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Watershed game?


(Sept. 22)—It could turn out to be a watershed game. Maybe this Sunday's contest will produce a changing of the guard in the AFC South. Jack Del Rio, however, isn't allowing his players to embrace such romantic thoughts.

"This is a business trip," Del Rio told reporters at Wednesday's press conference. "There are a lot of peripheral things that don't have much to do with the task that's in front of us."

For most in this new era in Jaguars football, including the coach who ushered it in, this game doesn't carry the same significance it does for Jaguars fans who suffered through those three defeats to the Titans in 1999. "You gotta watch yourself with that history. A lot of us weren't there," quarterback Byron Leftwich said.

Only Jimmy Smith, Fred Taylor, Donovin Darius and Kyle Brady remain from that '99 Jaguars team. They remember the pain, of course, but it has become a very personal thing for them. Taylor, who once was twice-a-year bulletin board material for the Titans, now bites his tongue when he talks to reporters during Titans week.

"The people around since '99, the fans, they're like, please beat Tennessee," Taylor said.

A couple of times the Jaguars have beaten the Titans, though never in the stadium the Titans now call home. And those two wins the Jaguars scratched out against their rivals, in 2000 and in '01, were largely meaningless.

This Sunday, the Jaguars have a chance to strike a potentially very meaningful blow. This Sunday's game has milestone written all over it.

The Titans are 1-1 and coming off a home loss to the Colts. Should the Titans lose at home to a division foe for the second consecutive week, their prospects would dip significantly. Beyond that, the Titans are a team with salary cap problems that cast a very dim light on their future. This is a game that could send each team into a long-term upward or downward spiral.

"That's a great scenario," Taylor said, "but I'm not looking that far ahead. The past is the past."

Del Rio has his team's head screwed on straight. They understand what's at stake. They understand what is expected of them.

"That doesn't mean anything to me," middle linebacker Mike Peterson said of the changing-of-the-guard scenario.

Two years ago, the Jaguars played such a game at Tennessee. The Jaguars were 3-1; the Titans were 1-4. It was billed then as a turning point game, and it was, but there was no changing of the guard.

Tennessee won that game in 2002, 23-14. It was the first of five consecutive losses that dropped the Jaguars out of postseason contention and headed the team toward its third consecutive losing season. The count is at four, now, and all of that losing can be traced back to one day, Jan. 23, 2000, when the Jaguars were upset at home by the Titans in the AFC title game.

In contrast, that game in '02 was the first of five consecutive wins that propelled the Titans to another division title. Since that game, the Titans have won 23 of their last 29 regular-season games.

"Me, Jimmy and Mo (Maurice Williams) talked about it because we lost Mark (Brunell)," Taylor said of the '02 game. "Their season went up. Our season went down."

These Jaguars will have a chance to reverse that trend this Sunday. This can be the game that drives the Jaguars upward.

"I don't think we can worry about whether we're moving past the Titans. We can't put added pressure on ourselves because of what happened in '99. I was still backing up Chad Pennington," Leftwich said.

But Taylor was here. He remembers.

"We respect them to the fullest because of what they've done in the past. We don't fear them. We respect them. It's going to be a helluva game," Taylor said.

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