How ‘bout them Jaguars?

By Paul Stanley  |   Wednesday, September 13, 2006  |  Comments( 0 )

Jacksonville Jaguars
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On Sunday, the Jacksonville Jaguars stunned the media world with a 24-17 victory over the visiting Dallas Cowboys. Though the Jaguars had the Vegas edge until a few days before the game, the general consensus among sportswriters was that the Cowboys would walk out of Alltel Stadium with a win in their laps and a chip on their shoulder. They now have neither.

Terrell Owens hopped off his exercise bike and stripped out of his Floyd Landis jersey long enough to take the field against the Jaguars secondary, but failed to meet the lofty expectations of Dallas fans and media members. Owens finished the game with six catches for 80 yards and a touchdown (which was earned during a "garbage time drive" late in the game). After settling in to the matchup during the first quarter, cornerback Rashean Mathis did an excellent job of deflating the ego and the production of one of the game's elite receivers. If Mathis were a bartender, it would be fitting to say that he urinated in a Terrell Owens Custom White Stadium Cup (only $10.00 at terrellowens.com) and passed it back to Terrell as warm beer.

Brian Williams also matched up well against the much-ballyhooed receiver and his counterpart, Terry Glenn. Until Bledsoe was able to connect with him for a 51-yard gain with 3:00 left in the game, Williams limited Glenn, who finished fourth in the league in receiving yards during the preseason, to only 30 reception yards. Going into his first game as a Jaguar, Williams was a big question mark. Would he play to the level he was paid at? Would he adapt well to coordinator Mike Smith's defense? Would the fallout resulting from last week's DUI charge affect his level of play?

After becoming the object of Jack Del Rio's wrath during a sideline tirade early in the game, Williams ran back
out on the field and performed admirably. The replay-negated interception that should have finished the game would have been the perfect end (or beginning) of a tumultuous week for the defensive back.

Assistant head coach Dave Campo faced the Cowboys, with little fanfare, for his first time as a coach for the Jaguars. In a meeting that likely held little serious significance to anyone except Campo and his ex-employer,
Jerry Jones, the former's secondary emerged as a key contributor to the Cowboys' defeat. Campo was the Dallas head coach from 2000-2002, when he was fired by Jones and replaced by Parcells.

The run-stuffing defense allowed little space for Julius Jones to squeeze through, holding him to 72 yards and a touchdown. Despite the recent injuries of Mike Peterson and Marcus Stroud, which limited their effectiveness during the game, the Jaguars did a good job of clogging up the middle. Defensive End Reggie Hayward, who led the Jaguars last year with 8 ½ sacks and looked poised to have a big season, ruptured his Achilles' tendon and was pronounced out for the year.

Even so, the Jaguars kept Bledsoe on his back so long that he was beginning to resemble Michelangelo painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel; they sacked Bledsoe twice, forced two interceptions and a few near-INTs, and constantly put pressure on the Cowboys' QB.

Throughout the offseason, the question marks attached to Jaguars QB Byron Leftwich centered around the need for him to elevate his game to the level of the league's indisputably elite passers. First quarter removed, Sunday was certainly a step in the right direction. Leftwich ended the game 23-for-34 with a completion percentage of 67.6 and a passer rating of 85. He looked poised in the pocket, and the offensive line gave him ample time to spread the ball around to the Jaguars' "Big 3" receivers - Ernest Wilford, Matt Jones, and Reggie Williams.

Though none of the receivers notched a 100-yard game, each finished the night with over 40 yards. We saw bursts of excellent play from the trio last year, but none displayed enough consistency to markedly stand out from the bunch. Sunday's game was proof that all of them have the ability to produce when called upon and make clutch catches in tight situations. Jones ended the game with 71 yards on five receptions, Wilford with 58 yards on three receptions, and Williams with 47 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions.

Fred Taylor ran out of the tunnel and on to the field with a lot to prove. Naysayers around the league had written off Taylor's chances for a good year early in the offseason. Though it'll take at least one healthy, productive season before he can begin to shed the "Fragile Fred" moniker and prove that he is still a force to be reckoned with, Sunday's performance was key to the cause. Taylor ran for 74 yards on 21 carries - while not the best looking statistics on paper, those who watched Taylor's performance would argue that he played far above those numbers. Not only was Taylor able to convert on the ground on clutch third-down situations, he was also tied for the team high in receptions with six for 41 yards.

For all of the inconsistency the offensive line displayed during the preseason, it looked remarkably sharp against the Cowboys' defense. Leftwich had plenty of time to throw, the run blocking was excellent and only one sack was allowed. In the preseason, the statement center Brad Meester made that this year's offense is "the best since he's been here" caused him to look like a court jester. Now he's beginning to look like a seer.

But, don't get carried away yet. This is only one win. As Del Rio is fond of pointing out, "We have to take it one game at a time".

One win doesn't equal a Super Bowl season. It doesn't equal a playoff berth. It's doesn't equal a divisional championship. The players and the team have a long way to go, and a lot to prove. Winning the upcoming Monday Night Football game against the Steelers would put the Jags one step further in the direction they want to head in.

Still, even if winning the Cowboys' game was only one small step in the marathon of an NFL season, it's a step worth getting excited about for Jacksonville. As Neil Armstrong once said...

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