|Still-inexperienced Jaguars expect better postseason results|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 02 January 2008 12:59|
They feel much different this time around.
``Now, we feel like we belong,'' cornerback Rashean Mathis said. ``We know we belong. That's a huge difference in the mind-set.''
The Jaguars (11-5) still don't have a lot of playoff experience - 23 players on the 53-man roster haven't played a down in the postseason - but they have considerably more than they had in 2005.
They expect it to pay dividends at Pittsburgh (10-6) on Saturday night in the first round of the AFC playoffs.
``We're glad we had a good season, but it's time to turn it up,'' left tackle Khalif Barnes said. ``It's not time for a one-and-done for us. We don't want to duplicate that '05 season and just be happy to get in and not be able to advance. We don't want to taste that again. We did that before.''
Jacksonville has 24 players remaining from the team that lost to the Patriots, and coach Jack Del Rio added veterans Grady Jackson, Aaron Glenn, Sammy Knight, Tutan Reyes and Lamont Thompson this season partly because they brought playoff experience with them.
Those five have played 18 of the roster's 59 combined postseason games.
``The guys who have played in the playoffs before, that's great,'' Barnes said. ``The guys who haven't, they'll follow the guys who have. We're not going to change what we do. You keep your process the same and you don't do anything different that you would do in another game. The only difference is if you lose this one, you're out. There's no need to get nervous about it.''
The Jaguars had just a handful of guys with playoff experience in 2005, including running back Fred Taylor, receiver Jimmy Smith, safety Donovin Darius and tight end Kyle Brady.
Those four were on Jacksonville's 1999 team that finished 14-2 and earned home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
But there was little they could say or do to prepare their teammates for the all the hype, emotion and intensity that came with a trip to frigid New England in January.
Despite changing quarterbacks - Del Rio decided to go with Byron Leftwich instead of David Garrard after Leftwich missed the previous five games with an ankle injury - the Jaguars kept it close until four huge plays in the second half turned the game into a blowout.
Tight end Ben Watson fumbled on New England's first possession of the third quarter, the ball slipped through two defenders' hands and the Patriots recovered to set up first-and-goal. The Patriots scored on the next play to make it 14-3.
Smith dropped a perfectly thrown third-down pass on the ensuing possession. Four plays later, Watson broke three tackles and rambled 63 yards for a score.
Asante Samuel intercepted Leftwich's pass on fourth down on the next drive and returned it 73 yards for a touchdown.
Just like that, Jacksonville's season was over.
But the learning curve was just beginning.
``Now we know what to expect out of a playoff game,'' cornerback Terry Cousin said. ``Guys are aware of the situation. The magnitude of the game is going to increase with every play. Your focus level has to be so much better than it is in the regular season.
``We got a good taste of it. For us to get sent home in the first round was a learning experience in itself. Guys know what that feels like to get sent home early, and that's not a position we want to be in again.''
The Jaguars even set their goals much higher before the season started - a change from 2005, when they just hoped to reach the postseason.
``When we set the goal, it was about winning in the playoffs, not just making the playoffs,'' defensive end Paul Spicer said.