Bucking Broncos old hat to Jags '96 upstarts eye repeat, but Denver wiser, too

December 27, 1997|By DALLAS MORNING NEWS

DENVER -- The Denver Broncos won 12 games, went undefeated at home and finished the season with the NFL's best offense.

Their reward is a first-round playoff game today against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team that won 11 games but lost the AFC Central title on a fifth tiebreaker.

More important, the Jaguars don't fear Denver.

Jacksonville beat Denver, 30-27, in the playoffs last season. At Mile High Stadium.

And the Jaguars have won 18 of their past 26 games.

"The story line is there. We beat them at their place last year when they were supposed to be the best -- at least in the AFC," Jaguars running back Natrone Means said. "We went there and knocked them off, so obviously they will be up for revenge, but that's just something we'll have to face."

There's no doubt the Broncos feel the pressure of the postseason.

Quarterback John Elway declined to speak to the Jacksonville media this week. And several Broncos publicly complained about the treatment they received from Jacksonville's coaches at last year's Pro Bowl.

The Broncos, 1-3 in the playoffs this decade, know they are running out of time to get Elway a Super Bowl championship.

"I just hope everyone knows the urgency of the situation," Denver safety Steve Atwater said. "Guys have to be serious about this. We've got to put everything we have into this. Who knows if we'll get another chance?"

Pro Bowl tight end Shannon Sharpe said he's taking a similar approach. Beating Jacksonville, he said, would take a lot of pressure off the Broncos and give them the confidence they need to win Super Bowl XXXII.

"We definitely have the team and the personnel to make a run," Sharpe said. "If we play our best ballgame against Jacksonville and we get hot, there aren't going to be very many teams that will want to play us."

Of course, the Jaguars' short playoff history is full of success. Given a pass into the playoffs last year when the Atlanta Falcons' Morten Andersen missed a chip-shot field goal at the end of the regular-season finale, the young Jaguars upset Buffalo and Denver before losing to New England, 20-6, in the AFC championship.

"Beating Denver was the biggest win this franchise has ever had," Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell said. "Now expectations are higher for us."

One of the keys to a Denver victory will be its ability to run the ball and stop the run.

Terrell Davis finished second in the NFL in carries (369) and yardage (1,750), while leading the league with 46 runs of at least 10 yards.

But he suffered a partially separated shoulder in Week 15 and missed the final 1 1/2 games. He has been upgraded to probable && for today's game.

If Davis turns in his usual performance, it will allow Elway to pick his spots against Jacksonville's suspect pass defense.

Running the ball is also the key to Jacksonville's offense, despite having Brunell, the NFL's top-rated passer.

Means gained 823 yards and scored nine touchdowns, but he averaged only 3.4 yards per carry. James Stewart added 555 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Broncos' undersized defensive line allowed an average of 4.7 yards per carry. If teams can keep up with Denver's offense and continue to run the ball, they can have success against the Broncos.

"We have to run the ball in the playoffs just like we did last year," Brunell said. "I don't want to be in a situation where people can tee off on us, even though we have a potent passing attack."

Pub Date: 12/27/97

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