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Jaguars hold on to slim hopes


The spell was broken, and though the Jaguars weren't willing to wipe their brow and give a sigh of relief, they did admit to a different feeling within the walls of their locker room than they had enjoyed at any time previous this season.

There was good reason. For the first time this season, the Jaguars defeated a team that had a winning record. They beat their tormentors, the Titans, who most were claiming to be the best team in professional football.

"We feel great now. I feel relieved, a little bit," Fred Taylor said, unable to hide his true emotions.

Taylor had extra incentive. He had gone out on a limb last season after two regular-season losses to the Titans, by maintaining that the Jaguars were still the better team. Then, well, you know what happened in the AFC title game.

Beating the Titans had become a team thing, yes, but it had become something very personal for Taylor. Sunday, following a thrilling, 16-13 win over the Titans at Alltel Stadium, Taylor's words didn't ring hollow.

"I've always said we were the better team. If they beat us five more times, I'll continue to say it," Taylor said.

No one else will say the Jaguars are the better team. After all, the Titans are 9-3 and heading into a soft finishing schedule that will probably deliver the AFC Central Division title, the one that had belonged to the Jaguars for two consecutive years. However, the Titans fell a game behind the Oakland Raiders in the AFC playoffs homefield advantage race, and even if the Titans make it back to the Super Bowl, coach Jeff Fisher won't be able to use his Alltel Stadium line again.

Yes, this one had meaning for the Jaguars. Everything about this team has changed as a result of one win against one team, and even though they wouldn't allow their enthusiasm to spill over into talk of making the playoffs, you didn't have to be clairvoyant to know they were thinking about what it would take. Wanna bet the Jaguars have taken a look at the standings and the remaining schedules?

If beating the Titans gave the Jaguars a sense of relief and euphoria, both were compromised immediately by a sense of regret. What if they had won a couple of more games? What if they had held onto their lead in Baltimore, scored just one touchdown against the Ravens in Jacksonville, converted a fourth-and-goal against Seattle?

"You try not to look back, but you look at the Seattle game and both Baltimore games. We put ourselves in this position. The best we can do now is win nine games. Then, whatever happens, happens," Tony Boselli said.

The Jaguars now face three games that should boost their record into the black for the first time since it was 2-1. Ahead are home games against Cleveland and Arizona, then a trip to Cincinnati before finishing against the Giants in the Meadowlands. Finally, there is reason to believe the Jaguars truly can win-out.

They cling to slim hope of making the playoffs. With nine teams ahead of them in the AFC, it is not likely the cards will fall the Jaguars' way, as they did in 1996. They know that, and it hurts them, but they are not only relieved to have put a sock in Fisher's mouth, they are relieved and happy that they will play the final month of the season with the ability to look at the scoreboard and hope three teams ahead of them disintegrate.

"It means a lot. This can catapult us. We're trying to run the table and see what happens. We're having fun now," Keenan McCardell said.

All of a sudden, the Jaguars are football fans, again. They'll awaken in the morning looking forward to the day. They'll talk amongst themselves about other games in the league. They'll have energy for something other than the end of the season.

Resurrection will do that. This team was dead, and though 5-7 isn't worthy of a complete bill of health, it's breathing. More than ever, it appreciates the merits of winning. There's nothing like it.

"This team is very good when we play smart football," Boselli said, enjoying his postgame session with the media. There was a twinkle in his eye. Making it through the final month of the season, and the misery that has been the knee and ankle on which he had surgery last winter, will be easier. Winning will do that. There's nothing like it.

Then, there was Taylor, doing postgame interviews forever, and walking around the locker room with a football he had taken precautions to preserve. It was the ball Taylor had caught for a touchdown in the first quarter, which was Mark Brunell's 100th career touchdown pass. Taylor had the ball protected by equipment manager Drew Hampton, and in the postgame locker room Taylor presented it to Brunell.

All of a sudden, Taylor was more than just a hundred-yard rusher. He had become a team leader.

Winning will do that. There's nothing like it.

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