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The game's top impact player


Maurice Jones-Drew stood on the goal line with just one thought in his head: "It's cold," he said.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had forced Jones-Drew to sit on the icy Heinz Field sideline for 10 minutes as Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 80 yards in 10 plays for an opening-drive touchdown and a 7-0 lead. The crowd was howling and the Steelers defense was champing at the bit but Jones-Drew cut through all of that, the cold and the Steelers' kickoff coverage team to deliver a 96-yard return that changed the game. It's a play that stands next to Mark Brunell's 29-yard scramble against Denver in the 1996 playoffs as one of the top postseason moments in Jaguars history.

It was, simply put, a play of monumental impact. Imagine the consequences of a three-and-out series by the Jaguars offense. Imagine Roethlisberger getting the ball back in good field position and with a 7-0 lead.

The Jaguars went on to win the game, 31-29, the Jaguars' first playoff win in eight years. It was a win that would trigger high hopes for 2008 and it was Jones-Drew who made it happen.

Such is the little running back's penchant for football drama. He does special things. He makes things happen. He is, by the strictest definition, an impact player.

"They told me during the week that this one might go. Joe D. (special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis) had the perfect scheme," Jones-Drew said.

Joe D. also had the perfect return man.

Fred Taylor is the heart and soul of the Jaguars, but Jones-Drew is its sparkplug, and he was recently selected by as the Jaguars' most indispensable player.

Why? How is it that a player who has yet to rush for a thousand yards in a season is so important? The answer is his impact. He impacts the Jaguars in nearly every way. He's an every-downs back, a third-down receiver, a short-yardage and goal-line runner, a kickoff returner and, possibly, a punt-returner, too, this season.

"Because I'm small, I have to do everything better than everybody else. I've been a thousand-yard rusher before. You don't feel any different. An all-purpose back can get (the ball) in any situation," Jones-Drew said.

He is the only player in the NFL each of the last two seasons to have 2,000-plus all-purpose yards. Only LaDainian Tomlinson, Terrell Owens and Marion Barber have scored more touchdowns in the last two seasons.

Jones-Drew and the Saints' Reggie Bush are revolutionizing the position. They are do-it-all guys who hearken memories of Gale Sayers. They make it easy for coaches to get them the ball.

Ironically, Jones-Drew and Bush came out of college in the same draft. They're California products who played their college football in the same town, though for rival teams. Jones-Drew piled up yards at UCLA, but Bush piled up wins at USC. Bush won a national title and Heisman Trophy. Jones-Drew had to settle for being a second-round pick by the Jaguars.

"We're the same person, we're just different body types," Jones-Drew said. "My style is different than his, but we get the same results. If I can run straight ahead, I'll get there faster. He figures he can out-run everybody to the sideline."

Jones-Drew has out-produced Bush 2-1 in all-purpose yards and touchdowns, but Jones-Drew is quick to defend Bush's impact on the Saints as a multi-purpose back.

"You're impacting the game in so many ways," Jones-Drew said. "If you put your all-purpose yards vs. their rushing, it's a landslide difference."

The proof of that is Jones-Drew's standing above all league running backs the past two seasons in all-purpose yards. Tomlinson has out-rushed Jones-Drew 3,289 yards to 1,757, but Jones-Drew has 4,560 all-purpose yards to Tomlinson's 4,272. Jones-Drew has the league's second-best rushing average over the last two seasons, has scored the third-most touchdowns and has never missed a game.

Impact? He's the definition of it and his impact on Taylor has been just as dramatic. With Jones-Drew taking care of the all-purpose duties, Taylor has been allowed to focus on the thing he does best, which is to say run with the football from scrimmage. It has allowed Taylor to lead the league in rushing average.

So what's next for Jones-Drew? When does he replace Taylor as the Jaguars' feature back?

Well, for starters, Jones-Drew may add punt-returning to his resume this season. He's fielding punts more successfully in this training camp and it's very likely coach Jack Del Rio will give Jones-Drew the chance to prove he can field punts reliably in games.

Feature back? Why ruin a good thing? Taylor is in the best shape of his life and shows no signs of slowing up. Why mess with a good thing? Jones-Drew says he's fine with the way it is.

"My thing is I want the team to be noticed. That's the reason I go on all these (TV shows). I do those things to help the players who don't get noticed. I couldn't care less about who knows who I am," Jones-Drew said.

"I still think some people will never get over that, because I'm small, I'm not supposed to be able to do it," he added.

Do it? He does it all.

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