JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Don't look now, but the Jacksonville Jaguars are the hottest team in the AFC.
After starting the season 0-8, the Jaguars are now 4-1 since their bye week after holding off the Houston Texans 27-20 Thursday night in their lone prime-time outing of the season.
The Jags' run of three consecutive victories is the longest current winning streak in the AFC. The latest win came as Jacksonville overcame its struggles at home and in night games.
"We needed this heightened environment, we needed that challenge to see if we could maintain focus, trust our principles and trust our preparation," said Jaguars coach Gus Bradley, whose team won for just the second time in its past 11 prime-time games and captured its first victory at home after losing seven straight dating back to November 2012. "I told them (during practice this week) that I don't need any (record-breaking) performances from you guys -- I just need your best. I thought our guys gave us their best."
After more than a year of losing at home and seeing fans often leave after halftime, the Jaguars finally gave their faithful reason to stick around.
Quarterback Chad Henne passed for 126 yards and two touchdowns without throwing an interception. He completed 12 of 27 passes. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew finished with 103 yards on 14 carries, breaking the century mark for the first time this year. Jones-Drew, however, injured a hamstring early in the fourth quarter and did not return.
The Jaguars also got a 21-yard touchdown pass from wide receiver Ace Sanders to running back Jordan Todman in third quarter.
"The city of Jacksonville continues to support us, and it's great to get them a win finally," said Henne, who also rushed for 33 yards on four carries, twice picking up first downs with his feet. "Hopefully we can get two more (in the final two home games)."
Houston (2-11) lost its 11th consecutive game -- a franchise record.
The Jaguars nearly squandered a 14-point lead twice before prevailing. Jacksonville got a key fourth-and-1 stop with 3:37 to play, and Jaguars linebacker Geno Hayes made a crucial interception with just over two minutes remaining.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, who finished with 198 yards, a touchdown and an interception, replaced rookie starter Case Keenum late in the third quarter and nearly rallied the Texans to the win. Schaub completed 17 of 29 passes.
"I thought Matt gave us the best chance to win. Case struggled," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said of his decision to bench Keenum, who was 16-for-29 for 159 yards, one touchdown and one interception. "Unfortunately, we didn't get it done."
What the Jaguars said
"Coach (Gus) Bradley had a plan from the beginning, and we weren't going to waver from that plan when things didn't go the way we wanted. He stuck to the plan, and that gave us a lot of trust and it really built a bond between the players, coaches and staff. (Winning some games finally) took longer than we wanted to ... but the culture and the atmosphere and the things we do daily are starting to pay dividends." -- Defensive end Jason Babin, on a Jacksonville team that opened 0-8 before winning four of its past five games.
What the Texans said
"I was running my mouth too much. I just should have run off the field, but I didn't. We didn't get the job done. We had some penalties that hurt us, and we have to fix them and get better. It may have been a lack of focus, but we just have to fix it." -- Safety D.J. Swearinger, on Houston's 14 penalties for 177 yards, three of which were called on Swearinger, including a costly personal foul that extended a stalled Jacksonville drive in the second half.
What we learned about the Jaguars
1. Maurice Jones-Drew is ticked off -- and he's running like it. The star running back, mired in the worst season of his eight-year career production-wise, is improving late in the season, and it is starting to become apparent why.
Jones-Drew is upset with critics disparaging the Jaguars this year, so he is taking out his anger on the opposition, rushing for 84 yards in their win three weeks ago at Houston, then breaking the century mark for the first time this year Thursday. He gained 103 yards on 14 carries before leaving in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury.
After the game, Jones-Drew was asked what he would say to the pundits now after the Jaguars earned their fourth win in five games.
"When you turn on (the ESPN radio show) 'Mike and Mike in the Morning,' they're joking about how (Thursday's game) is going to be the worst game on national television," he said. "Sometimes, it (ticks) you off because it's, like, 'Listen, we are all adults and we all get paid to do a job, and sometimes you don't do your job to the best of your ability,' but you shouldn't be cracking jokes about guys that are busting their butts every day and no one is quitting on our team. People may think we still (stink), but it is what it is. We are going to keep getting better."
2. The Jaguars should try more trick plays. When Jacksonville drafted former Michigan dual-threat quarterback Denard Robinson in the fifth round this year, Jaguars fans probably envisioned lots of razzle-dazzle, highlight-reel plays. Instead, Robinson rarely factors in the offense. Instead, South Carolina rookie wideout Ace Sanders took on the role of the Jaguars' big-play guy.
Sanders brought the home fans to their feet Thursday when he hit backup running back Jordan Todman with a 21-yard touchdown pass on a play that worked to perfection, putting Jacksonville up by 14 points midway through the third quarter.
Fans cheered and high-fived at the success of the trick play, which was just the fifth Jacksonville attempted this season: two worked, while another should have. Tight end Marcedes Lewis caught a halfback pass from Jones-Drew last week in a win against the Cleveland Browns. Wide receiver Cecil Shorts dropped a perfect pass from Robinson on another trick-play attempt earlier this year.
More than anything, the plays leave the Jags excited -- and ready for more. "He made a heck of a throw and Todman made a heck of a catch," Jags quarterback Chad Henne said of Sanders. "It was a great situation to call that play."
What we learned about the Texans
1. Wide receiver Andre Johnson's time in Houston may be winding down. Just three weeks after a heated sideline confrontation with quarterback Matt Schaub that led to Johnson storming off the field and into the locker room before the game ended, Johnson again sounded miffed with the direction of the team, which lost its 11th game in a row and is mired in the worst season in franchise history.
After the Nov. 17 tirade, Johnson made statements that indicated he may look elsewhere to continue his career after this season. After Thursday's loss, in which he caught 13 catches for 154 yards, Johnson again was upset, remarking he was tired of losing."
He added with frustration, "A lot of times games in this league come down to one play, and unfortunately we haven't been able to make those plays that we need to win."
2. J.J. Watt can be shut down. Watt, the Texans' All-Pro defensive end and one of the NFL's sack leaders, didn't record a quarterback takedown in Thursday's loss to the Jaguars, and he was held to three tackles. The credit for that goes to the entire Jacksonville offensive line -- because Watt is constantly moving around while rushing the passer -- but a special thumbs up goes to left tackle Cameron Bradfield, who was tasked with stopping Watt for most of the game.