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Eagles have it; do Jags?


Nobody wants it, but everybody needs it.

Coaches will tell you they never know what kind of team they have until they see it face adversity. Ah, yes, hard times. Who wants hard times? Coaches do everything they can to avoid them, but they'll tell you how it brought their teams together.

Consider the Philadelphia Eagles. They are this year's team of adversity.

They began the season as the NFC favorite for the Super Bowl, but got off to an 0-2 start. Then their quarterback became the target of a political analyst with a drug problem, and the quarterback's slump was deepened by a thumb injury that produced passing stats that dropped him to the bottom of the NFC passer ratings.

Donovan McNabb and the Eagles were 2-3 and heading down as they returned from a butt-kicking in Dallas in week six. The air was full of dissent, and you can't fully appreciate what that's like until you play in Philadelphia, where Santa Claus was booed and hit with snowballs.

Adversity? Are you kidding?

Then the Eagles started to win, though in rather unimpressive fashion. The Giants handed them a win in the Meadowlands, they eased past the Jets and the Falcons, and that brought them square with their first true test since McNabb distinguished himself in his response to Rush Limbaugh's controversial remarks.

This past Monday night, at Lambeau Field and in an icy rain that certainly didn't promote feeling in McNabb's sore thumb, the Eagles scored a gutsy win over Brett Favre and the Packers, with McNabb throwing a game-winning touchdown pass that was more wobble than spiral.

Beware of teams with injured quarterbacks. They have a way of rallying around their man; reveling in their adversity. They bond; develop purpose. Keep your eye on the Eagles, folks. McNabb has made them a team with a cause.

The Jaguars are to a degree, such a team. Their quarterback, rookie Byron Leftwich, isn't injured, but he's been abused verbally and in print and Leftwich has responded with McNabb-like grace. And the Jaguars are certainly a team that has known adversity. Maybe the ax brought this team closer together.

All of a sudden, last week, this team developed purpose. Its star running back vowed to kick butt, then did it. And his teammates promised to help him back up his words, and they did.

History is full of teams that've overcome adversity. The 1996 Jaguars were such a team. On the day after a loss in Pittsburgh that dropped the Jaguars' record to 4-7, coach Tom Coughlin cut wide receiver Andre Rison and the Jaguars' locker room had the look of a team divided. Some suggested the Jaguars wouldn't win another game that season, but they won seven in a row that took them all the way to the AFC title game. At their time of greatest adversity, they began their period of greatest achievement.

What about the 2003 Jaguars? Do they possess the kind of grit to go to Tennessee this weekend and win? Do they have the talent to do it?

They're questions we can't answer until Sunday, but Titans coach Jeff Fisher may have given the Jaguars a rallying cry earlier this week when he called them a dirty team.

Beware of teams with a cause.

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