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Must win? Jaguars get fast start they needed


It was the most important opening-day win in their history, and though Tony Boselli wouldn't go so far as to agree with the reporter who suggested the Jaguars' season was on the line, Boselli didn't offer a strong protest.

"I'm not going to say it was a must (win), but it was critical to start off right. The confidence it gives this team and what we can build on is very important," Boselli said of the Jaguars' 21-3 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers.

Certainly it wasn't a must that the Jaguars win their season-opener. No team has ever been eliminated from playoffs contention on the first day of the season, but you could present statistical evidence that losing your opener is reason to fold your tent.

Let's put it this way: How would you feel today had the Jaguars lost? Would you still believe the playoffs are in their future? Or would you have joined a legion of fans who would've said, "They're done?"

The facts of the matter are this: Fifty-four percent of the teams that win their openers make the playoffs; 77 percent of the teams that lose their openers miss the playoffs.

"You need to get off to a good start. It's a step in the right direction. For this season, it's very important," coach Tom Coughlin said.

Coughlin believes firmly in the merit of opening-day wins. He has only lost one of his seven openers as the head coach of the Jaguars. He lost his first one, in 1995, and is now on a six-game opening-day win streak. Of course, the Jaguars didn't make the playoffs in the only year they didn't win their opener, but they made the playoffs four out of the next five seasons. Will this opening-day win prove to be a harbinger of good times?

"It's big, but it's only a first game. The thing we wanted to accomplish, we got done," Fred Taylor said.

Donovin Darius was likewise cautious in his celebration. "It's not time to get the champagne glasses out," Darius said.

Players and coaches don't dare celebrate a win because the NFL has a way of humbling you the following Sunday, but excuse Wayne Weaver for the smile and the look of satisfaction on his face as he walked down the hallway following his team's dismantling of the Steelers, a team that is 4-6 in its last 10 openers.

Rumor is the Jaguars asked the league to give them a favorable September schedule, for reasons that don't have to be explained. The league granted the request. They gave the Jaguars the Steelers, every team's opening-day dream.

The Jaguars needed the Steelers as they never have before. After all, what would the Jaguars' offseason-long and roster-wide contract re-structuring effort have been worth had they lost their first game? What would it have been worth going to such pains to keep the core of this team together? Who wouldn't have said: They should've started rebuilding?

There are three remaining legs of their September schedule, which could stake the Jaguars to an early lead in what would have to be considered a staggered start. They play in Chicago this Sunday. Then they'll host the Titans and Browns on what are expected to be consecutively steamy Jacksonville afternoons.

Would you like to know what the statistical evidence suggests of teams that begin their seasons 4-0? What do you think it suggests?

"I saw it in practice this week," Coughlin said of indications that his team was coming out of its preseason-long slump. "I saw two days of really good, solid practices. Guys were really inspired. I felt really good toward the end of the week."

Now, everyone in Jaguar land feels better than they have since Jan. 23, 2000, that fateful day when almost everything about this football team turned sour. It was a funk that lasted a whole year.

This is a new year. That, in itself, is reason to feel good.

Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.

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