Jacksonville clinched its first playoff berth since 1999 by scoring three fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 38-20 comeback victory over Houston on Saturday.
With it, the Jaguars erased the ugly memory of a 21-0 loss to Houston last year on Dec. 26 that dashed their playoff hopes.
The Jaguars trailed 13-10 at halftime and 20-17 in a game where the suddenly scrappy Texans refused to go away.
"We knew it wasn't going to be easy," said Jacksonville receiver Jimmy Smith. "But we've become a second-half team this year. I don't necessarily like it that way -- we don't like to have to come back. But we have matured enough to be poised and do whatever we have to do to come away with a win."
Fred Taylor's 15-yard touchdown with just more than nine minutes remaining gave Jacksonville a 24-20 lead. Taylor shook off three defenders and carried another into the end zone.
Jacksonville (11-4) added two touchdowns late in the game on a 36-yard reception by Ernest Wilford and a 17-yard run by LaBrandon Toefield set up by an interception. That touchdown was Toefield's third score of the day.
It is the sixth game this season Jacksonville won after trailing at halftime.
The Jaguars let Houston (2-13) stick around until the final quarter, but in the end the Texans were foiled by several costly penalties, dropping three would-be interceptions and missing two second-half field goals. They also have the league's worst record after San Francisco beat St. Louis; the Texans play at the 49ers in the finale.
"We had our opportunities and were close on a few, but we didn't make the plays it takes to beat a good football team," said Texans coach Dom Capers.
Wilford's touchdown prompted about a dozen Texans fans to begin a spirited chant of "Reg-gie Bush, Reg-gie Bush," in reference to the Heisman Trophy winner from Southern Cal, who'll likely be the first pick in the draft if he decides to leave school early.
"If another team was in the same situation we're in, the fans would be doing the same thing," said Texans receiver Andre Johnson. "They come out and support us every week, but when you're down you have to do something to cheer yourself up."
Houston led 13-10 at halftime on the strength of a 50-yard touchdown pass by Carr and two field goals, including a 53-yarder by Kris Brown. Brown missed a 38-yard field goal in the third quarter and one from 48 in the fourth.
Taylor was held to just 39 yards in the first half, but came on in the second, to finish with 101 yards and a score.
David Garrard was hurried and harassed by the Houston defense all day, but still managed to throw for 292 yards. He fumbled twice, but both were recovered by Jacksonville. Twice he threw balls right into the hands of Houston defenders on the goal line, but they couldn't hold on.
"David played a really good game," said Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio about Garrard, who is 2-2 since taking over for injured starter Byron Leftwich. "He's done a good job while Byron's been down."
But he still might lose his job if Leftwich returns this season. Del Rio said Leftwich ran and threw some passes late this week, but he's awaiting a doctor's report on his injured foot.
Garrard hopes he can retain his starting job even if Leftwich is healthy.
"It's up to them," Garrard said. "But I'm not going to lie. I'd like it to be me."
Toefield's second touchdown put Jacksonville ahead 17-13 in the third quarter, but Houston answered quickly. Houston's Johnson flew by Jaguars cornerback Terry Cousin on a 53-yard touchdown pass from Carr to take its final lead of the game.
Johnson had his second 100-yard game of the season with seven catches for 119 yards.
It's the first playoff berth for the Jaguars under Del Rio, who's in his third season.
"It was a big undertaking when we got here," said Del Rio, who was doused with Gatorade as time expired. "Obviously they don't give a young coach a team chuck full of talent, ready for the Super Bowl. We had a lot of work to do when we got here and its starting to pay off."
- Texans defensive end Gary Walker injured his triceps on Jacksonville's first play from scrimmage and did not return.
- Toefield's touchdowns were his first rushing since 2003.
- Only Smith, Taylor, tight end Kyle Brady and safety Donovin Darius (injured reserve) remain from the Jacksonville team that made the playoffs in 1999.