Jaguars come through the rain to beat Broncos

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The Independent Online

After muddling through a rain-soaked second half, the Jacksonville Jaguars suddenly turned explosive on Monday night in Jacksonville, Florida.

After muddling through a rain-soaked second half, the Jacksonville Jaguars suddenly turned explosive on Monday night in Jacksonville, Florida.

The result, a 27-24 victory over the Denver Broncos that kept the Jaguars (12-1) in control of the race for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Mike Hollis kicked the game-winning 23-yard field goal as time expired.

Fred Taylor, who entered when James Stewart sprained his foot in the third quarter, had runs of 14 and 7 yards to set up the field goal after Dale Carter was hit with a 25-yard pass-interference penalty in single coverage on Jimmy Smith.

Just minutes earlier, Taylor burst through for a 38-yard touchdown run to give the Jaguars a 24-17 lead and the apparent victory.

But Denver (4-9), which had struggled just as mightily as Jacksonville in the driving rain, tied it when Brian Griese hit Byron Chamberlain for a 57-yard touchdown pass against the Jaguars prevent defense. The tight end caught the ball in front of safety Blaine McElmurry, then bounced off Fernando Bryant and rambled for the tying score with 1:47 left.

"There wasn't a lot to it," quarterback Mark Brunell said of the game-winning drive. "It said something about our offense. We just said to each other, 'Let's go win it. The defense has won enough games for us this year. Let's get one for ourselves."'

Before that, the steady rain was the main story of the second half.

Jacksonville's first six drives of the half resulted in three-and-outs, as Brunell had trouble handling the slippery ball.

Denver and Griese had little more luck, producing just a 40-yard field goal by Jason Elam for a 17-17 tie in the third quarter.

From there, the game turned into a defensive struggle, one in which Jacksonville held the field-position advantage and both teams seemed happy to wait for the other to make a crucial mistake.

Instead, both teams came up with big plays for the exciting finish. None was bigger than Taylor's touchdown run.

Jacksonville beat the Broncos for the first time since its historic 1996 playoff upset.

The win was more than symbolic. It helped the Jaguars regain their one-game lead over Indianapolis in the race for home-field advantage through the playoffs. It also increased its lead over Tennessee to two games in the AFC Central.

The Broncos left less than convinced, however, of Jacksonville's superiority.

"Is Jacksonville the best team in the league? No," said Broncos linebacker Bill Romanowski. "But what they're doing is finding a way to win - we used to do that. We need to find that again."

The loss stripped away the final, miniscule chance the Broncos had of making the playoffs and assured the two-time Super Bowl champions of their first losing season since 1994, the second season of Wade Phillips' two-year stint as coach.

As usual, Mike Shanahan's team didn't go down without a fight.

Griese completed his first 11 passes and led the Broncos on a pair of long touchdown drives John Elway would have been proud of. Denver had a 14-0 lead before the Jaguars had gained 5 yards of offense.

Griese, who finished 21-for-33 for 275 yards, capped the first drive with a pretty 22-yard touchdown pass to Rod Smith, a throw he dropped just over the shoulder of the beaten Dave Thomas. Olandis Gary scored the second touchdown, going untouched for a 1-yard leap over a tired Jaguars line that was on the field for 13 of the game's first 16 minutes.

But that's when Stewart sparked the Jacksonville offense, leading the Jaguars to scores on their next three drives.

Stewart rushed for 34 yards on Jacksonville's first touchdown drive, which lasted 16 plays and covered 72 yards. It included a bold call by coach Tom Coughlin, who opted to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Denver 20. Brunell gained 2 yards on a quarterback sneak and five pla Jacksonville's top-ranked defense played better, too, holding Denver's offense to seven plays the rest of the half, two of which resulted in Griese interceptions.

The Jaguars got a field goal on their next drive, then Aaron Beasley's interception gave them the ball at the Broncos 42. Stewart's 16-yard run and a 17-yard pass-interference penalty on Ray Crockett set up Stewart for a 1-yard touchdown and a 17-14 lead.

Stewart left the game having rushed for 79 yards. Taylor finished with 74. Brunell was 11-for-25 for 115 yards.

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