JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - When the Jacksonville Jaguars last made the playoffs in 2005, they hardly scared anyone.
The New England Patriots even treated their season finale like an exhibition game, welcoming a loss and a first-round matchup with Jacksonville.
No one seems eager to face the Jaguars (11-4) this time around, and for good reason.
"We're not robots. We hear it," linebacker Clint Ingram said. "It's good to hear, but you've got to prove it every game. We want to go out there and punch teams in the mouth and let them know that this isn't what they want."
The Jaguars have won six of their last seven games, including a 49-11 victory against Oakland on Sunday that clinched the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs. Jacksonville's only loss during that stretch was a 28-25 setback at defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis.
Nonetheless, the Jaguars have scored at least 24 points in nine consecutive games and produced at least 400 yards in five straight.
Running back Fred Taylor has five consecutive 100-yard games, and quarterback David Garrard has shown he can lead the offense in clutch situations.
The defense, which struggled early in the season by failing to pressure quarterbacks and allowing too many long passing plays, has enjoyed its best three performances the last three weeks. The unit allowed a combined 581 yards in wins against Carolina (149), Pittsburgh (217), and Oakland (215).
"We ain't sneaking up on anybody," defensive end Paul Spicer said. "We're going to be physical. We've got an offense that can run the ball and pass the ball and a defense that can get after the passer and stop the run. That's what we're going to need in the playoffs."
The Jaguars, who play a meaningless game at Houston on Sunday, will travel to either Pittsburgh or San Diego in the first round of the playoffs. Jacksonville already beat both of those teams in the regular season, edging the Chargers, 24-17, on Nov. 18 and then upsetting the Steelers, 29-22, on Dec. 16 in the cold, snow and mud.
"It doesn't matter who we play," defensive tackle John Henderson said. "If we go out there and play the football we know how to play, we can beat anybody. They know we're going to compete, and that's a challenge."
The Jaguars didn't provide much of a challenge in the playoffs two years ago.
They were returning to the postseason for the first time since 1999, had several defenders banged up, and were switching quarterbacks - going from Garrard back to Byron Leftwich, who missed the final five regular-season games with a broken left ankle.
Jacksonville had won eight of its final nine games, but all the victories came against teams with a losing record.
The Patriots seemed desperate to host Jacksonville. Running back Corey Dillon and linebacker Tedy Bruschi were inactive for the finale, a 28-26 loss to Miami. Tom Brady played just one quarter, and coach Bill Belichick didn't even call on Doug Flutie to back him up. Third-stringer Matt Cassel got the most snaps he'd seen since high school.
And remember Flutie's role? Belichick had him drop-kick an extra point while the game was still competitive. Cassel led New England to the potential game-tying touchdown with no time left, then strangely - some would say purposely - overthrew the two-point conversion attempt.
The Cincinnati Bengals, who would have faced Jacksonville if New England won, also offered a check swing in their finale and lost, 37-3, to Kansas City.
The Bengals fell to eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh, and the Patriots thumped the Jaguars, 28-3, in the opening round.
"I feel a lot more confident in this team," Taylor said. "We've got a few new faces, but the guys that went to New England still have that sour taste in their mouths and they're trying to avoid that happening again. I'm excited about that, knowing that they feel that way."
And the Jaguars have reason to be more confident.