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Pride is on the line

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The Cincinnati Bengals have long since been mathematically eliminated from playoffs contention; for the Jaguars, elimination would seem to be a mere formality. Clearly, this is a game of minor fan interest, and Sunday's crowd at Paul Brown Stadium is expected to reflect as much.

Such is the late-season plight for teams playing out the string. If there's motivation, it belongs to the Jaguars, who must win their remaining three games to avoid the team's third consecutive losing season.

Beyond that, this one's purely personal. It's another opportunity for young players to establish their careers; another chance for journeymen veterans to put themselves on tape they might use to interest another team in their services during the offseason.

Then there's Tom Coughlin's motivation, which is always about winning. There's no such thing as a meaningless game in Coughlin's world. He has gotten the most out of his players all season, and he expects to get the most out of them in Cincinnati.

"We play hard. That's an absolute must," Coughlin said when asked if he takes pride in his team's reputation for keeping games close. "But our business is about winning and losing."

A win would give the Jaguars momentum heading into its home finale against rival Tennessee the following week. But a loss to the 1-12 Bengals would be the Jaguars' eighth in their last 10 games.

"We're not stopping the run very well and that's where it all starts," Coughlin said. "The edges weren't as firm as they could've been," he added of the play of his defensive ends in allowing Cleveland rookie William Green 119 yards rushing this past Sunday.

Against the Bengals, the Jaguars will be confronted by Corey Dillon, the eighth-leading rusher in the AFC with 1,073 yards. Of course, the Jaguars will counter with the conference's fifth-leading rusher, Fred Taylor, who has 1,153 yards.

The Jaguars expect to have strong safety Donovin Darius back in the lineup after having missed the last two games with a shoulder injury. "If Donovin is playing, he'll be a factor" at stopping the run, Coughlin said.

Other than for a dramatic individual performance, the rest of the league isn't likely to be interested in the outcome of Sunday's game. But in a season of narrow defeats, the Jaguars don't want to suffer the ultimate setback; a loss to the NFL's worst team. Pride would seem to be at stake.

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