Jacksonville has won the past two matchups to take a 2-1 overall series lead.
With backup quarterback Quinn Gray under center, the Jaguars went back to some old-school football principles. They rushed the ball 44 times and counted on their stout defense to carry them through at Tampa Bay. The formula worked -- barely -- as the team intercepted Bucs quarterback Jeff Garcia three times and won 24-23. The Saints avoided such a close call in San Francisco, flummoxing the 49ers, 31-10. The win was their third straight and put them just one game out of first place in the NFC South after an 0-4 start.
At 5-2, the Jaguars are firmly positioned to compete for a playoff spot in the second half of the season. They were in similar position last year and faded down the stretch, missing the postseason by a game. They want to avoid any slip-ups this season and keep doubts prompted by last year's experience from settling in their minds. That starts with Sunday's game against the surging Saints. Speaking of the Saints, this game holds much importance for them. Just a game out of first, New Orleans has a chance to catapult to the top of the NFC South with its fourth consecutive victory.
Jaguars running backs vs. Saints defensive line. Now that LaBrandon Toefield has joined the party and formed a backfield trio with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, the run-oriented Jaguars are able to run the ball at an even higher clip. Coach Jack Del Rio brought Toefield in for short-yardage situations against the Bucs, and the fifth-year rusher responded with his first touchdown since 2005. Taylor, meanwhile, continued to play the role of workhorse back with 24 carries for 68 yards, and Jones-Drew kept his place as the speedy change-of-pace threat with 10 rushes and two catches for 62 total yards. Such versatile weapons in the ground game allow the Jaguars to put as little pressure on the inexperienced Gray as possible. It is up to the Saints' defensive line to neutralize the Jaguars' diverse running attack and force Jacksonville to rely on Gray to win the game. New Orleans is coming off of a game in which it dominated the line of scrimmage against the 49ers, holding star running back Frank Gore to only 41 yards on 12 carries. In order to knock off the Jaguars, the Saints will likely need to duplicate that effort against one of the most potent rushing teams they have faced.
Did you know?
Jaguars safety Reggie Nelson is tied for first in the AFC among rookies with two interceptions. ... The Saints have not surrendered a sack in four straight games.