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By ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 12, 2000
Given up for dead weeks ago, the Jaguars are making noise about rising from the grave and challenging for a playoff spot.
At 3-6, that sounds like folly until you consider the Jags were 3-6 in 1996 and ended up reaching the AFC Championship Game. Also consider that four of Jacksonville's last seven games are against teams with records below .500: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Arizona and Seattle.
"I believe it's possible," safety Donovin Darius said. "If we just make plays at the critical times, we could run the table."
Jacksonville has been plagued by ineffective line play, but there's still a chance right tackle Leon Searcy will come back before the season is over. The Jaguars also are finding hope in the renewed efforts of running back Fred Taylor.
In the three games before the Jaguars' bye week, Taylor rushed for at least 100 yards in each: 112 against Tennessee, 124 against Washington and 107 against Dallas. It was a nice way for Taylor to respond to critics who had begun to label him "Fragile Fred" because of a rash of injuries.
"All I can call those people is dumb, with a big D," Taylor said of thosewho said he wasn't tough enough to play through injuries. "It happens. What can you do if a guy gets hurt? The guys around here know I want to play. I don't care what people say."
Through nine games, Taylor has 478 yards on 119 carries. If he averages 75 yards a game in the final seven games, he will get a second 1,000-yard season in three seasons.
TAMPA BAY NORTH: The Ravens are starting to look more and more like the Bucs.
The team is built around defense, and coach Brian Billick has talked about playing "Dungyball." Now comes word that because of his slumping offense, Billick reduced the number of plays in the playbook before last week's Cincinnati game.
That's the same thing the Bucs did before their upset of previously unbeaten Minnesota.
TOUGH STRETCH: Before you pencil the Colts in the playoffs, consider this: The teams the Colts have played are a combined 35-47 (.427). The teams left on their schedule are a combined 42-21 (.667). The only sub-.500 team, Green Bay, will be played on the road.
"This is gut-check time for us, no doubt about it," said quarterback Peyton Manning, whose team was upset by Chicago last week. "Where we go from here is going to decide what happens the rest of the season. There are no words or speeches you can do at this point.
"It's about going back to work and taking it from the practice field to the playing field. If we sit around and still think about (the Bears) game and feel sorry for ourselves, it's going to get a lot worse."
TRAP GAME: Miami coach Dave Wannstedt hopes his players don't get fooled into reaching for the cheese.
In an attempt to keep the Dolphins (7-2) focused on today's game against the winless Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium, Wannstedt had a mousetrap placed in front of each player's locker Wednesday morning.
"We've got to make sure we are focused on ourselves and not worry about San Diego or what their record is or why their record is what it is," Wannstedt said of the 0-9 Chargers. "We just have to make sure we go out and play as good a we can play."
BROTHERLY LOVE: Brothers Willie and Terry Jackson set a modern NFL record in Sunday's Saints-49ers game by becoming the first siblings in 75 years to score touchdowns in the same game. The 49ers' Terry scored his first career touchdown on an 11-yard pass in the fourth quarter. Willie scored his first touchdown as a Saint on a 4-yard pass in the second quarter.
The last time brothers scored a touchdown in the same game was Nov. 30, 1924, when Dutch and Joey Sternaman of the Bears scored in a 31-14 victory against the Milwaukee Badgers.
FLYIN' BRIAN: Eight times since 1960 a player has scored touchdowns by running, receiving, returning a kickoff and returning a punt. Only one, Chicago's Gale Sayers (1965, 1967), did it twice. Philadelphia's Brian Mitchell has scored a rushing touchdown, and he has returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns. If he catches a touchdown pass, Mitchell also will have accomplished the feat two times. He first did it in 1997.
ET CETERA: The Saints are 6-3, but they haven't beaten a team with a winning record. The combined record of their six victims is 14-42. ... With 232 carries in nine games, Ricky Williams is on pace to set the NFL record for rushing attempts in a season. Atlanta's Jamal Anderson set the record of 410 in 1998. Williams' average of 25.8 carries a game translates to 412 carries in 16 games. ... The Broncos are on pace to set at least 11 offensive team and individual records, including most total yards in a season, most touchdown passes in a season and most receptions in a season.