FOXBORO, Mass. -- All the early signs point to a game reminiscent of the old American Football League.
Two teams with promising young quarterbacks in Mark Brunell and Drew Bledsoe. Big-play receivers in Terry Glenn, Ben Coates, Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith. Two offensive lines that can dominate and two questionable defenses.
The New England Patriots against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC title game today at Foxboro Stadium. The fun starts at 4 p.m.
"We're not going into the game expecting anything, but if we need to score 40 points to win, we have the offense to put up the numbers," Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Boselli said. "I don't know if it's going to be an offensive game, but it should be entertaining."
"It's capable of being [a shootout]," said Smith, who teams with McCardell for the Jaguars. "The way we throw the ball and run it with Natrone Means, and the way their offense moves up and down the field, definitely it could be a shootout."
The game seems centered on the quarterbacks. New England's Drew Bledsoe is on the verge of greatness, having completed 373 of 623 passes for 4,086 yards and 27 touchdowns during the regular season. Brunell is another fast-rising star, having paced the league's top passing offense by completing 353 of 557 attempts for 4,367 yards and 19 touch downs.
"Knowing that Jacksonville has been successful offensively gives us a little sense of urgency on offense," Bledsoe said. "We've got the type of weapons that work quickly from any point on the field."
McCardell said: "They were explosive against Pittsburgh and we were explosive against Denver. It'll be one offense trying to keep the other offense off the field."
And it may not be strictly a passing affair. New England has running back Curtis Martin, who rushed for 1,152 yards this season. Jacksonville counters with Natrone Means, who had 507 yards on the ground after playing sparingly early in the season.
Martin is the more elusive of the two, not particularly fast, but more of a bobber and weaver with acceleration. Means runs with power and authority, but also has the ability to turn the corner.
"There is pressure on both offenses to compete, but the real pressure is on the defenses to slow them down," Jaguars defensive lineman Clyde Simmons said. "Somebody has to defuse the bombs."
Neither defense has played well for the entire season, though the Patriots have been superb in the past five games. Both defenses are casts of no-names or castoffs.
New England has little-known players like defensive linemen Ferric Collons and Mark Wheeler and cornerback Ty Law. Jacksonville has such castoffs as Simmons and safety Dana Hall, though rookie linebacker Kevin Hardy seems destined to be a star.
"These teams are a mixture of veterans and young guys, a good mix of talent and good coaching," Patriots offensive tackle Bruce Armstrong said. "It's not always about stars and studs, but sacrifices and role-playing.
"We've done whatever it takes to get to this point."
Today's game is a tale of two teams that no one predicted in the preseason would play for the conference championship. Jacksonville is the league's Cinderella story, a team that was 3-6 but has rallied to win its past seven games, including playoff games on the road against the Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos.
Jacksonville is a second-year team playing with confidence and over its abilities.
"Denver and Buffalo didn't take them seriously," Patriots fullback Keith Byars said. "We won't make that same mistake. We've seen the damage they can do."
New England's success is the culmination of a four-year project by coach Bill Parcells. The Patriots made the playoffs in 1994, but failed to make a postseason appearance last year.
"We're alike in a lot of ways," McCardell said. "No one picked us to be here. We both have high-powered offenses and lesser-known defenses. And now we're both just one game away from being in the Super Bowl. That's a lot to have in common."
There are two more things. New England beat Jacksonville in overtime, 28-25, earlier this season, and Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin is a former assistant under Parcells when they were with the New York Giants.
"Bill had a tremendous effect on me," Coughlin said. "He taught me how to win and put it all together. I am forever grateful."
Parcells said: "He is one of my favorite guys I ever coached with. It's simple, really. I like him.
"Of all the things that are very important in a coach, he is all of those things. This is not pleasant for either of us, but that's the way the business is."
Pub Date: 1/12/97