On a day when the Jaguars and Raiders combined for 69 points and 861 yards, the Jacksonville special teams surprisingly proved to be the difference in a thrilling 38-31 Jaguars' victory.
After a 74-yard Rashad Jennings TD run cut the Oakland lead to three points with 6:44 remaining in the third quarter, special-teams ace and former Charger Kassim Osgood, who had been harassed by his old AFC West foes all afternoon, knocked the ball out of Jacoby Ford's grasp on the ensuing kickoff. Fellow special-teams stud Montell Owens recovered the fumble, putting the Jaguars in business at the Raiders' 22-yard line. Five plays later, David Garrard found Mike Sims-Walker in the left corner of the endzone with a 10-yard TD pass, giving Jacksonville a 28-24 lead.
The Jaguars extended their lead to 31-24 early in the fourth quarter, but the lead wouldn't hold up thanks to Darren McFadden's third TD of the day — a 36-yard gallop that featured McFadden embarrassing Don Carey with a brutal stiff-arm on the way into the endzone — with 1:53 left to play.
The stage was set for another game-winning drive by David Garrard and the offense. But rookie KR-RB Deji Karim had other ideas, as he fielded the kickoff at the five-yard line and returned it 65 yards down the sideline to the Oakland 30. On the very next play, Maurice Jones-Drew burst through the middle untouched for the game-winning TD run.
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Head coach Jack Del Rio said last week that it was time for the special teams to shine. "I challenged our football team this week special-teams-wise to be special," said Del Rio, who just last week received a 150-yard rushing effort out of Jones-Drew after challenging MJD for the last month to reach the milestone.
"We've got some really talented guys; Kassim Osgood, Montell Owens, Deji (Karim), and Mike Thomas. We talked about being special. We're going to need everybody on this team to contribute and the need for us to have special teams be special and to win a game for us."
On cue, the special teams rose to the occasion and won the game. Somewhat lost in the shuffle of all of the dramatic victories and impressive rushing performances, the Jaguars' special-teams unit has been superb all season long.
Kassim Osgood was signed in the offseason to pair with Owens and give the Jags the best one-two special-teams punch in the league. On Sunday, the Jaguars got a huge return on their investment.
Not only did Osgood and Owens team up on the crucial turnover, but they limited Ford, who has two 100-plus-yard kickoff returns for TDs in his rookie season, completely in check (5-86 on kickoff returns, 17.2 avg.).
And it wouldn't have been possible had Osgood not kept his cool after constant abuse from the Raiders.
"I thought it started with Kassim keeping his poise while being mauled by a couple of the guys on Oakland's punt-return unit. They were just holding him, throwing him down, giving him the business," Del Rio said. "I thought he held his poise, collected himself and continued to come. Then he's the guy, because he doesn't get thrown out, where a guy that doesn't hold his poise might."
Imagine that; the resilience of Osgood leading to a big play. Resilience is beginning to be the magic word during the Jaguars' magical season. The fans have shown up. Del Rio weathered an early storm to lead his team to a 8-5 record. Garrard responded to the offseason criticism to put together arguably his finest season. Jones-Drew, after a slow start, is in the discussion for league MVP.
And rookie KR Deji Karim, who missed the first four games of the season with a thumb injury and was deactivated in Week 11 because he was having issues holding on to the football, picks the perfect time for the biggest play of his young career.
Karim has been a shoelace tackle away from breaking a long TD return all season. And while he didn't take this one to the house, either, he didn't need to. The damage already had been done.
So, the Jaguars cling to a one-game lead, with their sights set on the "AFC South championship game" against the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 15. Peyton Manning, after snapping out of the worst slump of his career last week, will surely look to expose a Jaguars secondary that remains the weak link of an ascending team.
Del Rio's players continue to rise to the occasion when called upon, and it seems obvious that the onus will be on the pass defense to step up and win another game for the Jags. But this isn't just another game; it is the biggest game the Jaguars have played since the 2007 playoffs. And now we get to find out how this young team responds when its goal, which seemed so ambitious and unreachable when the season began, is actually within reach.