JACKSONVILLE – The second edition of Head Coach Tom Coughlin's Jacksonville Jaguars was scraping the bottom in Week 11 of the 1996 season.
A 3-6 record was below what Coughlin and fans expected – and it was considerably behind the Carolina Panthers, who at 5-4 were contending in the 1995 expansion teams' second NFL seasons.
There was a glimmer of hope when the Baltimore Ravens arrived in Jacksonville, with the Jaguars having won twice against the franchise the previous season when it was still the Cleveland Browns. There also was a messy offseason move that had the Ravens scrapping to figure things out.
The Ravens looked like they had done just that early in the teams' first 1996 meeting. Quarterback Vinny Testaverde threw short to wide receiver Michael Jackson for a touchdown, then lobbed one over rookie linebacker Kevin Hardy's outstretched arms to running back Bam Morris, who thundered 52 yards to give the Ravens a 17-3 halftime lead.
The Jaguars faced a key moment on their first third-quarter drive.
The offense faced third-and-7 at its 19 when quarterback Mark Brunell rolled right and spotted tight end Pete Mitchell, who had gotten behind safety Bennie Thompson. Mitchell made a nifty move to evade safety Eric Turner and gained 30 yards. Jaguars wide receiver Andre Rison, who had played with the Browns the year before, torched Thompson on the ensuing play – and only a pass interference penalty saved the touchdown. Brunell then swung a short pass to running back James Stewart, who took it into the end zone, and the Jaguars seemed back in the game.
A pair of field goals by Jaguars kicker Mike Hollis and one from the Ravens' Matt Stover made it a 20-16 game early in the fourth quarter. The young Jaguars were hanging by a thread and couldn't seem to catch the Ravens and a veteran quarterback who was always a step ahead.
With Morris softening the defensive front and wide receiver Derrick Alexander stressing the length of the field, the Ravens used 11 plays to score a touchdown that gave them 11-point lead with just over eight minutes remaining.
But Brunell stood in the pocket early on the ensuing series and patiently waited for wide receiver Willie Jackson to come open on a crossing pattern. When he did, it was a beautiful strike that gained 25 yards. Wide receiver Keenan McCardell was Brunell's next target with a 13-yard completion down the Jaguars sideline, then Rison picked up 15 yards and Mitchell gained six more.
This drive would portend what would be possible for Brunell in the weeks ahead Stewart's second touchdown – an 8-yarder from Brunell – pulled the Jaguars to within five points.
The Jaguars' defense followed with a three-and-out and a breakthrough seemed possible with 2:31 remaining.
Down 27-22 with the ball at his 34, Brunell came out firing to Mitchell, McCardell and the little-used fourth receiver Jimmy Smith. The Jaguars' suddenly high-octane offense raced to the Ravens 20. On third-and-2 with the game on the line, Brunell stood in the pocket and waited and waited and waited for McCardell on the in-cut. He found McCardell with a line drive spiral – and despite a vicious hit from safety Eric Turner, McCardell's reception to the Ravens seven drew a roar from fans that knew how close the Jaguars were to winning.
Brunell's bootleg from the one and successful two-point conversion to McCardell – also playing his former team – provided the 30-27 margin of victory and gave the Jaguars their fourth win of the season – and a sense that if they played like that, they might finish 1996 looking like a respectable NFL team.
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