Browns pose tough challenge to Jaguars

By Brett Huston
STATS Writer

The Jacksonville Jaguars’ playoff chances were in their own hands just

three weeks ago. Three disheartening losses later, the Jaguars need

what amounts to a minor miracle to qualify for the postseason – and

winning their finale is suddenly far from a sure thing.

The Jaguars look to bounce back from a four-touchdown defeat and give

themselves a glimmer of hope Sunday when they visit the resurgent

Cleveland Browns, who try to close with their first four-game winning

streak in more than 15 years.

Jacksonville

(7-8) opened with consecutive losses and endured a 41-0 drubbing at

Seattle three weeks later, but five wins in its next seven games left

coach Jack Del Rio’s team in the driver’s seat for an AFC wild card

berth thanks to a 6-2 conference record.

The Jaguars were in a precarious position after consecutive home losses

to Miami and Indianapolis in early December, and after visiting New

England last Sunday, now find themselves on the brink of elimination.

The Patriots held a five-touchdown lead one play into the fourth

quarter, and David Garrard’s fourth-quarter run was the only scoring

Jacksonville could muster in a 35-7 loss.

“Blew it,” said running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who leads the AFC with

15 rushing touchdowns and needs one rushing or receiving to tie Fred

Taylor’s single-season record (17) set in 1998. “That’s pretty much

what it came down to. We didn’t do what we needed to do to win games.

It wasn’t really what other teams did to us, we just beat ourselves.”

Jacksonville isn’t eliminated, but needs to beat the Browns (4-11) and

have a bevy of other results go their way. Five teams are ahead of the

Jaguars in the wild-card race, meaning they need at least four losses

among games involving Baltimore, the New York Jets, Pittsburgh, Denver

and Houston to get in.

The Ravens (at

Oakland) and Broncos (hosting Kansas City) are double-digit favorites,

as are the Jets, who host a Cincinnati team that will likely rest its

starters with the AFC North wrapped up.

“For all that to happen it would be crazy,” said linebacker Daryl

Smith, the team’s leading tackler. “That’s not our focus. Our focus is

on getting a win at Cleveland. The opportunities were there. Three

straight home games and we just let it slip away.”

Beating the Browns seemed like the least of Jacksonville’s concerns a few weeks ago, but it now looks like quite a challenge.

Cleveland was 1-11 after losing 30-23 to San Diego on Dec. 6, and had

been held to seven points or fewer in seven of those losses. The Browns

recorded eight sacks in a 13-6 win over Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh

on Dec. 10, but they also tied a season high with 171 yards on the

ground.

Jerome Harrison, who came into

Cleveland’s Week 15 game at Kansas City with 301 total rushing yards,

has put the running game on his shoulders the past two weeks. He had

286 yards – the third-most prolific rushing day in NFL history – and

three scores in a 41-34 win over the Chiefs, then ran for 148 yards and

a TD in a 23-9 win over Oakland.

“We see

it as we’re moving in the right direction,” Harrison said. “If my

number is called, I just try to make the best of it, whether it’s

running, blocking, catching, whatever it may be.”

The Browns haven’t won four straight games since 1994 – the year before

the franchise left for Baltimore – and haven’t closed with four

consecutive victories since 1986.

Beyond

that, though, they may be playing for coach Eric Mangini’s job.

Cleveland hired Mike Holmgren to be its new team president Dec. 22, and

Holmgren, who won a Super Bowl in Green Bay, hasn’t decided whether to

retain Mangini after just one season.

“I’m

not a big fan of the quick hook,” he said. “I never did that with

quarterbacks when they played for me and I really don’t think one year

is enough to prove what you’re trying to get done. I wouldn’t be a big

fan of just allowing a guy to coach just one year and out. But having

said that, I haven’t made any decisions yet.”

With Brady Quinn out, Derek Anderson will be at the helm for the second

straight week. Anderson has failed to surpass 122 yards through the air

in his past five starts, but he threw for 246 yards and a TD in

Cleveland’s 23-17 win at Jacksonville last season.

David Garrard passed for 283 yards and two scores, but Jones-Drew was held to 29 yards on 12 carries.

The Browns, however, are 0-5 at home against Jacksonville.

Received 12/30/09 02:52 pm ET