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Similarity just coincidence?


The similarities are striking. They are two teams built on defense and a strong running game. Each made a midseason change at quarterback, then rallied from 5-4 to get hot late in the season. One of them went on to win the Super Bowl. The other one is trying to do the same.

Who are the teams? They are the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and the 2006 Jaguars and they have one other thing in common: Jack Del Rio.

Del Rio was an up-and-coming linebackers coach with the Ravens in the 2000 season. Now, he's the Jaguars' head coach and his team is playing a brand of football very similar to those Ravens, which is to say the Jaguars are dominating the line of scrimmage.

Is all of this mere coincidence or by design?

"I don't feel the need to draw comparisons," Del Rio said at Monday's press conference. "We don't need to look around or look in the past."

In the Ravens' championship season, head coach Brian Billick forbid his players to use the word "playoffs." Instead, they were encouraged to refer to the postseason as "festivus," which was a creation of the hit TV series "Seinfeld."

Are your players under a gag order to not use the word "playoffs," Del Rio was asked on Monday?

"That's what the rumor is," he said.

Here's another rumor: The Jaguars can really run the football. Just ask the Indianapolis Colts, who were flattened for 375 yards on the ground in a 44-17 loss at Alltel Stadium on Sunday.

Rookie Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 166 yards and Fred Taylor gained 131. Monday, therefore, was a good day for Del Rio to pay off his betting debt to Jones-Drew, with whom Del Rio agreed to wear a UCLA jersey if Jones-Drew's Bruins upset USC, which they did, of course. Del Rio wore a UCLA basketball jersey to Monday's press conference.

"As you saw, I paid my debt to Maurice," Del Rio said.

Jones-Drew is the one who's really paying off. The Jaguars' second-round draft choice is one of the hottest offensive players in the league and will lead the Jaguars into a critical game in Nashville, Tenn., on Sunday.

With three games remaining in the regular season, the 8-5 Jaguars are tied with the Bengals for the lead for the two AFC wild-card playoff spots. A win over the Titans this Sunday could leave the Jaguars with a "clinch" scenario for their Christmas Eve game against the Patriots. A loss, however, could put the Jaguars in a need-help situation to make the playoffs.

"The most important thing is to go right back to work. They're red-hot," Del Rio said of the 6-7 Titans, who still have an outside chance of winning a wild-card spot. "They're gaining confidence in what they can do and in what (Vince Young) can do," he added of the Titans' rookie quarterback.

Any hope of winning the AFC South title would require the Jaguars to win all of their remaining games and, likely, for the Colts to lose all of theirs.

Asked if the Jaguars are the best team in the AFC South, as a result of its overpowering win over the Colts, Del Rio said: "The Colts are the division leaders. We're trying our best to win a few more games."

For the record, the 2000 Ravens entered the playoffs as a wild-card team.

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