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Conservative Jags get creative in dominating win

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- During a full-squad meeting Thursday, Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio revealed that he intended to pull out all the stops for Sunday's matchup against a Houston Texans outfit that had proven to be difficult in recent seasons.

There would be no staid or stodgy blueprint for this contest, promised the normally conservative Del Rio. Instead, he had a game plan filled with gambits and some gimmickry.

The reaction of Jaguars' players?

"I think we were too stunned to react," said quarterback David Garrard following Sunday's 37-17 rout of the Texans, the fourth straight victory for Jacksonville after an opening-game defeat. "I mean, you're not talking about the most go-for-it coach, you know? But once it sunk in, we were all pretty excited. We were really looking forward to it."

And perhaps Del Rio was peeking down the road, most notably to next Monday night's big divisional game here against the Indianapolis Colts.

Jacksonville is the last team to defeat the defending Super Bowl XLI champions, whipping the Colts here 44-17 on Dec. 10, 2006, a meeting in which the Jaguars shredded Indianapolis for 375 rushing yards. Indianapolis has won a dozen straight games since, including a Super Bowl victory over the Chicago Bears.

The Colts will arrive in Jacksonville undefeated, leading the Jaguars by one game in a division they have essentially owned since 2003 and well-rested after a bye week. But they will find a Jacksonville team brimming with confidence and riding a wave of momentum.

And that's in part because of Del Rio's uncharacteristic decision during preparations last week to let everything hang out against a Houston team that had defeated Jacksonville in four of the past six meetings, including twice in 2006.

"Basically, he's showing a lot of confidence in all of us," said standout cornerback Rashean Mathis, who registered eight tackles for a gritty defense that kept the Texans out of the end zone until the final half-minute. "I think he knows that this defense can stop people, no matter the situation, no matter where the [opposing offense] gets the ball. To see us taking shots the way we did today, it gets us all pumped up, really. Standing on the sideline, we all turn into fans. It's a great attitude to have."

To be fair, it wasn't as if Del Rio was suddenly transformed into a riverboat gambler. But he did throw off some of his most veteran players with his aggressive philosophy.

Twice in the opening half, Del Rio kept his offense on the field on fourth-down situations, and twice the Jaguars converted on the drives that ended with touchdowns.

The resourceful Garrard, who became the first quarterback in franchise history to register four straight passer efficiency ratings of 100.0 or better, gained two yards on a fourth-and-1 sneak three plays before connecting with tight end George Wrighster on a 1-yard scoring pass. On a fourth-and-5 from the Houston 28-yard line, when the logical call would have been a John Carney field goal attempt, Del Rio eschewed the three-point try.

Garrard responded with a five-yard completion to wide receiver Matt Jones for a first down, and the drive ended with his nine-yard touchdown pass to wideout Reggie Williams.

In addition, Del Rio twice challenged the officials' calls on the field, and gained a reversal that nullified a Houston touchdown. But the most daring gambit came following Wrighster's touchdown, which gave the Jaguars a 7-6 lead.

Digging into his previously shallow bag of tricks, Del Rio dialed up an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, and Carney recovered the dribbler. The subsequent drive produced only a Carney 37-yard field goal, but the entire sequence established a clear mind-set for the Jaguars and also sent a message, maybe one that will reach the Colts.

Said Del Rio of the onside kick: "We talked as a football team about playing to win, and doing it in attack mode, and it was something we thought we could accomplish."

Jacksonville has defeated the Colts just three times in 10 division games since the franchises were placed in the AFC South by the 2002 realignment. But those three victories, two of them here, have come in the past seven games, and last year's domination of Indianapolis will serve as a rallying point during this week's preparation.

As will the confidence Del Rio demonstrated Sunday in his team.

Jacksonville has surrendered only 58 points in five games, second fewest in the league, and no opponent has scored more than 17 points. The offense isn't scintillating, but Garrard has learned to manage games well and has yet to throw an interception this season. The Jaguars' passing game is too horizontal at times -- both of Garrard's completions of 20 yards or more Sunday were to running backs on screens or checkdowns -- but the Jags can control the tempo with the run.

On Sunday, mighty-mite tailback Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 125 yards on just 12 carries, including a 57-yard scoring burst in the fourth quarter. He also had four receptions for a team-high 59 yards. Yet, insisted starting tailback Fred Taylor, who had a 76-yard run before his legs tightened up on him, there remains unfinished business.

"We took one step up the hill," Taylor said. "But what's the goal? It's to get to the top of the hill, right? And that's what next week is about."

Middle linebacker Mike Peterson, who played the first four seasons of his career with the Colts before signing with Jacksonville as an unrestricted free agent in 2003, left little doubt about the significance of next Monday's game.

"I'm not going to sugarcoat it or talk it down," Peterson said. "It's huge. But we certainly got ourselves into the right [frame] of mind today, that's for sure. ... You really have to be aggressive to beat [the Colts], and we were let-it-all-out aggressive today."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.