- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

It has been only four years since the Jacksonville Jaguars were a model franchise.

Not only did Jacksonville reach a conference championship game in its second season, along with 1995 expansion twin Carolina, but unlike the Panthers, the Jaguars kept improving. In 1999, Jacksonville was a league-best 14-2 and was 25 minutes from the Super Bowl.

However, the Jaguars have never recovered from a second-half collapse against Tennessee. After going 49-22 from 1996 to 1999, Jacksonville is 20-35 since, including 1-6 this year. The Jaguars are miles behind the Titans and the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South and even trail the second-year Houston Texans, to whom they lost five weeks ago.

Only Arizona and Indianapolis draw fewer fans. Three of the four home games have been blacked out locally because they didn’t sell out, the exception being the date with downstate rival Miami.

Mark Brunell, the starting quarterback since the franchise’s inception, was hurt and then benched in favor of No.1 draft choice Byron Leftwich, who has nine interceptions in four starts. Jimmy Smith, the NFL’s most productive receiver from 1996 to 2002, was suspended for the first four games after a positive drug test.

Free agent additions Hugh Douglas (one sack) and Mike Peterson haven’t been close to being worth the $10million they received in combined signing bonuses. Shelling out big bucks to retain tight end Kyle Brady and safety Donovin Darius also makes new general manager James Harris look bad.

Punter Chris Hanson, Jacksonville’s only Pro Bowl player in 2002, is out for the year after cutting his leg with a locker room ax left by coach Jack Del Rio as a motivational tool to “keep chopping wood,” as in working hard.

Defensive tackle John Henderson, last year’s top pick, was involved in a criminal case with reported drug dealers. Linebacker T.J. Slaughter was cut Tuesday after reportedly pointing a gun at two men.

Unlike Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars’ only previous coach, Del Rio is no martinet, but he’s also a 40-year-old first-time boss with offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators who had never before filled those roles in the NFL. Last Sunday’s 30-17 loss to Tennessee in front of nearly 21,000 empty seats was one of four double-figure defeats for Jacksonville, which suffered only one such loss during its 6-10 season in 2002.

And then there were nine — With ailing Rich Gannon being replaced by Marques Tuiasosopo for Oakland’s game at Detroit and Houston’s David Carr expected to miss Sunday’s game against Carolina because of a sprained ankle, only nine quarterbacks will have started all of their team’s games the last two seasons.

Green Bay’s Brett Favre’s streak (197 games) dates to Week3 of 1992. Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning has started every game for six years, a total of 90. Then come Kerry Collins of the New York Giants (65 straight), San Francisco’s Jeff Garcia (64), New Orleans’ Aaron Brooks (47), New England’s Tom Brady (41), Kansas City’s Trent Green and Tennessee’s Steve McNair (40 each) and Buffalo’s Drew Bledsoe (24).

No savior — After letting Darrell Russell go as soon as his NFL suspension was lifted, the Raiders signed another ex-Pro Bowl defensive tackle to bolster a position devastated by the loss of free agent Sam Adams to Buffalo and injuries to Dana Stubblefield and John Parella.

The trouble is that Sean Gilbert’s Pro Bowl came 10 years ago. Gilbert, best known for holding out from Washington for the 1997 season, missed the final seven games of 2001 with a bad knee and the last eight of 2002 with a broken hip. Gilbert, 33, had 151/2 sacks during his first two seasons, 27 the eight years since.

Sound familiar? — Shades of Washington which has its 11th kicker in six years, San Francisco made Todd Peterson its ninth kicker in nine years after using only Ray Wersching and Mike Cofer from 1977 to 1993. Four of the ex-49ers (Gary Anderson, Doug Brien, Wade Richey and Jeff Wilkins) are still in the NFL — and are a sterling 44-for-50 on field goal tries this year.

And how weird is this? The Niners’ last 10 kickers have had four-letter first names: Mike Cofer (1988-93), Doug Brien (1994-95), Tony Zendejas (1995), Jeff Wilkins (1995-96), Gary Anderson (1997), Wade Richey (1988-2000), Jose Cortez (2001-02), Jeff Chandler (2002-03), Owen Pochman (2003) and Todd Peterson (2003).

Kids aren’t all right — Sunday’s lamest matchup has 1-6 San Diego visiting 2-5 Chicago. Their victories have come against Cleveland, Detroit and Oakland who are a combined 6-16.

The Chargers (13) and Bears (12) lead the league in rookies. Chicago’s offense is so weak that receiver Marty Booker, who had an NFL-best 197 catches the past two years, had 16 in five games before missing the last two weeks with a sprained ankle. And Booker has 197 yards, one fewer than he produced in last year’s opener against Minnesota.

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