4-7 leaves Brunell on edge Jaguars' talented QB takes it personally

November 21, 1996|By Peter Zellen | Peter Zellen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Mark Brunell fidgets a lot when he talks.

He scratches his shoulder or his chest underneath his Jacksonville Jaguars sweat shirt. He shifts his weight from one leg to the other. He folds his arms across his chest and slowly twists from side to side.

Occasionally, Brunell looks directly at the person he's speaking to, but spends most of the time looking at the ceiling or at the ground.

Some say it's attitude; some say it's anxiety. All anyone knows for sure is that Brunell puts a lot of pressure on himself as the Jaguars' quarterback -- especially after a loss.

"He does take it personally. He's our leader, and he feels like if we lose a game that he could have done something to make us win," said offensive guard Jeff Novak.

"Obviously, that's not the case, but Mark puts that load on his shoulder and expects to win all the time. We all feed off that confidence and that drive, and he makes this team so much better than without him."

A 4-7 record may not have been what the Jaguars were looking for as they prepare for Sunday's game against the Ravens, but Brunell's statistics are certainly eye-catching.

In his fourth season in the NFL -- and only his second with extensive playing time -- Brunell has elevated the Jaguars to No. 1 in the league in passing offense. Through 11 games, he has 3,080 yards, a 63.5 percent completion rate (second in the NFL) and 14 touchdowns.

He's also the Jaguars' second-leading rusher with 252 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Jacksonville officials say they're not surprised, and Brunell's performance is justification for the 1995 trade that brought him to the Jaguars from the Green Bay Packers, for whom he was a backup to Brett Favre.

On several occasions, Brunell has resembled Favre -- throwing for at least 200 yards in 13 consecutive games and compiling two 300-yard and two 400-yard passing games this season.

But Brunell seems to be remembered more for the bad games. There was a 17-14 loss in St. Louis on Oct. 20, when he threw five interceptions, several of them when his team was in the red zone. Then there was last week's 28-3 loss in Pittsburgh; he threw for 215 yards, but was sacked six times and lost two fumbles.

In the four games Brunell has thrown for more than 300 yards, the Jaguars have won once.

Luckily for Jacksonville, Brunell usually doesn't let his disappointment carry over into the next week's practice.

"He expects to be able to do everything, and he puts a lot of pressure on himself, but one great characteristic of Mark Brunell is that once the game's over, he knows how to put it behind him," said Novak. "I don't think he dwells too much on things once it's over with and he has no more control."

It's the anticipation that gets Brunell so anxious.

"The nature of my position is that you get too much credit and you get too much of the blame," said Brunell. "The fact remains that it all starts with the quarterback. If the quarterback plays good, then the offense is probably going to play good, and if the quarterback is playing bad, then so goes the other 10 players on our side of the ball.

"I feel real responsible for a lot of things that have happened to us this year, but it's also part of the position where you've got to forget what has happened in the past and look forward to the future, and that's this week against the Ravens."

Helping him focus as the Jaguars formulate their Sunday game plan will be the memory of his performance two weeks ago against the Ravens. Brunell led the Jaguars to 27 second-half points, and 17 of those came in the fourth quarter, including the quarterback's 1-yard, game-winning bootleg touchdown run with 41 seconds left in the 30-27 victory.

Brunell said the confidence stemming from that game can override any deflating thoughts resulting from last week's loss to the Steelers. But he said it's still not enough.

"You look at the film and you see the last two quarters and some things that were there for us that we feel can be there again for us," he said. "But this is going to be a new football game, and we're going to be at their place. It's going to be different."

FTC

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Jacksonville Jaguars

Site: Memorial Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WLIF (101.9 FM), WJFK (1300 AM)

Line: Ravens by 4

` Pub Date: 11/21/96

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