Even though they're last in their divisions, the Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars are feeling pretty good about themselves right now.
The Lions (3-4) totaled 415 yards against one of the NFL's better defenses last week. The Jaguars (1-6) held one of the league's top offenses to a season-low 238 yards.
Both teams would like to build on those performances Sunday.
"Definitely one of our better offensive games of the year," Lions quarterback Matt Stafford said. "We played well as a team and got a little bit of momentum going. But we've got to capitalize and do it more than once. That's kind of something that we've been struggling with this year is putting two really good games back to back, so hopefully we can be ready to go this weekend and do a little bit more of the same."
That would have seemed like a slam dunk against Jacksonville before last week. The Jaguars hadn't done much on defense, giving up nearly 415 yards a game and getting little pressure on quarterbacks.
But coach Mike Mularkey's team may have turned a corner in a 24-15 loss at Green Bay. Even though the Packers played without top receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, the Jaguars were feisty from start to finish and looked much like the unit that finished sixth in the league last season.
And they did it short-handed.
The Jaguars were without safety Dwight Lowery as well as starting cornerbacks Derek Cox and Rashean Mathis.
Nonetheless, Jacksonville played its best defensive game of the season. The Jaguars sacked Aaron Rodgers twice and limited Green Bay to 5 of 13 on third down.
"We hate moral victories, but I'd have to say that was one of them," cornerback Aaron Ross said. "Progress is always good. As long as we're going on the up, it's always good as a defensive unit."
But can the Jaguars do it again? At home? Jacksonville has been outscored 95-20 in three home losses, getting blown out by Houston, Cincinnati and Chicago.
And the Lions are coming off one of their better offensive showings.
Stafford completed 34 of 49 passes for 352 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for a score in the 28-24 win over Seattle. And his receiving corps was far from a one-man show.
Titus Young caught nine passes for 100 yards and two scores, tight end Brandon Pettigrew added seven receptions for 74 yards and rookie Ryan Broyles hauled in his second touchdown of the season.
More importantly, the Lions allowed no sacks, had just one turnover and turned all three red-zone trips into touchdowns.
"One of the big things was we didn't have the physical mistakes," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "We executed well, we kept good drives alive on third down that gave us a chance to get in there."
All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson was held out of the end zone for the sixth time in seven games, but teammates credited him with creating plays for everyone else.
"Calvin opens things up for everybody and we have to return the favor by making plays," Broyles said.
Maybe the most intriguing part of this matchup is receiver Mike Thomas' return to Jacksonville after just a few days in Detroit. The Jaguars traded Thomas to the Lions for an undisclosed draft pick Tuesday.
Thomas fell out of favor with the new coaching staff in Jacksonville — a year after signing a three-year extension worth $18 million — and has a guaranteed contract in 2013. In Detroit, he likely will be the No. 4 receiver at best.
The Jaguars have little concern about Thomas possibly sharing knowledge about plays, audibles and hand signals.
"It's tough in the timeframe that plays take place in a game," Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey said.
Mularkey is more interested in keeping his defense playing like it did last week. With a second-year quarterback and star running back Maurice Jones-Drew sidelined with a foot injury, the Jaguars know their best chance to win is to play solid defense and take their chances in a tight, low-scoring game.
With Lowery out and uncertainty surrounding Cox and Mathis, the defense likely will need to keep pressure on Stafford and continue to tackle well in the open field to have a shot Sunday — the things Jacksonville did well last week.
"We did a lot of good things, a lot of things we can build on," safety Dawan Landry said. "We got pressure on the quarterback. The rush and coverage worked together the entire game. We've got to try to bring that into this week."
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