It is one of the most infamous games in Jaguars history. The Jaguars dominated the statistics – moved the ball up and down the field – but lost. This Sunday, Jimmy Smith and the Jaguars will return to the scene of that loss.
Mark Brunell completed a record 37 passes on that day, Oct. 20, 1996. He also threw five interceptions, still a Jaguars record, and one of those interceptions was returned 92 yards for a touchdown.
Keenan McCardell made 16 receptions, still a Jaguars record. Unfortunately, none of those catches were for a touchdown.
Brunell threw for 421 yards and the Jaguars out-gained the St. Louis Rams 538-204 yards. The Jaguars had 36 first downs to the Rams' eight, and 41:34 in time of possession to the Rams' 18:26. The Rams, however, won the game, 17-14.
"I remember it coming down to the last play of the game and Dave Widell trying to get the ball snapped and the official holding the ball down," Smith said following Thursday's practice at Alltel Stadium.
Smith is the only Jaguars player left from that game. The stadium is the same, but even it has a different name. Then, it was the TWA Dome. Now, it's the Edward Jones Dome.
"I wasn't starting. (Andre) Rison was still the guy. I was third receiver," said Smith, who caught seven passes for 65 yards but, unfortunately, no touchdowns. James Stewart scored on touchdown runs of one and eight yards; Rams quarterback Tony Banks pitched the game-winner to Eddie Kennison in the third quarter.
"We were trying to find our identity," Smith said of the '96 team.
Actually, they did find their identity that day in St. Louis. They became the thrill-a-minute, throw-it-all-over-the-field Jaguars that finished the season on a seven-game winning streak that carried them to the AFC title game.
The Jaguars left St. Louis 3-5 and devastated that they could have gained so many yards but have scored so few points. This Sunday, the 2005 Jaguars will take a 4-2 record to St. Louis for a game against a Rams team that is without its head coach, Mike Martz, and may be without its starting quarterback and star wide receivers.
"We have an identity; strong, physical ballclub," Smith said of this year's team. "They know they're going to have to put their big-boy pads on."
Quarterback Marc Bulger is listed as "questionable" with a sore shoulder. He was replaced by Jamie Martin – he was Banks' backup in that '96 game – in last Sunday's win over the Saints. Torry Holt (knee) is "doubtful" and wide receiver mate Isaac Bruce (big toe) is "questionable."
The circumstances for the Jaguars are very different from what they were in '96. Then, the Jaguars made the playoffs as a Cinderella team. Now, the Jaguars find themselves ranked among the elite of the league and facing a finishing schedule most believe makes the Jaguars a lock for the playoffs.
"When we beat Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, that was like a hump. Now everybody says easy schedule. I don't think that but they're winnable games. We can't have a Houston. Stay tougher longer. I call it a slogan. I like it. It's my mindset now. We can't have a slip up," Smith said.
The Jaguars need to win in St. Louis for more than the obvious reason. Facing a volatile issue about the team's future in Jacksonville, the Jaguars need a win because it would help cement fan approval.
"I don't want them to move," Smith said. "Hopefully, it's just talk. I know if we keep winning and putting fans in the stands, we may be OK."