THE TERRIBLE TWOS SECOND-YEAR JAGUARS MAKE A PLAYOFF RUN SIMEON RICE SIMMERS IN THE DESERT WUERFFEL'S FUTURE IN QUESTION

December 23, 1996

As the Jaguars ran out the clock at the end of their 20-13 win
over the visiting Seahawks on Sunday night, several young
players on the Jacksonville sideline began celebrating.
Eighth-year defensive end Jeff Lageman held up one finger and
went from player to player. "One more," he reminded them. "One
more."

The Jaguars? Playing for their postseason life? That's what
Jacksonville was doing against Seattle, and that's what it will
be doing again this Sunday when it hosts the moribund Falcons.
In fact, barring a tie in the Bills-Chiefs game, Jacksonville,
8-7, will qualify for the playoffs as an AFC wild card with a
win over Atlanta. Imagine, with the regular season winding down,
one second-year expansion team, the Panthers, is already in the
playoffs and the other, the Jaguars, are knocking on the door.

Of course, Carolina and Jacksonville aren't expansion teams in
the traditional sense. "These are free-agency teams," says
Packers general manager Ron Wolf, pointing out that both clubs
had access to standout players through unfettered free agency
that no other newcomers to the NFL ever had. The Panthers have
10 starters who came to them as free agents, and the Jags have
11. But here are some other reasons why Jacksonville, winner of
five of its last six games after a 3-6 start, is already on the
playoff bubble.

1) The Jaguars' passing game is finally efficient. On Oct. 20 in
St. Louis, Jacksonville had 36 first downs to the Rams'
eight--and lost. Quarterback Mark Brunell threw five
interceptions that day. Now he has gone more than three
games--90 pass attempts--without having been picked off. On
Sunday he became the first quarterback to pass for 4,000 yards
this season, and at 26, he has a chance to form a bond with a
couple of his favorite receivers, young free-agent pickups
Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith.

2) The coach isn't a dictator anymore. Instead of establishing a
rule for every facet of team life, as he did during the Jaguars'
inaugural season, coach Tom Coughlin has loosened up. He also no
longer makes Jacksonville practice in pads on Fridays and has
turned Monday's practice into strictly a weightlifting and
film-watching session. "He's not Mr. High Strung anymore," says
Jaguars defensive tackle Don Davey. "We're looser now, and it's
a big reason we're winning."

3) Young defensive players are producing. Rookie end Tony
Brackens, a second-round pick out of Texas, may have been the
steal of the 1996 draft. Against the Seahawks he had 12 tackles,
four passes deflected, one interception and a sack. Linebackers
Eddie Robinson, a fifth-year player, and Kevin Hardy, the second
overall pick in last spring's draft, lead Jacksonville in
tackles. And rookie cornerback Aaron Beasley, a third-round
pick, has played well since moving into the starting lineup six
games ago. Beasley has 25 tackles and one interception.

"We take pride in what we've accomplished so far," Lageman says.
"We know we've got a chance to be pretty good."

RICE IS NICE

When it came time for the Cardinals to make the third pick in
the April draft, Arizona fans wanted the front office to select
quarterback bodyguard Jonathan Ogden, a tackle from UCLA. But in
a surprise move coach Vince Tobin chose Illinois defensive end
Simeon Rice instead.

Rice's stock had dropped during his senior season, but he has
been paying dividends for the Cardinals. In a 27-26 win over the
Redskins on Sunday, he had two sacks, giving him 12 1/2 for the
season and tying the NFL rookie record set by Leslie O'Neal of
the Chargers in 1986.

"The biggest thing he does that you don't usually see rookies do
is use his countermoves instinctively," says veteran Arizona
linebacker Seth Joyner. "A lot of young guys, when something
isn't working, have to stop and think what they want to try
next. Simeon just does it."

HEISMAN HYPE

Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel's potential as an NFL
quarterback seems marginal at best. Scouts aren't enamored with
his arm strength or mobility, and despite his 39 TD passes this
season for Florida, he's projected as no better than a
third-round pick in next April's draft. "He has ability and
guts," says Falcons vice president of player personnel Ken
Herock. "I think he could hang around the league and be a good
backup. But if anyone sees beyond that, he's looking into a
crystal ball."

DISPATCHES

When the Cowboys clinched the NFC East on Sunday, with a 12-6
win over the Patriots, it set them up for a tough road schedule
in 1997. Most notable is that Dallas will travel to Green Bay
next year for the first time since 1989. The teams' last seven
meetings, four during the regular season and three in the
playoffs, have come at Texas Stadium, and the Cowboys have won
all of them. Dallas also will play at Pittsburgh, and should the
Panthers hold on and win the NFC West, a trip to San Francisco
will be on the Cowboys' schedule as well....How important is a
bye in the postseason? Since the playoffs were expanded to four
rounds in 1978, of the 92 teams that have played a
wild-card-round game, only the 1980 Raiders have gone on to win
the Super Bowl....Agents have never been popular with Panthers
general manager Bill Polian. Told that Tom Cruise's title role
in the hit movie Jerry Maguire is patterned after agent Leigh
Steinberg, Polian said, "The apocalypse is upon us."...With Ron
Turner having accepted the coaching job at Illinois, Bears coach
Dave Wannstedt is looking for a new offensive coordinator. Word
is that Wannstedt hopes to shake Ernie Zampese free from the
Cowboys, but that appears unlikely as long as Barry Switzer is
the coach in Dallas....The Raiders were whistled for a
team-record 20 penalties for 157 yards in a 24-19 loss to the
Broncos that eliminated Oakland from the postseason. Afterward
Raiders safety Lorenzo Lynch said, "Denver will lose in the
first round of the playoffs--guaranteed."...The Bengals finally
did the right thing on Sunday when they signed interim coach
Bruce Coslet to a four-year contract. Upon replacing David
Shula, who was fired on Oct. 21 after a 1-6 start, Coslet
challenged lackadaisical players and got more out of this
talented team than his predecessor. The result: Cincinnati is
6-2 under Coslet after Sunday's 21-13 win over the Oilers, and
quarterback Jeff Blake says of his new boss, "I'd go to the
grave with him."... Oilers cornerback Cris Dishman, a
free-agent-to-be, after playing probably his last game in
Houston: "Shocked, stunned, frustrated, upset, happy." Happy?
"Well, I'm happy no one suffered a career-ending injury."...
What a depressing place RFK Stadium will be on Sunday. The
Redskins move to the Maryland suburbs next season, meaning that
the game against the Cowboys will be the last one played at RFK.
What's worse is that Washington is out of the playoff race,
having lost six of its last seven. Owner Jack Kent Cooke may
force coach Norv Turner to fire the defensive staff after the
season.

THE END ZONE

The Bears' Todd Sauerbrun, upon receiving a tongue-in-cheek
Comeback Punter of the Year award from Fox analyst Terry
Bradshaw: "Do I have an incentive clause in my contract for this?"

COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT ROGERS Smith caught this TD pass in the end zone after a pair of Seahawks touched the ball. [Jimmy Smith and other in game] RICHARD MACKSON Rice (79) made quite an impression on Ram Tony Banks. [Simeon Rice tackling Tony Banks]

NO PLACE LIKE HOME?

The host team has won 58.8% of the games this decade, so it's
clear that home field advantage is a significant factor in the
NFL--except in the case of the Jets. With its 21-20 loss to the
Eagles last Saturday, New York suffered its 11th straight home
defeat, dating back to Oct. 22, 1995. That matched the
fourth-longest such streak in league history. "I never thought
it would be possible to lose 10 in a row at home," says Jaguars
defensive end Jeff Lageman, who was a Jet from 1989 through '94.
"Especially in New York, with the weather and the wind and the
fans being so tough. That's a tough place for a road team." Here
are the longest home losing streaks in NFL history.

TEAM GAMES YEARS

1. Cowboys 14 1988 to '89
2. Buccaneers 13 1976 to '77
Oilers 13 1972 to '73
4. Jets 11 1995 to present
Rams 11 1961 to '63
Raiders 11 1961 to '62

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)