Thursday, December 31, 2009

Jacksonville Jaguars vs Cleveland Browns NFL Preview

Jacksonville Jaguars vs Cleveland Browns

The Jacksonville Jaguars' playoff chances were in their own hands just three weeks ago. Three disheartening losses later, the Jaguars need what amounts to a minor miracle to qualify for the postseason -- and winning their finale is suddenly far from a sure thing.

The Jaguars look to bounce back from a four-touchdown defeat and give themselves a glimmer of hope Sunday when they visit the resurgent Cleveland Browns, who try to close with their first four-game winning streak in more than 15 years.

Jacksonville (7-8) opened with consecutive losses and endured a 41-0 drubbing at Seattle three weeks later, but five wins in its next seven games left coach Jack Del Rio's team in the driver's seat for an AFC wild card berth thanks to a 6-2 conference record.

The Jaguars were in a precarious position after consecutive home losses to Miami and Indianapolis in early December, and after visiting New England last Sunday, now find themselves on the brink of elimination. The Patriots held a five-touchdown lead one play into the fourth quarter, and David Garrard's fourth-quarter run was the only scoring Jacksonville could muster in a 35-7 loss.

"Blew it," said running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who leads the AFC with 15 rushing touchdowns and needs one rushing or receiving to tie Fred Taylor's single-season record (17) set in 1998. "That's pretty much what it came down to. We didn't do what we needed to do to win games. It wasn't really what other teams did to us, we just beat ourselves."

Jacksonville isn't eliminated, but needs to beat the Browns (4-11) and have a bevy of other results go their way. Five teams are ahead of the Jaguars in the wild-card race, meaning they need at least four losses among games involving Baltimore, the New York Jets, Pittsburgh, Denver and Houston to get in.

The Ravens (at Oakland) and Broncos (hosting Kansas City) are double-digit favorites, as are the Jets, who host a Cincinnati team that will likely rest its starters with the AFC North wrapped up.

"For all that to happen it would be crazy," said linebacker Daryl Smith, the team's leading tackler. "That's not our focus. Our focus is on getting a win at Cleveland. The opportunities were there. Three straight home games and we just let it slip away."

Beating the Browns seemed like the least of Jacksonville's concerns a few weeks ago, but it now looks like quite a challenge.

Cleveland was 1-11 after losing 30-23 to San Diego on Dec. 6, and had been held to seven points or fewer in seven of those losses. The Browns recorded eight sacks in a 13-6 win over Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh on Dec. 10, but they also tied a season high with 171 yards on the ground.

Jerome Harrison, who came into Cleveland's Week 15 game at Kansas City with 301 total rushing yards, has put the running game on his shoulders the past two weeks. He had 286 yards -- the third-most prolific rushing day in NFL history -- and three scores in a 41-34 win over the Chiefs, then ran for 148 yards and a TD in a 23-9 win over Oakland.

"We see it as we're moving in the right direction," Harrison said. "If my number is called, I just try to make the best of it, whether it's running, blocking, catching, whatever it may be."

The Browns haven't won four straight games since 1994 -- the year before the franchise left for Baltimore -- and haven't closed with four consecutive victories since 1986.

Beyond that, though, they may be playing for coach Eric Mangini's job. Cleveland hired Mike Holmgren to be its new team president Dec. 22, and Holmgren, who won a Super Bowl in Green Bay, hasn't decided whether to retain Mangini after just one season.

"I'm not a big fan of the quick hook," he said. "I never did that with quarterbacks when they played for me and I really don't think one year is enough to prove what you're trying to get done. I wouldn't be a big fan of just allowing a guy to coach just one year and out. But having said that, I haven't made any decisions yet."

With Brady Quinn out, Derek Anderson will be at the helm for the second straight week. Anderson has failed to surpass 122 yards through the air in his past five starts, but he threw for 246 yards and a TD in Cleveland's 23-17 win at Jacksonville last season.

David Garrard passed for 283 yards and two scores, but Jones-Drew was held to 29 yards on 12 carries.

The Browns, however, are 0-5 at home against Jacksonville.


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