- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 20, 2002

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Who says this is a rebuilding year for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens?
Ravaged by the salary cap and coming off massive offseason roster reconstruction, both former AFC Central foes have played above expectations this season and are in the chase for their respective division titles. Today's meeting at Ravens Stadium might prove which team is further along.
The Jaguars (3-2) are one game behind the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South, while the Ravens (2-3) are tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for first in the AFC North. No one could have envisioned either contending at this point of the season, although it's hard to get excited about a Ravens team that's under .500.
Cap problems forced the Jaguars to lose starters Tony Boselli, Gary Walker and Seth Payne in the expansion draft and allow seven other starters to depart via free agency.
The Ravens, meanwhile, have the youngest team in the NFL with 12 first-year starters. Salary cap problems, retirement and the expansion draft caused Baltimore to lose starters Sam Adams, Terry Allen, Rob Burnett, Corey Harris, Qadry Ismail, Shannon Sharpe, Jamie Sharper, Duane Starks, Kipp Vickers, Rod Woodson, Elvis Grbac and Tony Siragusa.
Jaguars star running back Fred Taylor said this season's team is a far cry from the 1999 Jacksonville squad that went 14-2 before losing to Tennessee in the AFC Championship game.
"Prior to this season and even in the preseason, we're pretty much going to be underdogs in almost every game because of the salary cap situation and new faces," Taylor said. "I think when you have that underdog mentality, you can just go ahead and say, 'OK, we've got nothing to lose we're already written off as losers anyway.' We're just trying to prove to people that we're better than what they're saying. I think that makes us play a little harder and focus a little better."
The rivalry started off lopsided with the Jaguars winning the first eight games, but the Ravens have won the last four. Each Baltimore victory was achieved in the final minute, and eight of the 12 games in the series have been decided by three or fewer points.
"It's not quite the same, but it's still important, obviously," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It certainly doesn't diminish it. I don't know if it has quite the same bite to it that a divisional game does, but close."
Injuries may play a part in the outcome. Ray Lewis, Baltimore's five-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker, dislocated his left shoulder two weeks ago and missed last week's loss at Indianapolis. He's been upgraded from doubtful to questionable, and it will be a game time decision whether he'll play.
Meanwhile, Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell could have some lingering effects from a first-quarter concussion he suffered on a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit by Tennessee Titans cornerback Samari Rolle. It's the second concussion in 12 months for Brunell, who will start. And it's worth noting that the Jaguars lost their first four games last season after the Browns handed Brunell a concussion on Sept.30.
"This is my 10th year and I've had two concussions I think I'm doing all right," Brunell said.
If Brunell is still groggy, the Ravens defense can expect a heavy dose of Taylor, who is seventh in the league in rushing with 446 yards and three touchdowns.
Taylor, who because of injury hasn't faced the Ravens in two years, is a big concern. The Ravens are aware of what Jacksonville's injury-prone runner can do when healthy. In the Jaguars' 28-3 win over the New York Jets on Sept.29, Taylor accounted for 237 yards (21 rushes for 142 and three receptions for 95).
"He's one of the best he might be the fastest," Ravens nose tackle Kelly Gregg said. "He's an all-pro back. A lot of [the yardage] he gets is just second effort and guys missing tackles. He's definitely one of the top five backs in this league."


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