When he left Jacksonville in 1998, Rob Johnson was a young quarterback on the rise. What's happened since? Why hasn't he achieved the level of success predicted for him?
His career in Buffalo has been sabotaged by three factors: a bad offensive line, Johnson's lack of durability, and the popularity and magical qualities of Doug Flutie.
Now, the team that signed Johnson to a $25 million contract that went a long way toward destroying the Bills' salary cap, will use tomorrow night's game and every game the remainder of this season to determine if Johnson still has a future worthy of the more-than-$11-million cap hit he'd be next season.
"We knew a player of that quality sitting there after the third round was just too good to pass up," Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin says of having drafted Johnson with the first pick of the second day of the 1995 NFL draft. It was a draft that also gave us Kerry Collins, Steve McNair and Kordell Stewart.
Johnson returns to Jacksonville tomorrow to reclaim the promise of his past, and that may be what's most worrisome about this game for the Jaguars. These kinds of stories have a way of playing out, especially when they're on national, though not local, television.
In every other way, the Bills should be an easy foe for the Jaguars to measure. The Bills are a team with two bad lines and more injuries than they've been able to overcome. They are 28th in the league in overall defense and 29th against the run. The Bills are 0-4 and the distinct leader in the race for the first pick of next year's draft, but they are worthy of the Jaguars' anxiety, and it all centers around Johnson.
Here's "10 things" the Jaguars have to do to beat the Bills:
- Sack Johnson--This isn't meant to wish ill will on the former Jags quarterback, but completing games hasn't been his thing, and getting him out of the game should be the Jaguars' first order of business.
- Sense the urgency--Tomorrow's game is the final leg of the Jaguars' favorable opening schedule. If they don't beat the Bills, any hope of being a playoff contender this season will quickly fade.
- Help the tackles--Mark Brunell, who may have been a bit gun-shy in his last game, will be protected by a rookie tackle on the right side and a left tackle who'll be playing his first football since training camp. The Bills have certainly taken note. Expect the blitz, which means the Jaguars need to max protect with the tight end and a running back.
- Give Mack one more chance--Coughlin may have been justified in benching Stacey Mack following his second fumble in Seattle, but Mack remains the Jaguars' best available running back. Coughlin has no choice but to give him another try.
- Stop the run--The Bills are in the bottom half of the league rankings in every category except one, rushing, at which the Bills are 11th-best. Rookie Travis Henry is formidable. Stop him.
- Watch for tricks--The Bills opened their game against the Jets with an onside kick they recovered. Desperate teams do desperate things. Beware!
- Get a body on Centers--Fullback Larry Centers caught 12 passes for 75 yards and a touchdown against the Jets. Centers is the best pass-receiving fullback in NFL history. Don't let the Bills dink and dunk.
- Avenge 1999--Bills rookie head coach Gregg Williams was the Titans defensive coordinator when the Titans beat the Jaguars three times in 1999. Prove it was the Titans' players, not Williams' scheme, that was the difference.
- Block out the blackout--Buffalo is the opponent, not Alltel's empty seats. Focus solely on beating the Bills.
- Froth at the mouth--Everybody wants emotion; maybe it'll sell more tickets.