For almost four years now, Del Rio's team has been tough to beat. Jacksonville is 37-23 (.617) since the start of 2004, and hasn't had a losing season since going 5-11 in 2003 -- Del Rio's first year on the job.
But every time the Jaguars face a big test, they come up just short. It happened again Sunday at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. Jacksonville played well against Indy. But not well enough. The Jags made big plays, but the Colts made more. When Indy had to make something happen, it did. When the Jaguars had to stop the Colts, they couldn't.
Jacksonville is still 8-4 and in great shape to make the AFC playoffs for the second time in three years. But let's stop expecting the Jags to take that big step up in weight class, because it's not happening. Not this year, anyway. Jacksonville trails the 10-2 Colts in the AFC South by what amounts to three games with four to play, and the Jaguars are just 2-3 in their division -- the toughest in the NFL. They've now lost twice to Indy, and once to Tennessee.
As for the Colts, they remain the class of the division, injuries and all. Reports of their demise were -- as I suspected -- exaggerated. The Colts have won three in a row after their two-game losing streak in Weeks 9-10, and their continued return to health portends bad news for everyone in the AFC. I still expect the defending Super Bowl champions to make it to Foxboro for the Jan. 20 AFC Championship Game against the vaunted Patriots, which will be the de facto Super Bowl again this season.
• Emotion carries you only so far in football, which we learned anew on Sunday with Washington's last-minute 17-16 loss to visiting Buffalo -- a game the Redskins played with heavy hearts in the wake of SeanTaylor's murder last Monday.
The Bills, a team that had its season touched by the tragedy of KevinEverett's spinal cord injury on opening day, probably know this all too well. Buffalo beat Washington on five Rian Lindell field goals and a safety by linebacker AngeloCrowell, giving the Redskins one more difficult moment this week.
It's always difficult to play with the kind of burden that Washington faced Sunday, and it looked as if the Redskins found their emotional energy running low by game's end against Buffalo. At 5-7, with four consecutive losses and the sad task of attending Taylor's funeral in South Florida on Monday morning, the Redskins aren't expected to save their season or recover their emotional balance in the coming weeks.
• I realize it's a very personal decision to come up with a fitting tribute for a fallen teammate. In that respect, no one but the Redskins players and coaches were in position to know what felt right to honor Taylor's memory on Sunday. But the Redskins' call to go with 10 defenders on the field for their first snap didn't keep with Taylor's well-known love for the game and the competition he thrived on.
From what I've heard of Taylor, he would have never opted to give his opponent the slightest edge, even for one play. That's how fiercely he competed and how seriously he approached the game of football. If Taylor was known for playing the game all out, every play, it seems to me you honor him most as a team by playing all out, every play.
• Pray tell, if they can't handle a visiting Jets team that started the day at 2-9 overall and 0-5 on the road, who can the Dolphins (0-12) handle? No one. My gut tells me Miami can smell history at this point, and it's the living-in-infamy variety. Days after coming so close at Pittsburgh, losing 3-0 in the muck and mire Monday night, the Dolphins ran up the white flag at home against the Jets, absorbing a 27-point beating (40-13).
• One thing Dolphins rookie quarterback John Beck did pretty well in bad-weather losses the past two weeks at Philadelphia and at Pittsburgh was take care of the football, which at least gave his out-gunned team a chance to win.
But in sunny conditions against the Jets on Sunday, Beck threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles. Go figure.
• Now we know that was the game of A.J.Feeley's life he played last Sunday night in Foxboro against the Patriots. Feeley single-handedly got the Eagles beat this week, throwing three inexcusable interceptions to Seahawks middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu -- the last of which came deep in Seattle territory in the final seconds of a 28-24 loss. Tatupu started the day with just five interceptions in 43 career games.
So much for one quarterback controversy in Philadelphia: Feeley vs. injured starter Donovan McNabb. No one will be calling for Feeley to start again next week against the visiting Giants, no matter the status of McNabb's injuries.
Look for those fickle Eagles fans to instantly pivot and begin calling for rookie Kevin Kolb to start in place of McNabb.
• What a player Brian Westbrook is, and what waste of his huge 64-yard punt return in the final minutes of the Eagles loss. Westbrook's clutch play gave Philly the ball at the Seattle 14 with 1:16, but Feeley's fourth interception of the game made it all for naught.
• What is it about Seattle's defense and goal-line stands? Last week's win at St. Louis came down to one in the final minute, where Rams quarterback GusFrerotte's fumble at the 1 settled matters. This week at Philly, it wasn't quite as dramatic for the Seahawks, but no less rewarding. The Eagles had a first and goal at the Seattle 1 just before halftime, and couldn't score on three Westbrook runs and a Feeley pass that was incomplete.
• With the Eagles dropping to 5-7 and all but out of the NFC playoff picture, it looks like it's going to be an even 10 years in the NFL for Eagles linebacker Takeo Spikes, and 10 years without a trip to the postseason. Amazing. For five years in Cincinnati, four years in Buffalo, and now a season in Philadelphia, Spikes has been a standout player, but never a part of a playoff-bound team.
•I'm no doctor, but AdrianPeterson's knee looks pretty sound to me. Two games off didn't cost him a bit in terms of timing or his ability to hit the hole at full speed. I'd say the suddenly 6-6 Vikings navigated Peterson's injury situation as well as possible these past three weeks.
Don't look now, but the Vikings may be this year's version of the 2006 Eagles -- the late-season surprise that's headed for a playoff berth.
•Some of us owe a word of acknowledgment to Vikings head coach BradChildress: You were right. For the first time, we can see what he saw when he looked at the potential of quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. Against the Lions, Jackson had his second consecutive impressive game, this time completing an efficient 18 of 24 passes for 204 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception.
• Not that you couldn't see this coming to some degree, but the Lions are now in full fledged freefall, back at .500 after finishing the first half of the season at 6-2. And with Dallas, at San Diego, and at Green Bay still to come on Detroit's schedule, even staying at .500 is going to be an accomplishment.
From 6-2 to 7-9 might somehow feel even more disheartening in Detroit than all those desultory years of double-digit losses.
• As someone who covered both Vinny Testaverde and Trent Dilfer when they were first-round draft picks in Tampa Bay -- Testaverde became a Buc in 1987 and Dilfer in 1994 -- it was great watching those two old-timers battle it out Sunday in the Panthers 31-14 win over visiting San Francisco.
With Brad Johnson in Dallas, Brian Griese in Chicago, and Tim Rattay in Arizona, maybe the NFC is where all ex-Bucs quarterbacks eventually wind up.
• Lo and behold, Week 13 provided at least two things we were beginning to think we'd never see: Another Panthers home win (they had lost their last eight games in Bank of America Stadium) and some playing time for JaMarcusRussell (the Raiders rookie quarterback made his long-awaited debut in the first half against Denver).
• Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen scored Kansas City's only touchdown in its loss to visiting San Diego, and it came on a 2-yard pass from Damon Huard as yet another team is using defenders in its goal-line offense.
If Allen keeps catching touchdown passes, it just might affect me voting for him as the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year.
• Things seemingly have returned to normal in San Diego. The Chargers are winning thanks to LaDainian Tomlinson and defense. Quarterback PhilipRivers' only job is not lose the game.
• The Panthers weren't the only ones to get their first home win of the season. The Rams joined that club as well, besting the pathetic Falcons, who couldn't get much offense no matter who was playing quarterback -- Joey Harrington or Chris Redman. What a long, lost season it has been in Atlanta.