Homecoming for Jaguars’ Del Rio, Jones-Drew
November 28, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO – Back in his dominant high school days, Maurice Jones-Drew didn’t let himself think too far ahead about his football future, or what he might be able to do in the NFL despite being undersized.
He was relishing every moment and the thrill of continuing a record winning streak at prep powerhouse De La Salle in the Bay Area. Jones-Drew helped the school reach 138 straight victories.
On Sunday, Jones-Drew returns home hoping to make it four in a row for his Jacksonville Jaguars. A potential AFC playoff team, Jacksonville can’t afford a slip-up with games against New England and Indianapolis still on the schedule.
“We have to be on our Ps and Qs this week,” Jones-Drew said.
Sunday’s game at Candlestick Park is a matchup of teams in different situations. The Jaguars (6-4) want to maintain the momentum they’ve established in recent weeks by winning three straight games and four of five. Mike Singletary’s 49ers (4-6) are desperate to turn things around after losing five of six following a promising 3-1 start – the last four defeats all by seven or fewer points.
“Where we are right now is we are still hurting ourselves,” Singletary said. “We are our own worst enemy. If we could just beat the enemy within, then we have a chance to go out and beat the one we are playing against.”
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The Jaguars rarely get to Oakland or San Francisco, so Jones-Drew and fellow Bay Area native coach Jack Del Rio will have their fair share of people to see: friends, family, former coaches. Many bought tickets as soon as the schedule came out.
“Ha. There’s going to be a bunch of them there. It’s more family,” Jones-Drew said. “I bought 150 tickets, so it will probably be 400 or 500 more people, maybe 1,000, I don’t know.”
Del Rio hasn’t had many opportunities to come back home as an NFL head coach and he expects a handful of his former Hayward High coaches to be in the stands.
Yet for the Jaguars, this trip is really more about taking a step closer to their goal of getting back to the playoffs. They reached the postseason in 2007 and began last season with Super Bowl hopes but weren’t even close and finished 5-11.
If Jacksonville can get through Sunday’s game, the Jaguars will be riding high heading into a stretch with three consecutive home games.
“There’s some things we have to correct, but we’re winning and that’s really the main issue,” Jones-Drew said. “That’s the best thing about it. We’re not playing as efficient on offense and we’re giving up some plays on offense that we should be making.”
Jones-Drew will be eager to redeem himself after being held to 66 yards on 25 carries in last Sunday’s 18-15 win over Buffalo, 30 yards below his season average.
Jones-Drew has scored 13 touchdowns and has at least one in five straight games. Teammate Torry Holt has caught a pass in 163 consecutive games.
A fourth-year pro, Jones-Drew is all of 5-foot-7 and 208 pounds, with thighs that measure 32 to 33 inches compared to his 34-inch waist. Jones-Drew drew plenty of skeptics along the way because of his height.
“All his life he’s had people tell him why he couldn’t do things,” Del Rio said, “and he’s gone out and done them.”
Del Rio’s teams have had some tough days out West, including a 41-0 loss at Seattle in Week 5.
Del Rio brought his team to Oakland for the final game of the 2004 season and the Jaguars learned they were eliminated from playoff contention moments after a 13-6 win that made them 9-7. It was Jacksonville’s first winning season in five years, but the Jaguars were aiming to extend their season considering Jacksonville hosted the Super Bowl that year.
This marks just the second time in franchise history – also in 2004 – the team has two road games out West. The Jaguars own their first three-game winning streak since 2007 and have won six of eight since an 0-2 start. They have already topped their win total from 2008.
San Francisco’s offense, meanwhile, has to get on track, whether Alex Smith is handing off to Frank Gore or passing to Vernon Davis or Michael Crabtree, whether Smith is under center or in the shotgun.
Singletary has been facing constant questions whether the 49ers would be better off opening up the offense and letting Smith pass all day. The coach says it’s just not that simple.
“I don’t think that the gun or under center has much to do with it,” Smith said. “It frustrates me in a sense because I don’t think that it’s just the adjustment, it’s us executing. That’s the biggest thing, too. … We’ve got to get going. That’s on all of us.”
Smith has only started the last four games since taking over for Shaun Hill at halftime Oct. 25 at Houston. Smith wants a balanced attack as much as Singletary does, but it all starts with the offensive line and Smith having time to make plays.
“We’ve got one of the top running backs in the NFL and need to find a way to continue to get him the ball, put him in situations to succeed,” Smith said. “And I think it’s finding a mix there, finding a balance, however you get it done.”