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Jaguars trying to emerge


Jack Del Rio's career as coach of the Jaguars began in Carolina, on a day when Jake Delhomme rallied the Panthers from a 17-0 deficit and, in the process, emerged as a quarterback who would take the team to the Super Bowl a year later.

Sunday, the Jaguars will host the Panthers in the first game between these two teams since opening day 2003, and it's the Jaguars who have an emerging quarterback they hope can lead them to the Super Bowl.

"One of the things I'm encouraged by right now that gives us a chance is … you have to have a quarterback playing at a high level and we have that right now, so that gives us a chance. It gives you a legitimate chance," Del Rio said, referring to quarterback David Garrard.

Whatever chance the Panthers had of making it into the postseason would seem to have been lost when Delhomme suffered a season-ending injury, but the 5-7 Panthers still have a chance at making it into the playoffs, but that chance clearly rests on winning all of their remaining games.

"We've had kind of a carousel at quarterback," Panthers coach John Fox said. "It's kind of nice to know who our starter is."

The Panthers' starter is Vinny Testaverde, the 44-year-old ageless wonder, who pulled the Panthers out of a five-game tailspin by leading them to a 31-14 win over San Francisco last week.

"It's kind of like we just go out there and have fun," Fox said, referring to the effects of the losing streak.

The Jaguars have to be all about business on Sunday because this is a game that could move them, possibly, within one win of a playoff berth. It is the team's next-to-last home game of the season and it travels to Pittsburgh next weekend. Coming off a loss to the Colts, the Jaguars clearly don't want to go to Steeltown on a two-game skid.

At issue for the Jaguars is a bulky pass-defense that has fallen to 27th in the league rankings; the Jaguars defense is 22nd overall. Defensive Coordinator Mike Smith addressed the fall this week.

"There's no magic wand or magic dust. When they go and make plays, we have a better chance of being successful," Smith said.

The problem in Indianapolis was a failure to get off the field on third down. The Jaguars allowed 10 conversions on 13 third-down plays and three of the Colts' four touchdown plays occurred on third down.

"When you don't win third down, you're exposing yourself to more snaps," Smith said.

The Jaguars will be without defensive end Reggie Hayward on Sunday, as he sustained a groin injury in Indianapolis. Returning to the lineup, however, is defensive tackle Marcus Stroud, who sat out four games due to a suspension for violation of the league's steroids policy.

"They're playing well up front," Del Rio said in analyzing the Panthers. "This will be a challenge for us on offense, to see if we can handle their defense. They have a very strong offensive line. They run the ball well. Outside, they have (wide receiver) Steve Smith."

Testaverde is one of the great human interest stories of this season. He was asked if he gets tired of the questions about his age.

"I guess when you guys don't ask me any questions, then I'll start to worry because my career will be over. Nobody will care anymore," Testaverde said.

How about when his career is over?

"What do I want to do when I grow up? I'm not sure, yet," Testaverde joked.

This game isn't a joking matter for the Jaguars. The playoffs are on the line.

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