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The Terrible Twos
Peter King
December 23, 1996
Second-year Jaguars make a playoff run, Simeon Rice simmers in the desert, Wuerffel's future in question
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December 23, 1996

The Terrible Twos

Second-year Jaguars make a playoff run, Simeon Rice simmers in the desert, Wuerffel's future in question

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Team

Games

Years

1. Cowboys

14

1988 to '89

2. Buccaneers

13

1976 to '77

Oilors

13

1972 to '73

4. Jets

11

1995 to present

Rams

11

1961 to 63

Raiders

11

1961 to '62

As the Jaguars ran out the clock at the end of their 20-13 win over the visiting Seahawks on Sunday night, several young players on the Jacksonville sideline began celebrating. Eighth-year defensive end Jeff Lageman held up one finger and went from player to player. "One more," he reminded them. "One more."

The Jaguars? Playing for their postseason life? That's what Jacksonville was doing against Seattle, and that's what it will be doing again this Sunday when it hosts the moribund Falcons. In fact, barring a tie in the Bills-Chiefs game, Jacksonville, 8-7, will qualify for the playoffs as an AFC wild card with a win over Atlanta. Imagine, with the regular season winding down, one second-year expansion team, the Panthers, is already in the playoffs and the other, the Jaguars, are knocking on the door.

Of course, Carolina and Jacksonville aren't expansion teams in the traditional sense. "These are free-agency teams," says Packers general manager Ron Wolf, pointing out that both clubs had access to standout players through unfettered free agency that no other newcomers to the NFL ever had. The Panthers have 10 starters who came to them as free agents, and the Jags have 11. But here are some other reasons why Jacksonville, winner of five of its last six games after a 3-6 start, is already on the playoff bubble.

1) The Jaguars' passing game is finally efficient. On Oct. 20 in St. Louis, Jacksonville had 36 first downs to the Rams' eight—and lost. Quarterback Mark Brunei I threw five interceptions that day. Now he has gone more than three games—90 pass attempts—without having been picked off. On Sunday he became the first quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards this season, and at 26, he has a chance to form a bond with a couple of his favorite receivers, young free-agent pickups Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith.

2) The coach isn't a dictator anymore. Instead of establishing a rule for every facet of team life, as he did during the Jaguars' inaugural season, coach Tom Coughlin has loosened up. He also no longer makes Jacksonville practice in pads on Fridays and has turned Monday's practice into strictly a weightlifting and film-watching session. "He's not Mr. High Strung anymore." says Jaguars defensive tackle Don Davey. "We're looser now, and it's a big reason we're winning."

3) Young defensive players are producing. Rookie end Tony Brackens, a second-round pick out of Texas, may have been the steal of the 1996 draft. Against the Seahawks he had 12 tackles, four passes deflected, one interception and a sack. Linebackers Eddie Robinson, a fifth-year player, and Kevin Hardy, the second overall pick in last spring's draft, lead Jacksonville in tackles. And rookie cornerback Aaron Beasley, a third-round pick, has played well since moving into the starting lineup six games ago. Beasley has 25 tackles and one interception.

"We take pride in what we've accomplished so far," Lageman says. "We know we've got a chance to be pretty good."

Rice Is Nice

When it came time for the Cardinals to make the third pick in the April draft, Arizona fans wanted the front office to select quarterback bodyguard Jonathan Ogden, a tackle from UCLA. But in a surprise move coach Vince Tobin chose Illinois defensive end Simeon Rice instead.

Rice's stock had dropped during his senior season, but he has been paying dividends for the Cardinals. In a 27-26 win over the Redskins on Sunday, he had two sacks, giving him 12� for the season and tying the NFL rookie record set by Leslie O'Neal of the Chargers in 1986.

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