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Taylor makes final pitch


It was more than a football game. It was a campaign to win Fred Taylor election to the Pro Bowl and maybe, just maybe, it'll work.

This is the week NFL players will cast their Pro-Bowl votes. Taylor has never been selected in his 10-year career. It's a dream of his to play just once in that game. He doesn't want to finish his career as the greatest player to never play in the Pro Bowl.

Taylor did everything in his power to swing votes his way in an 11th-hour appeal to voters in the American Football Conference. When they pick up their newspapers on Monday morning and look at the boxscores, they'll see a third consecutive 100-yard game by Taylor. When they watch Sunday's highlights, they'll see an 80-yard run by Taylor, the longest in the league to that point this year, which gives Taylor two of the three longest runs in the league this season.

Maybe, just maybe, the older players will reflect on Taylor's great career and think to themselves, "You know, that guy deserves to be in the Pro Bowl. Yeah, I'm gonna vote for him."

Can he make it?

"I think I can, but what I think is irrelevant," Taylor said following Sunday's 37-6 pasting of the Carolina Panthers.

Here's a better question: Why he hasn't made it already?

Taylor is now the 18th leading rusher in NFL history. We're talking about a guy who is on the verge of his seventh 1,000-yard season. We're talking about one of the greatest big-play running backs ever. So why hasn't he ever made it to the Pro Bowl?

The reasons have always seemed legitimate. When he rushed for 1,223 yards and 14 touchdowns as a rookie, the reason he wasn't selected was that he was a rookie. In 2000 when he rushed for 1,399 yards, well, the game was full of high-profile backs on winning teams. He got hurt too much and he was largely unnoticed in Jacksonville and, well, if he's so good, why was he always taken out of the game on the goal line?

Hey, that's a legitimate question. Aren't great running backs supposed to score touchdowns? After scoring 12 in his third season, Taylor became an afterthought in goal line offense.

Rationalize it any way you please, but this one question persists: Shouldn't a guy who may finish his career as one of the top 10 rushers in NFL history at least make it to the Pro Bowl once in his career?

The Jaguars believe the answer is yes.

"He should've been there plenty of times. I just hope he makes it," center Brad Meester said. "Blocking for Fred is a tremendous honor. It's been tremendous being here for eight years and blocking for him. He finds ways to make yards out of something that isn't there.

"I'm not surprised," Meester said when told Taylor has two of the league's longest runs of the season. "He works hard. He hasn't lost a step. He's as fast as he's ever been."

It appeared that way on Sunday, as Taylor ran over, around and through the Panthers. On his 80-yarder, a simple off-tackle play, Taylor hit the hole and then stepped on the gas. Two Panthers defensive backs were nothing more than an escort to the end zone.

"Real nice to see, with the Pro Bowl balloting this week, Fred have such a big performance here at home," Del Rio said in a kind of Karl Rove moment. "I was real happy for Fred."

OK, let's talk turkey. Can he do it? Who is his competition?

At 944 yards rushing, Taylor trails three prominent AFC rushers who had already topped the 1,000-yard mark heading into Sunday's action. Willie Parker, LaDainian Tomlinson and Willis McGahee are all over a thousand and Joseph Addai was at 943 heading into Sunday night's game and, of course, only three guys make it.

"Slow start; not as many carries as some of those guys," Taylor said in analyzing his situation. "I probably have the best average of those guys over a thousand yards."

Taylor does, indeed, have the best average. That's his sales pitch; it's always been his pitch. A vote for Taylor is a vote for a guy who's done more with less. Not bad, huh?

Parker, Tomlinson and McGahee don't have a Maurice Jones-Drew with whom to share the load. They don't have a guy robbing them of carries. What if Taylor had some of Jones-Drew's 145 carries? Think about it.

That's what the Jaguars hope players around the AFC will do on Thursday, the day the NFL votes.

"He's been a great leader for us. It's been a tremendous year," Del Rio said.

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