Jags in desperation mode after consecutive losses
No team has done more damage to Jacksonville's postseason hopes than the New England Patriots.
The Pats knocked the Jaguars out of the playoffs in 1996, 2005 and 2007, and have handed them more two late-season blows. New England's 26-20 victory at Jacksonville in 1997 prevented the Jaguars from earning the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. Instead, the Jaguars ended up playing on the road against eventual Super Bowl champion Denver.
Nine years later, the Patriots edged the Jaguars 24-21 in a game that could have landed Jacksonville a postseason berth.
New England has a chance to deliver another knockout punch Sunday in Foxborough, Mass.
``We are in a must-win situation and there's no shying away from that,'' quarterback David Garrard said Tuesday. ``It's the NFL. You hope you're in a must win. There's a lot of teams that know they can't win and get into the playoffs right now. We're happy to be in this position, but we've got to do something with it.''
The Jaguars (7-7) would be in a much better spot had they not lost consecutive games to Miami and Indianapolis. Nonetheless, they still have hope.
Although Baltimore and Denver (both 8-6) have a grip on the two wild-card spots, the Jaguars only need to win their final two games and have either the Ravens or Broncos falter to clinch a berth.
Probably? Maybe not.
Not only are the Patriots unbeaten at home this season, they have pretty much dominated the series against Jacksonville. New England is 7-1 against the Jaguars and has won four in a row. Maybe even more daunting, Jacksonville has never won in Foxborough (0-5).
But the Jaguars made it clear that history has nothing to do with Sunday's matchup. They're not playing the two-time defending Super Bowl champions like they did in the 2005 playoffs, and they're not facing the 17-0 team like they did in the 2007 playoffs.
``They had a special team and those are the years that they were making special runs,'' cornerback Rashean Mathis said. ``I'm sure they've knocked a lot of guys out of the playoffs and did a lot of things to a lot of teams. The teams they had those few years have gone down in history. We were just part of the run, part of the teams that were in their way. They had a great team. But this is not the same team. Not saying they're not capable of doing the same things, but it's not the same team.''
Jacksonville had its chances against the Dolphins and Colts. The Jaguars had the ball three times in Miami territory in the fourth quarter, but failed to convert two fourth-down plays and lost 14-10. They forced Indy to punt three times in the fourth last week, but gave up a 65-yard pass to Reggie Wayne on third down, then blew several chances down the stretch to retake the lead and lost 35-31.
Those close losses left the Jaguars in desperation mode.
``We had our opportunity,'' coach Jack Del Rio said. ``We want to try to create that opportunity and find a way to close it out in the end. You give yourself a chance. ... The fact that it didn't go the way you wanted in the end is not reason to throw up your hands and say, 'I give.' If anything, it's reason to go in with the commitment necessary to see the thing through.''
With five rookies in the starting lineup, eight others on the roster and a host of youngsters playing key roles, the Jaguars believe all that inexperience could pay off. After all, they have no clue about the history of the series and might not be affected by what Del Rio called the New England ``mystique.''
Just in case, though, Mathis wants his teammates to realize that nothing matters outside of what happens on the field Sunday.
``It's not the team from when they had their run,'' Mathis said. ``They're winning in different ways. They're finding ways to win without blowing teams out. We commend them on that effort, but we can't think in our head that we're playing the 'championship Patriots.' We're playing the Patriots of '09, and that's how you look at it.
``If you give a team too much respect, you're gonna get your doors blown off. You can't allow yourself to think that way and be successful.''