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Jaguars win saunaball


Some time early in the second quarter, the Cowboys knew they were in trouble. The Jaguars saw it on their faces.

"We knew they were wearing down. We didn't know why. We knew they were wearing down. We're going to play four quarters," Jaguars cornerback Rashean Mathis said.

Welcome to north Florida in early September. Welcome to saunaball.

So, if the heat and humidity were too much for a team from Dallas, and it was, what do you think it'll be like for the team from Pittsburgh? Have the Steelers ever won here in September? No. Three tries, three losses.

The oppressively steamy air on Sunday was the Jaguars' best ally, even if it caused a few of the Jaguars' players to spend some time in the locker room with their own IV bag. It's easy to understand why the Cowboys got caught off guard. How could they have possibly thought Jacksonville was any more humid than Dallas? Now they know.

"We kind of felt it a little bit at halftime," Mike Peterson said when asked when he first noticed that the Cowboys were beginning to wilt. "We didn't know if they knew it was going to be a four-quarter game."

The Cowboys tried to make it a one-quarter game. They flew down the field on their first possession, going 70 yards in eight easy plays. The next time they had the ball, they almost scored another touchdown, though they stalled at the Jaguars 14-yard line and had to settle for a field goal and a 10-0 lead.

This one looked like it was going to be a rout. A swarming Cowboys defense overwhelmed the Jaguars offense, then it began to rain and a lot of less-hearty fans considered the score, the rain and a general feeling of hopelessness and decided to, well, leave. They did.

Then things began to change. At first, you sensed it. Then you saw tangible evidence of it.

Dallas' offensive line started to crack and the Jaguars started putting pressure on Drew Bledsoe, and Bledsoe began missing wide-open receivers. All of a sudden, Bledsoe stopped seeing open receivers; his eyes were on the pass-rush.

"They got off on the first series. We just kept hitting them. We tried to rattle Bledsoe and I think we did a pretty good job of that," defensive tackle John Henderson said.

All of a sudden, the Jaguars offense came to life, scoring a touchdown with seven seconds to play in the first half to tie the score at 10-10. Dallas' dominance was over. The Jaguars were in control. Even the drunk in the upper deck knew it.

"We had all of the momentum going into halftime," Mathis said.

By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Jaguars were playing against air. They went 74 yards in 11 plays, Leftwich scoring on a quarterback draw on third-and-goal from the three-yard line. Leftwich nearly walked into the end zone as the center of his offensive line snowplowed the Cowboys' wilted defensive front.

Eight minutes later, Fred Taylor ran around left end untouched from five yards out. The game was, for all practical purposes, over.

This was a game the Jaguars won because they were better conditioned and physically and mentally more prepared to play four quarters of saunaball. Now, it's the Steelers' turn.

"With Pittsburgh coming in, you know it's going to be a physical game. I love that," Henderson said.

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