The rivalry was always fierce, endlessly dramatic, remarkably predictable.
The Jacksonville Jaguars always won at the wire. The Ravens always lost in agony.
Now, that rivalry is turned upside down for who knows how long. Or briefly.
When the Ravens visit the Jaguars on Sunday night, they'll practice a role reversal, two teams seemingly headed in opposite directions and different destinations.
"They're in a new position," Ravens coach Brian Billick said yesterday of the Jaguars. "They haven't had to fight out of this position in a while. We haven't been in this position before.
"We're on top of the [AFC] Central Division and they want to take that away. That's [our] mentality. It's going to take a [great] game for us not to allow them to do that."
The Ravens' 39-36 victory over Jacksonville at PSINet Stadium on Sept. 10 changed the fortunes of both teams. In typically dramatic fashion, it took a 32-point flurry in the second half to break the Jaguars' 8-0 series domination.
Since then, the 4-1 Ravens have owned the division lead. The Jaguars, meanwhile, have slumped to 2-3, with more regular-season losses than they had in a 14-2 campaign a year ago.
With two straight defeats, the Jaguars fell under .500 for the first time since December 1996. They haven't lost three in a row since September 1996.
They appear on the verge of an early knockout.
Just don't call them desperate.
"Desperate is not the right word," Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin said in a conference call. "We're disappointed where we are. We have not performed the way we'd like to perform. I think the pressure we put on ourselves is far greater than the pressure anybody else puts on us.
"So I'm not into biting into someone else's words and terms."
Injuries have devastated the Jaguars' offensive line, where four of five starters are either new to the team or didn't start in the same position last season. Their running game is averaging 2.9 yards a carry and big-play quarterback Mark Brunell has been sacked 26 times in five games.
"They've gone through some things with injuries and other things," said Ravens defensive back Corey Harris, who tipped one Brunell pass that was intercepted, and picked off a second in the furious finish."[But] they're a championship-caliber team that has a proven record. It's not like all of a sudden they don't know how to do it. It's a matter of them finding a way to get back to that. That's their struggle; that's the pressure for them."
This game had always been a struggle for a franchise that had not beaten Jacksonville as the Browns or Ravens until last month. That landmark win cleared the air and lightened the mood. Yesterday's locker room could have passed for the Wednesday leading into Cincinnati week.
"You see it around here," quarterback Tony Banks said. "Guys are still pretty light. It used to be [during] Jacksonville week, it got a little tight around here, because we knew the history and how important the game was for the town, for us, for the coaching staff, for everybody around the Ravens."[Now] we know we're capable of beating that team if we play good football, and hopefully, we won't put ourselves in a situation where we have to score 32 points in the second half."
The Ravens have some injury worries of their own. Both offensive tackles - Jonathan Ogden and Harry Swayne - are questionable with ankle sprains. Ogden did not practice yesterday and Swayne participated only on a limited basis.
On defense, tackle Sam Adams (ankle) and cornerback Duane Starks (hamstring) are also questionable. Starks, who ran yesterday, is expected to practice today and the Ravens are optimistic he will be able to play.
Adams and Ogden are both waiting for protective braces to arrive.
The injury situation aside, Billick knows Sunday's game will be difficult for another reason.
"You're not going to hand a third consecutive loss to a Tom Coughlin-coached team without it being an absolute knockdown, drag-out, physical war," he said. "We are going to get the best, most physical and emotional game that Jacksonville has."
When the emotions wane, execution will win out, tight end Shannon Sharpe said.
"We have to weather the storm," said Sharpe, whose 29-yard touchdown catch decided last month's game. "You know they're going to come out fired up, they're going to take some chances early. The thing for us is being where we're supposed to be, doing what we're supposed to do.
"Weather the storm, because you don't win games on emotion. ... Emotions only carry you so far, 75,000 fans only carry you so far. After a while, your level of offense and defense is going to have to win the game for you."
"I'm sure they'd like to be in our situation," Sharpe said. "It's a lot better being 4-1 than whatever they are. We'll take where we are. But there's still a long way to go."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Jacksonville Jaguars
Site: Alltel Stadium, Jacksonville, Fla.
When: Sunday, 8:35 p.m.
TV/Radio: ESPN, Ch. 2/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Jaguars by 2 1/2