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Brunell better than ever


Only a few weeks ago there was worry he had "lost it;" diminishing skills, you know. But we know now that was not the case. In fact, Mark Brunell says he's never been better.

"Just don't lose your confidence," Brunell said of how he dealt with a preseason performance that would've earned a rookie quarterback a trip to the waiver wire. "I've been doing this for a long time. I've always had confidence in my abilities. I think I'm better than I have ever been."

Brunell could make that statement following his performance in Sunday's 23-16 win over the Chiefs, at no less an intimidating venue than red-clad Arrowhead Stadium.

The Jaguars quarterback was all things to all people. He threw the ball sharply, accurately and on time. He moved decisively in the pocket to buy himself time on those rare occasions he was rushed. Brunell put the ball on his receivers' fingertips at crunch time. Just as importantly, he made veteran decisions at the line of scrimmage, checking off to the play that delivered the game-winning touchdown.

This was Brunell at his best, only a few weeks after Brunell was at his worst. That was the preseason. This is the regular season. It counts.

"I'm more patient. I understand the game more," Brunell said when asked in what ways he's better than ever. "(My arm) feels great; legs feel great," he said.

His final stats looked great; 25 of 36 for 320 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 115.5 passer rating. They are the numbers of an elite quarterback. He still is.

"In that one throw to Patrick Johnson, all Patrick had to do was put his hands out and run," Jimmy Smith said of his quarterback's 79-yard touchdown pass to Johnson in the fourth quarter. It is the longest pass play in Jaguars history and it broke a 9-9 tie. It was the play of the game. It was the play an elite quarterback makes, at crunch time.

He made plenty of plays of lesser profile but of equal importance. With the Jaguars attempting to protect their 16-9 lead and expire the clock, Brunell came to the line of scrimmage and quickly spotted an overload in the Chiefs defense to the side Brunell had called a Fred Taylor run in the huddle.

"We were going to run 46 and he checked to 47. We ran away from the safety. We had practiced that play all week against that defense," tackle Zach Wiegert said.

"It wasn't that big of a deal. It wasn't a brilliant check," Brunell told reporters, his words suggesting easy recognition of simple strategy. But it's easy only for an elite quarterback.

If it's fact that everything he did in Kansas City came easily, it's no less a fact that Chiefs quarterback Trent Green was incapable of similar feats. Green was 16 of 31 for 199 yards, one touchdown, two costly interceptions and a dismal 55.7 passer rating. After a fast start, Green settled into a pathetic performance that left him with a humiliating 22.9 passer rating after three quarters.

Within the Brunell-Green comparison lies the difference in the outcome. The Jaguars won because Brunell provided them with a mismatch at the quarterback position. It's that simple.

"Mark has played two outstanding games. He's really played sharp football," Tom Coughlin said of his quarterback.

A few weeks ago, there were doubts Brunell would be hearing such complimentary remarks any time soon. There were whispers of Brunell's demise from the ranks of the elite. Even his coach began to hint of impatience with his quarterback. Some even suggested the Jaguars would be better in the hands of rookie David Garrard.

Now, it all seems so ridiculous. This is still Brunell's team and it still depends on him for its success.

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