Jaguars get key contributions from backups in win
The Jacksonville Jaguars used some unexpected plays from unheralded newcomers to stay in position for an AFC playoff berth that once seemed unlikely.
Nate Hughes caught the first touchdown pass of his career. Zach Miller had the team's longest reception of the season, the longest by a tight end in franchise history. And safety Gerald Alexander and cornerback Tyron Brackenridge, both thrust into starting roles because of injuries, were involved in three turnovers that proved to be the difference in a 23-18 victory over Houston on Sunday.
Together, the foursome helped the Jaguars (7-5) win for the seventh time in 10 games, including five in a row at home, and remain in line for a wild card heading into another key conference game against Miami (6-6).
``We have a complete team, a lot of depth and guys are ready for their opportunity when the time comes,'' Alexander said.
It showed against the Texans.
Hughes caught a 35-yard TD pass from David Garrard in the second quarter. It came in the same end zone that caused Hughes problems in September. Hughes, a first-year player who spent part of last season on Kansas City's practice squad, dropped two would-be touchdown passes in a 31-17 loss to Arizona and was waived the following day.
He was signed to Jacksonville's practice squad a few days later and spent the last 11 weeks waiting for a chance to redeem himself.
``It feels good,'' Hughes said. ``It's been a while. It's just like life: Things happen for a reason. I've just got to keep grinding. I just feel like anything you do wrong will either make you a better person or a worse person. I try to take everything that happens to me and apply it and learn from it and get better. I feel like that's what I did.''
Miller, a college quarterback who had seven catches for 51 yards in Jacksonville's first 11 games, hauled in a 62-yarder against Houston that set up Garrard's second TD pass.
It was the longest pass play of Garrard's career. It also could have been a sign of things to come from Miller. The Jaguars drafted the former Nebraska-Omaha star in the sixth round in April, hoping he would develop into a versatile tight end.
``Using my speed is going to be to my advantage,'' said Miller, acknowledging he still needs to become a better blocker. ``Obviously, I'm not as big as some tight ends, so if that's what I have to do on the field - create mismatches - then I'm happy to do it.''
Alexander and Brackenridge proved to be big mismatches for the Texans.
Alexander, acquired in a trade with Detroit in June, caused Matt Schaub's only interception of the day. He slammed into David Anderson just as the ball arrived across the middle. The ball popped up and landed in linebacker Justin Durant's arms.
With Schaub on the bench earlier in the game, Brackenridge - claimed off waivers in May and starting in place of Rashean Mathis (groin) - reached back and tipped Rex Grossman's pass down the middle. Safety Anthony Smith caught the deflection.
Alexander and Brackenridge teamed up on the third pick of the game. Facing first-and-goal at the Jaguars 5, Houston called a halfback pass. Chris Brown started right and under heavy pressure from Brackenridge, floated a wobbly pass that Alexander intercepted near the goal line.
``We're using everybody in the room,'' coach Jack Del Rio said. ``It doesn't really matter if they have 100 starts in the league or they don't have any starts in the league, we're going to play our guys and we're going to expect them to play well.
``Don't worry about whether people think we have a chance or not. Just focus on doing your job, bring your energy and let it rip and then we'll see where it goes. But we're not going to sell ourselves short. We're just going come fight every day and see what happens.''
With contributions coming from everyone, Garrard senses the Jaguars could be on the verge of something special.
``To be at this point right now with seven wins ... I bet if you talked to a lot of people before the season they'd say, 'Yeah, right,''' Garrard said.