Houston: We Have A Problem

The game is Sunday, December 30th. Week 17. In the sure-to-be-decorated "Battle Red" war ensemble known as Reliant Stadium. The Texans. Sure, the Jaguars get their first taste of the Texans on October 14th, but the game at Reliant is sure to be dreaded by most hardcore Jaguars fans.

Most Jaguars fans, and NFL fans alike are officially in the doldrums of the NFL season, the time of year that is less than affectionately known as "the dead zone". Hardcore fans are impatiently counting down the days to training camp, the preseason, and the regular season. A common practice for fans in the middle to end of June is to reflect on the past year, but occasionally glance at the 2007 schedule. Jaguars fans collective stomachs should turn when they see the game.

Which game would that be? You're thinking the week seven Monday night game vs. Indy, right? They are the defending Super Bowl Champs. Nope. How about the week nine game @ New Orleans? Drew Brees, Reggie "the hype machine" Bush. Try again. It has to be the week 11 game vs. San Diego, after all, L.T. could be the best running back ever, and they finished 14-2 last year? Uh, no.

The game is Sunday, December 30th. Week 17. In the sure-to-be-decorated "Battle Red" war ensemble known as Reliant Stadium. The Texans. Sure, the Jaguars get their first taste of the Texans on October 14th, but the game at Reliant is sure to be dreaded by most hardcore Jaguars fans. Ever since 2002 when the misguided Texans took three Jaguars in the expansion draft (Tony Boselli, Seth Payne, and Gary Walker) and helped the Jaguars save almost $15 million in cap space, Houston has gotten even by being absolute kryptonite to Jacksonville in their first 10 head-to-head matchups.

Remember the Texans' first ever road win, a 21-19 victory at Alltel Stadium in week eight of the 2002 season? Houston used some trickery with about three minutes left in the game by getting punt returner Jabar Gaffney to field the punt and throw a lateral across the field to Aaron Glenn. Glenn rumbled down the field for 42 yards, setting up the go-ahead field goal by Kris Brown. The Jaguars tried a Hail Mary on their last drive but came up short.

And how about the week four game in 2003 vs. Houston at Reliant Stadium? The Texans were down 20-17, inside the Jaguars' 1-yard line with two seconds left in the game. Instead of going for the easy chip shot field goal, Coach Dom Capers decided to go for the win. David Carr stretches out over the goal line. Touchdown. Texans win 24-20, and the Jaguars tumbled to 0-4.

And who can forget "The Nightmare After Christmas" in week 16 of the 2004 season? The Jaguars, fresh off a huge December road win in Green Bay, laid the mother of all eggs, a 21-0 home loss that killed any realistic playoff hopes. The Jaguars only managed six first downs and a franchise-low 126 yards of total offense. The Texans have made an artform out of ripping Jaguars fans hearts out.

Even in the four Jaguars victories over the Texans, Jacksonville has been less-than-stellar. In Week 11 of 2002, they had to hold off a late-rally from David Carr to escape with a 24-21 victory. In week 14 of 2003, the Jaguars enjoyed their most dominant win over the Texans 27-0. But it almost didn't seem fair as backup QB Dave Ragone was starting for the injured David Carr and just looked awful. In week nine of 2005, the Jaguars again had to try not to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. After getting down 7-0 at halftime to Houston in what was a miserable first half, Jacksonville came alive in the fourth quarter to take a 21-14 lead. But they had to hold off a late surge by Carr and company that ended in Jaguars territory, securing another close win over the Texans.

In Week 15 of 2005, the Jaguars, playing without QB Byron Leftwich, the Jaguars were down 20-17 going into the 4th quarter until a three-touchdown barrage buried the Texans 38-20. The win secured their first playoff berth since the 1999 season. However, the Texans, who were severely out-classed in terms of talent, were doing everything they could to spoil it for Jacksonville, which is quickly becoming their team identity.

The Jaguars almost seem to have the attitude that the Texans are a pushover merely because of their 24-56 record through the first five years. Unfortunately for Jaguars fans, six of those Texans wins they have been victim to (including two awful games in 2006). After every game that the Jaguars were supposed to win against Houston, it seems as if the Texans players mocked the Jaguars arrogance. Following the embarrassing 13-10 loss to Houston in 2006, David Carr mentioned he was looking for a broom (referencing the season sweep and the constant trash talking from the Jaguars). David Carr and his mouth are jettisoned to the NFC. Good riddance. But can the same be said of the enigma of figuring out the Houston Texans?

That brings us back to 2007. And the game. The Jaguars cannot escape their history with the Texans, it is what it is. And you can bet Houston will be ready to play on December 30th. Every rivalry has a turning point. W ill this be the year that the Jaguars figure out how to win decisively against the Texans, or will a much-improved Texans team on offense and defense continue to baffle the Jaguars?

It's a question the Jaguars must answer if they have any hope of winning a division title and securing another playoff berth. Who knows, maybe by December 30th, the Jaguars will have played well enough throughout the season that this game will be rendered meaningless. My practical side says based on our history, we will be staring the Battle Red Texans straight in the face in Week 17, entering a must-win scenario to move on to the big dance. The AFC is just too good. Division titles or wildcard spots won't be won early. Get your Tums ready and fasten your seatbelts, the game could very well define the 2007 season.

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