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The best of Jaguars openers


History suggests the season-opener is a strong indicator of what lies ahead in the season.

Consider these facts: In the Jaguars' six playoff seasons, they won their opener five times. In the NFL last year, 10 of the 12 teams that would qualify for the postseason won their openers. With those facts in mind, Sunday's season-opener against visiting Denver just got bigger, huh?

The Jaguars are 9-6 on opening day in their history. They're 5-3 at home and currently on a three-game opener losing streak.

Here's one reporter's opinion of the top five season-openers in Jaguars history, in reverse order.

5. 1996, Jaguars 24, Steelers 9—At Alltel Stadium, the defending AFC-champion Steelers melted in the Jacksonville heat for a second consecutive year. Mark Brunell threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns. The Steelers cut the Jaguars lead to 14-9 in the third quarter, but the visitors had nothing left in the tank in the fourth quarter. The Jaguars defense was the star of this game, holding Jim Miller, who was in his first and last start with the Steelers, to 83 yards passing.

Vic's take—This is the classic example of a season-opener serving as an indicator of what lies ahead. The Jaguars would go on to become the Cinderella team of the AFC playoffs, scoring playoff upsets at Buffalo and Denver before losing narrowly in the AFC title game in New England.

4. 1997, Jaguars 28, Ravens 27—Mark Brunell missed this game at Baltimore's Memorial Stadium due to a knee injury he sustained in the preseason, and Rob Johnson replaced Brunell and rallied the Jaguars from a 27-21 deficit to a game-winning, 28-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith that capped an 80-yard drive. Johnson threw for 294 yards and two touchdowns and did so on a severe ankle sprain that forced him to limp to victory. The win keyed a 3-0 start that helped send the Jaguars to the playoffs for a second consecutive year.

Vic's take—The real importance of this win is that it resulted in the Jaguars trading Johnson to Buffalo in the offseason for draft picks, one of which the team used to select Fred Taylor.

3. 2006, Jaguars 24, Cowboys 17—The visiting Cowboys scored with ease on their two opening drives, but three interceptions and two sacks helped the Jaguars overcome the early deficit. The Jaguars opened the game with four straight punts but scored 24 unanswered points to take the lead.  Linebacker Mike Peterson intercepted Drew Bledsoe late in the fourth quarter to secure the Jaguars victory.

Vic's take—Dallas died after the first quarter, which may have been a product of training in the cool climate of Oxnard, Calif. The win helped stake the Jaguars to a 2-0 start, but they gave it back with consecutive losses on the road. It would be a theme for the season. Every little surge forward would be followed by a fall backward. When the Jags appeared headed for the playoffs following a thumping of the Colts in Dec., they then lost three in a row to end the season and miss the playoffs.

2. 1998, Jaguars 24, Bears 23—At old Soldier Field, the surprising Bears took a 23-17 lead with 4:08 to play, and Brunell was staring at 87 yards of steamy turf when the Jaguars began one of the great game-winning drives in team history. It required 12 plays and expired all but 29 seconds left on the clock, as Brunell pitched the game-winner to Smith from four yards out. The Jaguars would go on to win their first-ever home playoff game.

Vic's take—What's the hottest game in Jaguars history? This one in Chicago is tied for the lead. The temperature was 88 degrees and I'll never forget the look on coach Tom Coughlin's face when a Chicago reporter asked Coughlin if his team had trouble dealing with the heat. Coughlin stared a hole in the guy.

1. 2004, Jaguars 13, Bills 10—How does it get any better than this? A Ralph Wilson Stadium crowd of 72,389 stood stunned by a game-ending, seven-yard touchdown pass from Byron Leftwich to rookie wide receiver Ernest Wilford, who made a leaping catch in the back of the end zone. The Bills held a 10-6 lead when Leftwich got the ball back with 2:07 to play at the Jaguars 20-yard line. The Jaguars trailed in this game for 59 minutes and 59 seconds.

Vic's take—Leftwich began the season as a hero, but finished it as a scapegoat in a 21-0 home loss to Houston that cost the Jaguars a playoff berth. On this day in Buffalo, the second-year quarterback appeared as though he might have the "it" quality of a crunch-time quarterback. He had his high moments, and this was certainly one of them. It makes you wonder. What if? 

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