The Jacksonville Jaguars remain confident while not getting too caught up in their modest second-half turnaround.
They'll try for their first four-game winning streak in six seasons Sunday while looking to hand the reeling Buffalo Bills a fifth consecutive year of double-digit losses.
Jacksonville (4-9) has won three straight for the first time since 2010 and four of five after an 0-8 start. Though the Jaguars will attempt to win four in a row for the first time since Sept. 16-Oct. 14, 2007, first-year coach Gus Bradley wants his team to continue its progression while maintaining some perspective amid the franchise's sixth consecutive season without a winning record.
"Our guys just really believe," Bradley said. "The biggest challenge is to keep doing what we're doing. We're a young team that's learning how to do this.
"I don't want us feeling like we did some good things, we accomplished some things. We're getting better and we still have a lot of work to do."
Jacksonville has averaged 23.0 points in the last five games while facing four opponents with losing records, including two against a Houston team mired in a franchise-worst 11-game slide. The Jaguars averaged 10.8 points over the first eight while playing five opponents that currently have winning records.
Last week's 27-20 win over the Texans snapped Jacksonville's seven-game home skid.
However, a favorable second-half schedule hasn't stopped the Jaguars from calling out members of the media or opposing players who have put down a club that lost 20 of 21 before winning 29-27 at Tennessee on Nov. 10.
"They still talk trash about us," said Maurice Jones-Drew, who rushed for a season-high 103 yards on 14 carries last week. "We are going to keep getting better and we are going to keep making plays. We are going to keep doing our thing and be happy for everyone around us."
Jones-Drew, who has rushed for 264 yards and 5.2 per carry over the last three games, likely won't be available Sunday to follow up on his big game. He was listed as doubtful Friday due to a strained hamstring after seeming optimistic earlier in the week that he'd be ready to play.
Jones-Drew isn't the only hurting Jaguar. Safety Johnathan Cyprien is also doubtful with a thigh injury and receiver Cecil Shorts is questionable with a groin injury that's plagued him for much of the season.
If Jones-Drew can't go, Jordan Todman likely will start and versatile rookie Denard Robinson could see more time in the backfield. Todman caught a 21-yard TD pass from receiver Ace Sanders last week.
Chad Henne has thrown four TD passes in the last two games, the same total he had through his first 10.
The Jaguars allowed an average of 161.8 rushing yards through the first eight games but 70.8 per contest in the last five.
Buffalo (4-9) was held to a season-low 67 rushing yards while falling to 1-5 on the road with a 27-6 loss at Tampa Bay last Sunday. The Bills held a closed-door meeting following their fifth loss in six games.
This is Buffalo's ninth straight losing season. One more defeat will give the team a fifth year in a row of reaching at least 10 defeats and sixth consecutive last-place finish in the AFC East.
"I think you look at where we stand right now, you can question everything," defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "Everything's a red flag. Everything's discouraging right now. But we have to get guys, all of us, to respond and respond better."
That likely begins with rookie EJ Manuel, who remains the starter even after he threw four interceptions and was sacked seven times while guiding an offense that totaled a season-low 214 yards against the Buccaneers.
Manuel has endured a rough rookie season in which he missed four games with a knee injury. He's been sacked 24 times in nine contests while completing 57.8 percent of his passes with nine TDs and eight INTs.
"Do I want to be standing here having to go through these pains of what's going on? Absolutely not," first-year coach Doug Marrone said of Manuel's play. "But I've learned over the years that this is the stuff you go through. And you have to just put your head down and just keep working.
"He has the ability to do it. There's no doubt in my mind."
Manuel is 0-4 in road games and the Bills have lost their last three, averaging 246.7 total yards while being outscored 85-33.
Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, held to 34 rushing yards on 16 carries at Tampa Bay, combined to run for 186 yards during Buffalo's 34-18 home win over Jacksonville last season.
Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso is questionable for Sunday after suffering a setback in practice Friday. Coach Doug Marrone says that Alonso, who was limited in practice earlier in the week, 'tweaked' his knee Friday.
The rookie has been a standout in his first season and is second in the NFL with 131 tackles.
'Talking to him, in his mind he wants to play,' Marrone said. 'We've got 48 hours and we'll see how it goes.'
The Associated Press News Service
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