The main storyline for this Sunday's game is the legitimacy the Jaguars can claim with a victory, but there is also a secondary point of interest that will go a long way toward shaping our expectations for the Jaguars and the standards by which quarterbacks should be judged.
Sunday's game will offer us a distinct "young gunslinger vs. veteran quarterback" confrontation. Where does Donovan McNabb rank against Mark Brunell, one of the game's premier passers over the past seven seasons? More importantly for Jaguars fans, where does Brunell stand against McNabb, arguably the best young quarterback in the league? Does Brunell still have what it takes to beat the best?
In the 1996 playoffs, when the Jaguars upset the Denver Broncos, Brunell was the young upstart and John Elway was the veteran who defined the position. On that glorious afternoon in Mile High Stadium, a star was born.
Through week four of this season, Brunell and McNabb have each been outstanding. Brunell is the AFC's third-rated passer with a 101.7 rating; McNabb is the NFC's third-rated arm with a 92.2 rating. Brunell has thrown for four touchdowns and one interception; McNabb has tossed nine touchdown passes and three interceptions.
As passers, there's not much difference between the two. The difference lies in what McNabb can do with his feet, which Brunell was able to do to Elway in that playoff game seven seasons ago. McNabb has rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns in four games; Brunell has added 44 yards and no touchdowns rushing.
Brunell would be the first to tell you he is no longer a running quarterback. Maybe, for the first time, Jaguars fans are beginning to understand the toll the game has exacted on Brunell's legs. No longer is Brunell expected to dash wildly all over the field, as he did in that game in Denver. These days, Brunell is being praised for his leadership and field generalship qualities. They are the skills on which veteran quarterbacks depend. One day McNabb will be forced to do the same.
McNabb, Duante Culpepper and Michael Vick represent the contemporary position; quarterbacks who run as well as they pass. Brunell is now in a group that includes players such as Peyton Manning, Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady; quarterbacks who are conventional pocket passers.
So, Sunday's game will offer us an interesting clash between young and old, new age vs. traditional. Which is better, spur of the moment improvisation or calm craftsmanship? Which do you prefer, wild youthfulness or measured maturity?
The McNabb-Brunell head-on confrontation will help us decide.