Jaguars assured of one home game in AFC playoffs
Posted: Tuesday December 14, 1999 01:36 PM
Jacksonville beat the Broncos despite just 11 completions and 115 yards passing from quarterback Mark Brunell. AP
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- For the first 20 minutes, the Denver Broncos played like Super Bowl champions. Over the last three, the Jacksonville Jaguars looked like the team that could supplant them.
After muddling through the better part of a rainy, wind-blown second half Monday night, the Jaguars turned explosive.
The result, a 27-24 victory on Mike Hollis' 23-yard field goal as time expired that kept Jacksonville (12-1) in control of the race for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
"Is Jacksonville the best team in the league? No," Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski said. "But what they're doing is finding a way to win. We used to do that. We need to find that again."
Fred Taylor, who entered when James Stewart sprained his foot in the third quarter, had runs of 14 and 7 yards to set up the winning kick after Dale Carter was hit with a 25-yard pass-interference penalty in single coverage on Jimmy Smith.
Just minutes earlier, Taylor burst through for a 38-yard touchdown run to give the Jaguars a 24-17 lead.
But Denver (4-9), which had struggled just as mightily as Jacksonville in the steady rain, tied it when Brian Griese hit Byron Chamberlain for a 57-yard touchdown pass against the Jaguars prevent defense. The tight end caught the ball in front of safety Blaine McElmurry, then bounced off a Fernando Bryant and rambled for the tying score with 1:43 left.
"There wasn't a lot to it," quarterback Mark Brunell said of the game-winning drive. "It said something about our offense. We just said to each other, 'Let's go win it. The defense has won enough games for us this year. Let's get one for ourselves.'"
Before that, the steady rain was the main story.
Jacksonville's first six drives of the second half resulted in three-and-outs, as Brunell, who finished 11-for-25 for 115 yards, had trouble handling the slippery ball.
Denver and Griese had little more luck, producing just a 40-yard field goal by Jason Elam for a 17-17 tie in the third quarter.
From there, the game turned into a defensive struggle, one in which Jacksonville held the field-position advantage and both teams seemed happy to wait for the other to make a crucial mistake.
Instead, they came up with big plays for the exciting finish.
None was bigger than Taylor's touchdown run, a burst in which he hit open field, pointed toward the end zone, then slowed just enough to protect his tender hamstring.
"I didn't want to mess anything up," Taylor said, referring to the injury. "I knew they weren't going to catch me."
"It was good to see the old Fred," Brunell said. "It wasn't just for what it did for us tonight, not only for the touchdown, but for Fred, too. It was a big confidence booster for him. It was great to see him when James came out. Fred's incredible, a great athlete."
In his first significant action in a month, Taylor finished with 74 yards on nine rushes. Stewart left with 79 yards on 18 carries.
Jacksonville beat the Broncos for the first time since its historic upset in the 1996 playoffs.
The win was more than symbolic. It helped the Jaguars regain their one-game lead over Indianapolis in the race for home-field advantage through the playoffs. It also increased their lead over Tennessee to two games in the AFC Central.
The loss stripped away the final, miniscule chance the Broncos had of making the playoffs and assured the two-time Super Bowl champions of their first losing season since 1994.
As usual, Mike Shanahan's team fought hard, but couldn't find a way to win. Unlike most previous games in this fractured season, it was the offense that came through and the defense that faltered.
"What's disappointing is that our offense put us in a position to win, or send the game into overtime," Romanowski said. "We just didn't get the job done when we needed to."
Griese, who finished 21-for-33 for 275 yards, completed his first 11 passes and led the Broncos on a pair of long touchdown drives John Elway would have been proud of. Denver had a 14-0 lead before the Jaguars had gained 5 yards of offense.
But that's when Stewart sparked the Jacksonville offense, leading the Jaguars to scores on their next three drives.
Stewart rushed for 34 yards on Jacksonville's first touchdown drive, which lasted 16 plays and covered 72 yards. It included a bold call by coach Tom Coughlin, who opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Denver 20. Brunell gained 2 yards on a quarterback sneak and five plays later, Stewart went 5 yards around left end to cut the deficit to 14-7.
The Jaguars scored twice more for a 17-14 lead before the rain started and the offenses bogged down.
Notes: The Broncos will finish with a losing record for the first time in Shanahan's five seasons. He went 8-8 in 1995, the year he replaced Wade Phillips. ... With the victory, Jacksonville overtook Miami for the best winning percentage of the 31 teams currently in the NFL. The Jaguars are 47-30 lifetime, good for a .610 winning percentage. The Dolphins are 307-198-4 (.607). ... Smith had five catches to move to 90 for the season, breaking Jacksonville's single-season record of 85 previously held by Keenan McCardell (1996 and 1997). ... Jacksonville's Aaron Beasley made his fifth interception of the year in the second quarter, tying him with Deon Figures for the club single-season record.
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