Some members of the Houston Texans felt they bottomed out after a recent home loss to Jacksonville. Now that Houston has fallen into last place after winning the last two AFC South titles, it might be the Jaguars who would feel embarrassed by not sweeping the season series.
Looking to win three straight for the first time in three seasons, Jacksonville hopes to end a franchise-worst, seven-game home losing streak and hand the Texans an 11th consecutive defeat Thursday night.
When these teams met in Houston (2-10) on Nov. 24, the Jaguars entered with the league's worst record but emerged with a 13-6 victory over the two-time reigning division champions.
As Jacksonville (3-9) snapped a five-game skid in the series, Texans receiver Andre Johnson called it the "lowest point" of his 11-year NFL career. Teammate Ben Tate said he respected the Jaguars but felt "very embarrassed and bad for the city (of Houston)."
The Jaguars heard similarly disparaging comments from at least one Tennessee player after ending their 0-8 start with a 29-27 win over the Titans on Nov. 10.
"I couldn't care less what (our opponents) think," Cecil Shorts III said after catching the go-ahead touchdown pass with 40 seconds left in Sunday's 32-28 win at Cleveland. "It's the NFL. You're going to win or lose each week. You've got to bring your best that week.
"For us, we're getting better. We've been 3-1 since the bye week, so if they've got a problem with it, come see us."
While the Jaguars are confident they can win three in a row for the first time since Oct. 31-Nov. 21, 2010, the Texans remain frustrated amid their worst season since going 2-14 in 2005.
"I wouldn't say it feels the same," Johnson said of comparing the two seasons. "Back then I don't think we had a good football team like we have now as far as talent-wise. This season has been disappointing for everybody - a lot of frustration."
Despite the lack of positive results, Houston players have not quit on themselves or their coaches.
"We're playing hard, we're not always playing good," coach Gary Kubiak said.
The Texans matched a season high for points Sunday, but blew a 10-point halftime lead en route to a 34-31 home loss to New England. Houston has been outscored 151-49 after the first half during the franchise-worst 10-game skid.
Tate was held to one yard on seven carries versus Jacksonville, then rushed for a season-high 102 and three touchdowns on 22 attempts Sunday. However, Case Keenum went 15 of 30 for 272 yards with an interception and no TDs.
In six starts, Keenum is completing 54.2 percent of his passes - second-worst in the league since Oct. 15. He's thrown two picks and no touchdowns in the last two, which included a season-low 169-yard passing effort against the Jaguars.
Houston allows 303.9 yards per game to rank third in the NFL but gives up an average of 26.9 points to rank 27th.
"(It is) very humbling to go from truly visualizing you being in the Super Bowl to you being the worst team in the league ... but it isn't going to stop our fight," said defensive end Antonio Smith, who apologized Monday for using the word "spying" when commenting on the Patriots' second-half adjustments.
Last swept by the Jaguars in 2009, the Texans were held to a season-low 218 total yards during the first meeting.
Kubiak understands the challenge that awaits against a Jacksonville team which has improved under first-year coach Gus Bradley.
"I think he's done a great job," he said. "He's had them playing hard all year long and consistent. And these last few weeks, they've played extremely well."
Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew ran 14 times for a season-high 84 yards and the game's lone TD at Houston. He rushed for 77 and also threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Marcedes Lewis at Cleveland.
The Jaguars scored 86 points during their 0-8 start and 88 while winning three of four. They rushed for 230 yards in the last two games after averaging 61.7 in the first 10.
"It's like we're a more confident team," Shorts told the team's official website. "We're going into games expecting to win and expecting to do well during the games. ... We're growing up and we're coming on."
The Jaguars are the only team yet to win at home, getting outscored 158-35 in five games. They've lost seven straight in Jacksonville since a 24-19 win over Tennessee on Nov. 25, 2012.
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