Bottom feeders to potential division champions in a span of four weeks, the Jacksonville Jaguars have more than something to play for Thursday.
The Jaguars are chasing an unlikely bid to win the AFC South when they visit the fading New York Jets at East Rutherford, N.J.
Jacksonville (6-8) has won three of its past four games to move within one game of the Tennessee Titans in the division race. The Jaguars beat the host Titans two weeks ago and pulled out a dramatic 40-34 overtime win over the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday.
The win sets up Jacksonville nicely. Following the game against the Jets (7-7) — who have lost three straight games — are contests against the lowly Houston Texans and a rematch with the Titans to close the season.
Jaguars coach Doug Pederson doesn’t want to hear anything about playoff scenarios.
“I’m not thinking past Thursday, quite honestly,” Pederson told reporters. “We’ve got a good football team that we’re going up against Thursday night. Anything’s possible. I understand that. We’ve still got a big road ahead. But if we continue to improve on what we’ve done here in the last month of the season, then I think it’s possible.”
Safety Rayshawn Jenkins set career highs of 18 tackles and two interceptions and made the biggest play in the upset of Dallas after the Jaguars pulled out of a 17-point hole. Jenkins made a shoelace grab of a tipped pass from Dak Prescott and returned the interception 52 yards for the game-ending points.
Offensively, Zay Jones caught a career-best three touchdowns and 2021 No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence continued his recent rise.
Lawrence threw a career-high four touchdown passes while having 318 yards and one interception. He has thrown 13 of his 24 touchdown passes over his past five games.
“This is where it’s fun,” Jones said of the stretch drive. “It’s going to come down to who wants it more, who executes. We get to see what we’re made of down the stretch. I’m very confident in the men I’m going to battle with.”
The Jets have fallen one game out in the AFC wild-card chase after consecutive losses to the Minnesota Vikings, Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions.
Zach Wilson, the second overall pick in 2021 after Lawrence, will make his second straight start with Mike White (ribs) still sidelined. Wilson lost his starting gig earlier this season and now New York’s season in riding on the second-year pro’s performance.
Jets coach Robert Saleh didn’t have time to wait on White’s health during a short week.
“Zach is growing. He’s growing with this team, he’s growing with all of us,” Saleh said Tuesday. “So again, it’s a matter of reps. And the more he sees it, the faster he’ll play. The faster he plays, the faster they’ll get the ball out and just everything happens faster as things happen faster.”
Wilson passed for 317 yards in last Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Lions. That’s the second-best yardage total of his career. He also threw two touchdown passes and was intercepted once.
The latest loss rates as a huge blow for a New York squad that once held a 5-2 record after four straight wins. Now the Jets are flying in the wrong direction.
“We have a short week, so we’ve got to be able to get our minds right for the game on Thursday or what just happened (against Detroit) is going to eat us alive the whole week,” rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner said. “It’s pretty hard, but we’ve got to be mature adults and we’ve just got to focus on Jacksonville.”
Cornerback Brandin Echols (quadriceps) and receivers Denzel Mims (concussion) and Jeff Smith (knee) haven’t practiced this week for the Jets.
Jacksonville left tackle Cam Robinson tore the meniscus in his right knee against Dallas and will likely miss the rest of the season. Jaguars defensive lineman and former Jet Foley Fatukasi (ankle) missed Tuesday’s practice.
New York has won five of the past seven meetings, including a 26-21 home victory last season.
–Field Level Media