Jaguars players seemed to be coordinated in their effort not to say anything that might make it onto the Cleveland Browns' bulletin board. Who could blame coach Tom Coughlin if he had given his team a gag order?
Nearly three months ago, the Jaguars' season made a radical turn downward when an inspired Browns team scored an upset win in Jacksonville. The Browns claimed their motivation to be Coughlin's postgame address to his team the previous week, which was captured by NFL Films. "We're 2-0 on our way to 3-0," Coughlin said to his team.
Browns rookie head coach Butch Davis used that quote to his psychological advantage, and his players seemed to be crazed by the notion Coughlin was disrespecting them. The Browns stomped on the Jaguars' midfield logo in pregame, trash-talked and cheap-shotted throughout the game, and Corey Fuller accosted Coughlin with a verbal tirade as the two teams left the field.
This Sunday is the rematch. This is the Jaguars' chance to avenge what happened at Alltel Stadium on Sept. 30. Will they respond? We'll have to wait until Sunday because no one in the Jaguars' locker room is offering a preview.
"For me, it's another game. We've got to be at our best," quarterback Mark Brunell said nonchalantly.
Brunell was blindsided by rookie defensive tackle Gerard Warren in the first game between the two teams. Brunell suffered a concussion and had to leave the game in the second quarter. Warren incurred a $35,000 fine.
"My motivation is we've only got four wins and I'd like to have five. It so happens we play the Browns this week," Brunell added.
Those words sounded too bland to be genuine. They seemed forced, especially coming from a guy who was openly critical of Warren's hit, calling it a "cheap shot" the day after the game.
Did Coughlin order his team not to say anything more daring than "Cleveland is a nice place in December?"
"You've been around here long enough," Brunell said, fighting back a smile.
Then Brunell's demeanor turned serious.
"It's not as though I'm going to try to exact revenge on that guy. He's twice my size. You have to be professional about it. I need a win," he said.
"I'm not going to say the Browns are a dirty team or they're coached that way. It's part of the game. How you react to that is the key," Brunell added. "There are still some holes on our team we need to address, and to think about the hit and all that other stuff would only distract us."
The 4-8 Jaguars are fresh off a win in Cincinnati, while the 6-6 Browns are on a two-game losing streak and face a finishing schedule that could drop them below the Jaguars in the standings. After this Sunday's game, the Browns finish the season with games at Green Bay, at Tennessee and at Pittsburgh. Jaguars players seem to be aware of the Browns' finishing schedule.
"It's going to be fun. It's football country. It's December and we should have some football weather on the lake. It's fun to go up there and be the spoiler," wide receiver Keenan McCardell said.
That's about as daring as it got. Coughlin made sure he measured his words.
"We're not going to focus on that. I want to focus on doing everything we can to win a football game. The league stepped in. I talked to the team about focusing, preparing, being the best football team they can be," Coughlin said.