Let's go back to that day in December of 1996 when the upstart, second-season Jacksonville Jaguars ended the Buffalo Bills' nine-year reign as one of the premier teams in the NFL.
It was the final game of Jim Kelly's career; carted him off the field. No more Kelly, Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, Thurman Thomas and Marv Levy. They took the Bills to eight playoff berths in nine seasons. They lost four Super Bowls. They were, without a doubt, a team built to last.
They were also a team built before the institution of the salary cap. They were a team collapsed by age, not the cap. In fact, they may be the last power team in NFL history to have been allowed to grow old.
What about the eight years since the Jaguars beat the Bills in the '96 playoffs?
Well, the Bills are now on their third head coach and third quarterback. They briefly re-tooled, then gutted their organization in the face of a major salary cap problem. Nothing about these Bills, including their uniforms, bears resemblance to those "K Gun" teams of the early-'90s.
And, the Jaguars? Well, they're on their second coach since that '96 playoff win. Tony Boselli is gone, Mark Brunell is gone and a massive salary cap problem is responsible for four consecutive losing seasons and a complete re-design of everything, including the team's philosophy of operation.
That's life in today's NFL. Nothing stays the same for long in this league these days. Eight playoffs in nine years? We may never see that again.
Now, here are 10 things the Jaguars have to do to beat the Bills this Sunday:
- Stop the run—The Jaguars established it as the foundation of their success on defense last year. It must be re-established immediately because it all begins with stopping the run.
- Rush the quarterback—Opponents won't respect the Jaguars' ability to pressure the passer until they prove they can do it.
- Don't turn it over—Maybe that should be the Jaguars' mantra for this season.
- Protect the quarterback—Byron Leftwich had a rough preseason and needs to get off to a solid start and quiet the wolves who would howl at the Jaguars' home opener.
- Play it close to the vest—This is a game between two teams with top defenses that figure to make this a low-scoring game. That's fine for a team on the road in its season-opener.
- Make the kicks—You can't win low-scoring games by missing field-goal attempts. Josh Scobee is in the pressure cooker and he may hold the Jags' fate in his hands.
- Show the improvement—The Jaguars had the worst special teams in the league last year and great offseason emphasis was placed on improving that area of the team. All right, it's show-time.
- Win the battle of field position—A lot of factors come into play – good defense, mistake-free offense – but no one has a greater impact on field position than the punter. Chris Hanson must win his battle against Brian Moorman.
- Play with energy—This isn't a preseason game. It's all right to get excited.
- Make at least one big play—One big play may win this game.