its last six, including a 30-24 defeat at Green Bay last Sunday.
After winning their last three games by a combined eight points and their last two on the final drive, the Jaguars aren’t going to take another opponent with a losing record lightly.
“We’re not content, we’re not comfortable,” said Sims-Walker, who has 47 receptions for 694 yards and six TDs. “We know we still have a lot of work to put in and a lot of work to do to reach the playoffs. We’ve got to keep fighting. We’re not letting up at all.”
One week after Garrard drove the Jaguars down the field to set up Josh Scobee’s(notes) game-winning 21-yard field goal in a 24-22 victory over the Jets, he guided them 68 yards and hit Sims-Walker for a 3-yard touchdown pass with 56 seconds left to beat Buffalo 18-15 last Sunday.
Jones-Drew rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. His 13th TD tied a career high set in 2006. Jones-Drew has run for at least one touchdown in five straight games and has scored 25 times on the ground since the beginning of the 2008 season - the most among AFC players.
The Jaguars’ star running back should pose a serious challenge for the 49ers, who gave up 129 yards on the ground to Green Bay’s Ryan Grant(notes) last week - a below-average effort for a defense that ranks sixth in the league with 94.7 rushing yards allowed per contest.
Despite his team’s decline since a 3-1 start, San Francisco coach Mike Singletary still believes the 49ers can challenge for a playoff spot.
“At the very start of the season, our goal was to win enough games to go to the playoffs. That is still our goal. That will not change,” said Singletary, whose club’s last four losses have been by a combined 20 points. “We’re a team, in my mind, good enough to do that. We’re running out of games, and we’re running out of time.”
Inconsistency on the offensive side of the ball continues to plague the 49ers.
After squeaking out a 10-6 win over Chicago on Nov. 12, San Francisco scored 21 second-half points to rally from a 23-3 deficit before falling short against the Packers.
Frank Gore(notes) rushed seven times for 59 yards and caught a TD pass last weekend, giving him a touchdown in four straight games. Gore, who’s rushed for 610 yards this season, ran the ball 19 times for 79 yards in his only game against Jacksonville in 2005.
Alex Smith threw three of his nine touchdown passes last Sunday, but was also intercepted to increase his season total to seven.