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Mack endures season of cruel fate


Stacey Mack remains calm in the face of criticism. That has to say something for the most maligned backup running back in the NFL.

"I just stay positive and go on working hard. I know at any time my number could be called, like in Baltimore," Mack said of his travails this season.

His problems began in week three, following the best performance of his three-year pro career, when he rushed for 80 yards and a touchdown in a 13-6 win over the Tennessee Titans.

Mack had replaced Fred Taylor early in the second quarter, after Taylor had suffered a severe groin injury that has caused him to miss four consecutive starts. This Sunday, Taylor will miss his fifth straight game.

On the Jaguars' first offensive play against Cleveland in week three, quarterback Mark Brunell was flushed from the pocket and Brunell underhanded a short pass to Mack that was little more than a desperation toss. Mack bobbled the ball into the air and it fell into the hands of Cleveland defensive lineman Orpheus Roye. Behind Mack, Brunell was being blindsided by Cleveland rookie defensive lineman Gerard Warren, causing Brunell to leave the game shortly after.

The following week, in Seattle, Mack climbed decidedly into coach Tom Coughlin's doghouse and was benched in favor of rookie Elvis Joseph following Mack's second fumble of the game.

His saga of misfortune didn't stop. In the Jaguars' loss to the Buffalo Bills, Mack was in the wrong place at the wrong time when, on the Jags' final play of the game, he deflected a pass intended for Jimmy Smith into a defender's grasp. Mack wasn't supposed to be in the area.

Most recently, Mack dropped a short pass as the Jaguars desperately tried to rally for a game-winning field goal in the final seconds of this past Sunday's 18-17 loss in Baltimore.

When will it end? When will Mack, who is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, stop being targeted by cruel fate?

"I knew they were going to limit my participation," he said of falling to third on the depth chart behind Joseph and Frank Moreau for the Baltimore game. "Any time you get demoted, it's frustrating."

He didn't enter the game until the third quarter, after Joseph had been poked in the eye. Mack responded with a nifty grab of an 11-yard Brunell touchdown pass that gave the Jaguars a 17-6 lead. Mack's fortunes were on the rise, but only for a short while.

"I know I can play. I never, ever fumbled the ball in college. You get up here and you got everybody reaching for the ball. You've got to be more conscious of it," he said.

"He works hard. Football is important to him," Coughlin said of Mack. "He makes foolish mistakes. He took his eye off the ball."

Mack's future with the Jaguars wouldn't seem to be secure. Will it extend beyond the return to action of Taylor? Most doubt it will, but Mack believes he has a future in this league.

"If I'm not here next year, I know somebody will give me a shot. This has been a long year. I'm going to make it through it. There's nothing that's going to stop me," he said.

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