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NFL Preview - Houston (2-10) at Jacksonville (3-9)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Teddy Bridgewater was probably trying to find a good realtor in Northeast Florida for months but all of a sudden the Louisville star and projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft has to expand his search to South Texas.
After starting the season 0-8, first-year coach Gus Bradley and the Jacksonville Jaguars have won three of four games. Meanwhile, the Houston Texans, who won back-to-back AFC South crowns in 2011 and 2012, have dropped a franchise-worst 10 consecutive contests after a promising 2-0 beginning.
Both teams remain in play for Bridgewater and some of the other top talent expected to be available in May's selection process but all of a sudden the Texans are looking up at the Jags in the standings as the team's prepare to meet in the Sunshine State on "Thursday Night Football."
The Jags will be aiming to sweep the season series after stopping a five-game skid against the Texans by winning in Houston, 13-6, back on Nov. 24, something Texans star receiver Andre Johnson called the "lowest point" of his NFL career.
Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 84 yards and a TD against the Texans in that matchup, while defensive end Ryan Davis snared an interception as the Jacksonville defense held Houston to 218 total yards.
"I couldn't care less what (the opposition) think," Jacksonville receiver Cecil Shorts said. "It's the NFL. You're going to win or lose each 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."
Houston will be coming to see a Jaguars team that has made winning a bit of a habit over the last month. Jacksonville continued to enjoy the plus side of the ledger last Sunday when Chad Henne found Shorts for a 20-yard touchdown pass with 40 seconds left to lift the Jags to 32-28 road win over the Cleveland Browns.
Cleveland corner Joe Haden bit on a double move by Shorts to leave him wide- open for the touchdown.
Henne completed 22-of-40 passes for 195 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Shorts had six catches for 64 yards and a touchdown while Marcedes Lewis and Clay Harbor both added a receiving touchdown for Jacksonville, which has won three consecutive road games for the first time since the 2007 season.
Jones-Drew had 77 rushing yards on 23 carries and Ace Sanders caught eight passes for 67 yards for Jacksonville.
The Texans, meanwhile, found themselves on the short end again in Week 13 when the New England Patriots engineered another second-half comeback to edge Houston, 34-31.
The Texans put up a valiant fight, but still suffered their 10th consecutive loss when Stephen Gostkowski drilled two 53-yard field goals in the fourth quarter, the second giving the Patriots the lead with 3:12 remaining.
"We were pretty consistent today moving the football ... we just needed to find some more juice in our last two drives and we didn't do it," said Texans coach Gary Kubiak.
Ben Tate rushed for three touchdowns and 102 yards on 22 carries against a New England defensive unit that began the week ranked 31st against the run. Case Keenum completed 15-of-30 passes for 272 yards and added his first career touchdown run.
Johnson made eight grabs for 121 yards and became the second-fastest player to reach 900 career receptions in NFL history, doing so in 150 games. Marvin Harrison owns the record at 149 games.
"We're playing hard, we're not always playing good," Kubiak said.
The Texans lead their all-time series with the Jags by a 13-10 margin.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
It's been a weird season for Houston. For much of the year the team's defense has ranked No. 1 in the NFL but the club as a whole has been near the bottom in scoring defense thanks in large part to an inordinate number of miscues and a dismal minus-12 turnover differential.
Currently the Texans are ranked third in the NFL, allowing 303.9 yards per game but give up an average of 26.9 points, 27th in the league.
Houston was able to match its season high in points last Sunday, but its late- game struggles continued. The Texans have now been outscored 151-49 in the second half during their 10-game skid.
Houston defensive lineman Antonio Smith was so frustrated after the latest collapse, he accused the Patriots of spying when discussing their second-half adjustments, something he later backed away from.
"(It's) humbling to go from 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," Smith said.
It has been a fight for first-time starter Keenum, who has completed only 54.2 percent of his passes in his first six NFL starts. Meanwhile, he hasn't thrown a TD pass in his last two, which included a season-low 169-yard performance against the Jaguars.
That same Jacksonville defense allowed Browns receiver Josh Gordon to become the first player in NFL history to have back-to-back games with 200-or-more receiving yards. Gordon had 261 yards on 10 catches with two touchdowns against the Jaguars.
Despite a lack of real difference-makers Jacksonville has found a solid formula on offense, one that relies on Jones-Drew as well as a few big plays per game from Henne.
The Jags, who scored just 86 total points during their 0-8 start, have amassed 88 over the last four. MJD's resurgence has also bolstered a running game which had been averaging a woeful 61.7 in the first 10 games. Jacksonville has raised that number to 115.0 ypg during its current two-game winning streak.
"It's like we're a more confident team," Shorts said. "We're going into games expecting to win and expecting to do well."
The Jaguars may be expecting to do well but they remain the NFL's only team who hasn't won at home, being outscored by a ridiculous 158-35 margin in five tries as the host (one of those games was in London) this season.
This, however, looks like the time to right those wrongs and win for the first time in Jacksonville since a 24-19 triumph over Tennessee on Nov. 25, 2012.
"(Bradley has the Jaguars) playing hard all year long and consistent. And these last few weeks, they've played extremely well," Kubiak said
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Jaguars 20, Texans 14
12/04 16:41:41 ET