Taylor-made explosion again starts Ravens crumbling Rookie's 78-yard TD catch lifts Jags, like Week 3 run

November 02, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

It never worked in practice, or even back in college. But when Jacksonville running back Fred Taylor lined up as a wide receiver in the final two minutes of the first quarter yesterday, he hit the jackpot.

Pass reception, long touchdown, impending rout.

For the second time this season, a Jacksonville victory over the Ravens was inspired by a big play by the Jaguars' precocious 22-year-old rookie.

"He's a rookie, but he doesn't act it," Jacksonville tackle Leon Searcy said after Taylor produced the longest play from scrimmage in the franchise's four-year history.

Taylor's 78-yard touchdown triggered a binge of fastbreak football. In the span of 13 minutes, 20 seconds, the Jaguars scored five times to open a commanding 42-7 lead that became a 45-19 romp.

It started with Taylor lined up wide to the right in a four-wide-out formation and quarterback Mark Brunell in the shotgun.

"We were trying to go inside," Brunell said after completing 13 of 20 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns. "They played zone and I was trying to hit either Keenan [McCardell] or Jimmy [Smith] on an inside hook route, but they covered that up. Their corner squatted on Fred and we were able to go over top. It was a big play for us."

Taylor found himself lined up against Ravens cornerback Rod Woodson, who perhaps underestimated Taylor's speed. Taylor got open quickly and then sprinted down the sideline to break a 7-7 tie.

"I just ran as fast as I could," Taylor said. "I wasn't expecting the ball. He squatted on the ball a little too long."

Taylor said the play never works in practice -- he never sees the ball -- and neither did it work at the University of Florida. "Back in college," he said, "I was pretty much a decoy."

He was no decoy this time, though. Less than two minutes into the second quarter, after the first of four lost Ravens fumbles, Taylor added a 1-yard touchdown run to make it 21-7. Playing with a tender left shoulder, Taylor finished with 87 rushing yards.

In a series dominated by the Jaguars (8-0 vs. the Browns/Ravens), Taylor has made a huge difference. Where once this series was routinely decided by three points or fewer, his presence seemingly has turned it into a runaway.

In a 24-10 win over the Ravens in Week 3, Taylor churned for 213 scrimmage yards (128 on the ground, 85 in receptions). Shortly after replacing injured James Stewart, he broke a franchise-record 52-yard touchdown run.

In two games against Baltimore, Taylor has gained 378 scrimmage yards, including 215 rushing. The Jaguars outscored the Ravens by a combined 69-29. Yesterday's win, coupled with a Pittsburgh loss to Tennessee, gives the Jaguars the AFC Central lead at 6-2.

"We're a better team," guard Ben Coleman said of this season's sweep. "I don't know if we were much better than they were the last two years. This year we're much more fundamentally sound."

Taylor gives Jacksonville an element it hasn't had in previous seasons -- an explosive element in the running game.

"He's explosive and elusive," Searcy said. "He makes big plays for us and makes so much happen. It's a blessing to have someone like him."

Said Smith: "He does so much for the running game, and he helps the passing game. He's just a playmaker. He makes us more dangerous."

Even when he lines up at wide receiver.

Pub Date: 11/02/98

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