JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) – Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio had issued a gag order to his team regarding the words “playoffs” and “postseason,” hoping players would avoid looking ahead or concerning themselves with anything outside the task at hand.

He lifted the ban this week.

“We can quit dancing around the subject and get right to it,” Del Rio said. “We’re right here in it. We’re really in that playoff mode of must win. The margin for error has been eliminated, and it’s at that time of year where you must win to stay in.”

Jacksonville (8-6) probably needs to win both its remaining games – beginning today against New England – to secure a playoff spot for the second straight year.

Fortunately for the Jaguars, their postseason push begins at home, where they have been dominant on defense this season. They have allowed 64 points in seven games, posted two shutouts and pretty much manhandled five postseason-contending teams: Pittsburgh, Dallas, the New York Jets, Tennessee, the New York Giants and Indianapolis.

Unfortunately for the Jags, it also begins against the Patriots (10-4), who eliminated them from the playoffs last season and have plenty at stake as they return to the site of their last Super Bowl victory.

New England can clinch its fourth consecutive AFC East title with a win or a loss by the Jets.

“It’s a very meaningful game for us. I know it is for them,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “It’s an important game for our season. We’re playing for a championship, so in that sense, it’s a playoff game.”

The Pats should hope for a result similar to last year’s playoff game against Jacksonville. They dismantled the Jags 28-3 with four huge plays in the second half.

Tight end Ben Watson fumbled on New England’s first possession of the third quarter, and the Patriots recovered to set up first-and-goal. On the next play, Brady threw a touchdown pass to David Givens that gave the Pats a 14-3 lead.

Jacksonville’s Jimmy Smith dropped a perfectly thrown third-down pass on the ensuing possession. The Jaguars then looked like they would force the Patriots to punt, but Watson broke three tackles and rambled 63 yards for a score and a 21-3 advantage.

Asante Samuel intercepted Byron Leftwich’s fourth-down pass on the next drive and returned it 73 yards for a touchdown.

Just like that, Jacksonville’s season was over.

“They took care of business and advanced and we went home,” Del Rio recalled. “Now, we get them here in a regular-season game and it’s another important game. It’s not a playoff game, but it’s another important game, and we get the opportunity to play better.”

Jacksonville has played considerably better at home this season. The Jags are 6-1 at Alltel Stadium and haven’t allowed more than 17 points in any game.

They gave up 17 points twice – against the Cowboys in the opener and against the Colts two weeks ago – but two of the four TD drives allowed in those games came in the fourth quarter with the outcome already decided.

“We want to play like that all the time,” Jags safety Deon Grant said. “We want to shut people out every week. We’ve done it at home. We should have done it last week in Tennessee, but it didn’t happen. We just hope it continues.”

Even in Jacksonville’s lone home loss, a 13-10 shocker against Houston last month, the defense was stout but couldn’t overcome David Garrard’s four interceptions.

Jacksonville would be in a much better postseason situation had it not lost at Tennessee last week. The Jaguars surrendered 98 total yards and five first downs on defense and managed 396 yards and 23 first downs on offense, but they lost 24-17 because Garrard had two interceptions and a fumble returned for touchdowns.

“Like a couple of other games this year, we clearly had a dominant game other than the scoreboard, which is where it matters the most,” running back Fred Taylor said. “We’ll just try to eliminate some of our miscues and come out with this win.”

As for Garrard, he said he already put his latest error-filled game behind him and moved on.

“I used the “Men in Black” button,” Garrard said, referring to the gadget agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) used to erase memory. “What happened last week?”

The Patriots, meanwhile, would like to forget their last trip to Florida. It ended with a 21-0 loss at Miami two weeks ago and was followed by reports the Dolphins bought audio recordings that helped them decipher Brady’s pre-snap signals.

But New England’s previous trip to Jacksonville was much more memorable. It ended with a 24-21 victory against Philadelphia in the 2005 Super Bowl.

“Any time you have an experience like we had down there, it’s not one you’re ever going to forget,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “It’s one of the most memorable weeks and games of our lives for those of us who participated in it, but I don’t think that really has anything to do with this game. We’re playing a different team, obviously, and we’re playing them in their stadium as to opposed to the other situation.

“I don’t think we’ll get any hospitality down there. I think we got a lot more last time we were there than we’re going to get this time. So, it’ll be tough. It’ll be hostile.”

AP-ES-12-21-06 1740EST


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