Jaguars' Taylor in zone end zone

NFL: After his two-touchdown half vs. the Dolphins, explosive back Fred Taylor will carry Jacksonville's hopes, as well as the ball, against the Titans.

January 18, 2000|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

Tackle Leon Searcy was looking for the phrase that defines Fred Taylor, the mercurial running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars, and couldn't quite find it.

"He runs like the wind how's that go, Zach?"

Zach Wiegert, Searcy's linemate, didn't miss a beat.

"He can run like the wind blows," Wiegert said.

Both men smiled.

The wind was howling on a sun-splashed day at ALLTEL Stadium on Saturday -- figuratively, at least. Searcy and Wiegert, the right side of the Jaguars' offensive line, turned Taylor loose on a breathtaking 90-yard touchdown run against the Miami Dolphins in the first quarter.

Then they watched in wonder as Taylor caught a short pass in the left flat and ran through or around at least four Dolphins for a dazzling 39-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter.

That quickly, the AFC divisional playoff game became a 31-0 rout. The 62-7 final launched the 15-2 Jaguars into Sunday's AFC championship game at home against the 15-3 Tennessee Titans.

And Taylor, Jacksonville's all-purpose game-breaker, is a big reason the Jaguars are favored to reach Super Bowl XXXIV.

"I'm not surprised at what he's doing," Searcy said. "He's a big-time player. And big-time players show up in big-time games. He definitely had a great game. [But] that's expected of Fred Taylor.

"He's the best runner I've been around."

Taylor gained 135 yards rushing on 18 carries in the first half against Miami. Late in the second quarter, he retreated to the locker room with dehydration. He was not needed in the second half.

He will be needed a lot longer against Tennessee, which stuffed NFL rushing champion Edgerrin James (56 yards on 20 carries) in a 19-16 AFC semifinal win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

This has been a bittersweet second season for Taylor, the ninth pick of the 1998 draft. A left hamstring injury that cropped up in the second game of the season has never completely healed. Taylor played in nine games in the regular season, but finished only six of them.

"The hamstring is coming along," he said. "[Saturday was] the 17th game of the year, but I'm still not in shape like the other guys. I'm cramping occasionally. But it's coming along."

The injury cost Taylor slightly more than $1 million in reachable incentives in his contract, and cut his rookie statistics in half. A year ago, he rushed for 1,223 yards, had six 100-yard games and scored 17 touchdowns. This year, he totaled 732 rushing yards, three 100-yard games and six touchdowns.

Still, Taylor was consistent in two key categories: average yards per carry (4.6 both years) and big plays. Last season, he ripped off runs of 77, 70, 52 and 49 yards. This season, he had runs of 52, 41, 38 and 35 yards.

Then came Saturday's 90-yard jaunt, the longest in NFL postseason history, breaking the mark of 80 yards set by San Francisco's Roger Craig in 1988. It was also the longest run in Jaguars history, toppling his own run of 77 yards last season against the Dolphins.

Going around Searcy's side, Taylor made Calvin Jackson miss him at the line of scrimmage before cutting back inside Patrick Surtain. Miami's Fred Marion nearly caught a tiring Taylor at the 10, but wide receiver Jimmy Smith hustled downfield to make the final block and ensure the touchdown.

As brilliant as that run was, Taylor's catch-and-run for the 39-yard touchdown was even more spectacular. Four would-be tacklers failed to bring him down.

Taylor runs with a sprinter's acceleration and a fullback's power. His teammates marvel at his ability to break big plays.

"He's very special," said quarterback Mark Brunell. "There's not a lot of guys who can do what he does. He can change the course of a game on one play. He has the ability to score from anywhere at any time."

Said coach Tom Coughlin: "Fred certainly demonstrated again his outstanding ability to make people miss and have the speed to finish the job."

Taylor appears to be even more dangerous in January. Including two playoff games a year ago, he is averaging 127.7 rushing yards per game and 5.4 per carry.

He runs like the wind blows and distributes the wealth.

"As talented as he is, as much exposure as he gets, the guy's real humble," Searcy said. "He always gives his credit to somebody else. It's refreshing to see."

NFL playoffs

AFC championship game

Tennessee at Jacksonville

When: Sunday, 12: 35 p.m. TV: Chs. 13, 9

Line: Jaguars by 7

NFC championship game

Tampa Bay at St. Louis

When: Sunday 4: 15 p.m.

TV: Chs. 45, 5

Line: Rams by 13 1/2

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