The Jacksonville Jaguars have lost four games by over 20 points and have one of the NFL’s worst defenses, but they’re a game out of first place in one of the league’s toughest divisions.
They also might have something significant on their side - luck.
The Jaguars try to build on the momentum of their stunning last-second win Sunday when they host the Cleveland Browns, who hope to bounce back after being victimized by a wild, game-ending play in Week 10.
Jacksonville (5-4) might be one of the league’s most difficult teams to decipher from week to week, but it seems to be making its identity clear - if a game is decided by three touchdowns or fewer, Jack Del Rio’s squad is going to win.
The Jaguars have been outscored by 99 points in their losses, but they’re unbeaten in games decided by fewer than 22. After a rare comfortable win - 35-17 at Dallas on Oct. 31 - Jacksonville avoided overtime against Houston last Sunday when Mike Thomas(notes) caught a Hail Mary that was batted into his hands, scoring a 50-yard touchdown as time expired to give his team a 31-24 victory.
It was the fourth time in NFL history a team scored a touchdown of 50 yards or more that led to a win as time expired.
“That’s what makes sports so great,” Del Rio said. “It’s all right there on the line and dramatic moments, big huge pendulum swing one way or another. It sort of feels good when you make the play and you go home with a big smile.”
“We’ll take where we are,” Del Rio said. “We really believe our best football is in front of us. We’re working hard to reach our potential.”
The Browns (3-6) experienced the other side of the pendulum later that afternoon against the New York Jets. Colt McCoy(notes) led Cleveland on a tying touchdown drive in the game’s final minute, but the Jets won 26-20 on a 37-yard TD pass from Mark Sanchez(notes) to Santonio Holmes(notes) with 16 seconds left in overtime.
“Every loss is tough,” coach Eric Mangini said. “… You want that to be coming into that locker room and feeling the satisfaction of a win and it comes down to 25 seconds left in the fifth quarter, that’s about as close as you can fight another team.”
While that loss stung Mangini’s team, Cleveland has pulled out a few wild victories since rejoining the NFL in 1999. Two of the three 50-yard game-winning TDs prior to Thomas’ catch came on the arm of Tim Couch(notes) - including a 50-yarder to Quincy Morgan(notes) in Jacksonville on Dec. 8, 2002.
Morgan’s catch tied the score before the extra point gave the Browns a 21-20 win.
Cleveland has won three straight road games against the Jaguars. No opponent has ever won four consecutive games in Jacksonville.
That won’t be easy to do if quarterback David Garrard(notes) continues his impressive play. He has completed 78.8 percent of his passes with six touchdowns in the past two games and is the AFC’s highest-rated passer (104.9).
Garrard has thrown 14 touchdowns and one interception in Jacksonville’s wins.
The Browns also need to worry about Maurice Jones-Drew(notes), who’s coming off back-to-back 100-yard games and had two of his three rushing touchdowns this season against Houston. Cleveland, though, hasn’t allowed more than 4.0 yards per carry in any of its last five games.
Stopping the run might be tougher with second-leading tackler Scott Fujita(notes) (knee) out, but the Browns’ secondary is also in flux. Cornerback Sheldon Brown(notes) (shoulder) is questionable and fellow starter Eric Wright(notes) has consistently given up big plays.
Running back Peyton Hills has been Cleveland’s offensive focal point lately, but it may want to give McCoy some chances to attack the Jaguars’ shaky secondary. Jacksonville gives up 8.82 passing yards per attempt, by far the worst in the NFL.
It’s unclear if McCoy will have receiver Josh Cribbs (dislocated toes) this week, but the rookie certainly seems to have the confidence of his teammates.
“Every week he goes out there, personally he impresses me more and more,” linebacker Eric Barton(notes) said. “He’s just got it. It’s one of those things where he’s not tall, he can’t throw real hard, he can’t do this, but he’s a winner.”