Tied for the NFL's best record, the Houston Texans continue to inch closer to a second straight AFC South crown.
A matchup against the division's worst team seems unlikely to slow them down.
The Texans aim for a fifth consecutive victory over the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars, who try to avoid matching their longest losing streak in franchise history Sunday.
Houston (8-1) made quite a statement last Sunday night, pulling out a gritty 13-6 win at Chicago to remain two games ahead of second-place Indianapolis in the division. While the Texans were limited to a season-low 215 yards, their stifling defensive unit came up huge again with a season best-tying four turnovers.
"The more ways you find to win in this league, you get more confidence," coach Gary Kubiak said. "Things like that give you a chance to be a great team. There will be nothing false about what we are when we get there at the end because we've been in some tough situations. And the more we handle them, the better we get."
Giving up averages of 281.6 yards and 15.9 points to rank second and third in the league, the Texans made things especially difficult on the Jaguars (1-8) during a 27-7 road win Sept. 16, holding them to a franchise-low 117 yards.
While Houston has outscored Jacksonville by an average of 13.5 points during its run in this series, Kubiak isn't overlooking Sunday's matchup.
"We've got to get ready for a division opponent real quick," he said after last weekend's win. "It's just part of the maturing process if you want to be good enough to someday put yourself in the position to win a championship. I think we're growing up from that standpoint."
Tied with Kansas City for the league's worst record, the Jaguars are averaging 12.5 points during a six-game losing streak. Jacksonville, which suffered seven consecutive defeats during its inaugural 1995 season, saw its woes continue last Thursday with a 27-10 loss to the Colts.
"I don't think any of us thought that we would be in this position," coach Mike Mularkey said. "I know our team didn't feel like we'd be in this position. ... We're not looking back. We're moving forward. We're going to try to continue to gain progress in what we're doing. It's disappointing because none of us felt like we would be here by any means."
Maurice Jones-Drew's continued absence surely hasn't helped the Jaguars, who won't have their All-Pro running back for the fourth consecutive game. Starting in place of Jones-Drew, Rashad Jennings has compiled 131 yards on 40 carries over the last three weeks.
Blaine Gabbert completed 18 of 31 passes for 209 yards with an interception last Thursday before aggravating an injury to his non-throwing shoulder. While Chad Henne was much more efficient in his place, Gabbert, whose 76.9 passer rating ranks sixth-lowest in the NFL, will continue to start.
"I don't think it's one guy," Mularkey said. "You always go to that guy. Not in here. Everybody is held accountable for why the offense is not functioning at a high level consistently, and I think that goes for everybody. That's including the coaches."
In addition to getting a better performance from Gabbert, the Jaguars will likely need to step up their efforts against the run Sunday. Jacksonville is allowing an average of 137.4 rushing yards and has surrendered 14 TDs on the ground, the second-most in the league.
The Jaguars' struggles could lead to another big day for Arian Foster, who ran for 102 yards and scored his NFL-best 12th TD from scrimmage against the Bears.
"I would say that was about the toughest 102 yards a man could get," Kubiak said. "Everybody and their brother knew who was getting the ball and he still found a way to keep us on track."
Foster, who's rushed for 523 yards and six scores in five starts against the Jaguars, may not need to shoulder all of the load Sunday with Ben Tate possibly returning following a two-game absence due to a hamstring injury.
Nose tackle Shaun Cody and tight end Owen Daniels, who leads the Texans with five touchdown receptions, could also play after sitting out last weekend.
The Associated Press News Service
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