There has been an uncivil war of words between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins this week as they prepared to play an AFC semifinal today at Alltel Stadium.
The Dolphins have taken umbrage at the audacity of several Jaguars who helped make a rap song released this week titled, "Uh Oh, the Jaguars Super Bowl Song." They believe that's a bit presumptuous, even if the Jaguars (14-2) had the NFL's best record this season.
"It's going to be a little motivation for us, knowing that they're looking past us," Miami cornerback Patrick Surtain said. "Putting yourself in the Super Bowl already, that's kind of like slapping us in our face."
The Jaguars, meanwhile, did not take kindly to remarks made earlier in the week by Miami defensive end Trace Armstrong. "I think we're a good football team," Armstrong said. "We can match up with them talent-wise. They've had a week off and we were in a dogfight last week. They're playing at their place and those are factors in their favor. But it's not like we feel like everybody has to play their best game to beat them."
That last sentence did not sit well with Leon Searcy, Jacksonville's Pro Bowl right tackle.
"He can't bring his 'B' game because I'm going to have my 'A' game," Searcy snarled back. "So if he feels he doesn't have to play his best game to beat us, we'll see Saturday because I'm pretty sure this team is ready to go."
The Jaguars needed the bye week. Quarterback Mark Brunell suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee against Tennessee on Dec. 26. He will start, but he is not healed. Even worse, Pro Bowl left tackle Tony Boselli is out for the playoffs with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
The Jaguars will use veteran Ben Coleman, who is more comfortable as a guard, in Boselli's place. The Jaguars are 5-1 when Coleman has had to replace Boselli, but there is a considerable dropoff in talent. In addition, the strength of Miami's pass rush comes from the outside, with Armstrong and former Redskin Rich Owens at end.
Brunell went into the playoffs last year with a sprained ankle that took two months to heal after the season. "This injury is not as bad as my ankle last year," Brunell said. "I'm not concerned about it."
Said Searcy: "He's going to lay his body and his career on the line, so that makes you want to work that much harder to keep him off the ground."
The Dolphins feel the same way about their quarterback, Dan Marino. They have been saying all season their primary goal is to get Marino a Super Bowl ring, the only accomplishment not on his Hall of Fame resume.
Last week, in the Dolphins' 20-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, Marino had his best showing since returning on Thanksgiving after missing six starts because of a pinched nerve in his neck. Though his arm is not at full strength, he was 17 of 30 passing for 196 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions against the Seahawks. He also led Miami's go-ahead scoring drive late in the fourth quarter.
Today, both teams are likely to rely on the run to open the passing game.
"It's not a real secret how you win games in this league," Miami Coach Jimmy Johnson said. "You have to have balance. Obviously you have to hit some big plays in the passing game, but you have to run. If you go out and throw it every down against a good team, you won't win.
"You can beat some dog teams, and you can put some big numbers on them. But against a good defensive team, you aren't going to win, especially on the road, unless you run and establish the line of scrimmage."
The Jaguars have done that all season, except in their losses, both of which were to the Tennessee Titans. They lead the NFL with an average of 130.7 yards rushing per game because of Fred Taylor and James Stewart. The Dolphins will rely on rookie J.J. Johnson to carry their running load.
The Jaguars know a No. 6 seed never has beaten a No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. But they also know that in 1996, they were the first No. 5 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed when they upset the Denver Broncos, 30-27, at Mile High Stadium.