Originally created 12/28/96

Jaguars tackle Bills, aim to stay in playoff picture



ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - The Jacksonville Jaguars want to get one thing straight. They are not happy just reaching the NFL playoffs. Now that they're in, they want to stay.

The Jaguars won five straight games, capped by a surprising miss by Atlanta field goal kicker Morten Andersen, to reach the postseason in only their second year. A loss in any one of those games would have kept Jacksonville out of the postseason.

"There's a lot of truth to the fact that we're happy to be in the playoffs, but it doesn't end for us right here," Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell said. "We're in the playoffs, we're here to win, and we're going to do whatever we can to win this one."

Jacksonville plays the Buffalo Bills today (12:30 p.m., Channel 6) in an AFC wild-card playoff game at Rich Stadium, where the Bills are unbeaten in nine postseason games.

The Bills are 67-14 at home in nine seasons under coach Marv Levy. But it appears the Jaguars will catch a break. Forecasts call for sunshine and temperatures around 50 degrees.

"My fondest memories of football are playing in Buffalo," said Jaguars defensive end Jeff Lagemen, who lost five of the six games he played at Rich Stadium with the New York Jets. "It's tough. They'll throw rocks at your bus on the way in and on the way out. If there's a fun place to play, that's it."

Luckily for the Jaguars, the key matchups are on the field, not the parking lot.

Jacksonville played very well down the stretch. Even though the five-game winning streak includes three games decided by a field goal or less, including Andersen's miss from 30 yards in a 19-17 win over the Falcons last week, the Jaguars make no apologies for their 9-7 record.

Buffalo (10-6) and Jacksonville have not met in the two seasons the Jaguars have been in the league. Both teams were 4-3 against common opponents during the regular season this year.

"It not only makes it hard for us, but it makes it hard for them," Bills defensive end Bruce Smith said. "They don't know what kind of scheme we're going to run."

Brunell has been the biggest reason for Jacksonville's success. He completed 64 percent of his passes for 4,367 yards and 19 touchdowns. He was third on the team with 396 yards rushing and he led the conference with 20 interceptions but has not thrown one in 119 attempts.

Brunell also has the second-best receiving tandem to work with in Keenan McCardell, who had 85 catches for 1,129 yards, and Jimmy Smith, who had 82 receptions for 1,244 yards. The two also combined for 10 touchdowns.

"I don't consider them a surprise," Bills nose tackle Ted Washington said. "You look at the guys they have on the team. It's like a little all-star cast put together on an expansion team."

The Bills were expected to reach the playoffs, which they did by beating Kansas City with two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the season finale.

Buffalo's offense struggled in all but four games this season, and quarterback Jim Kelly had the worst season of his 11-year career. He had a career-low 14 touchdown passes and career-high 19 interceptions.

Kelly has played better recently, and Buffalo still has receiver Andre Reed and running back Thurman Thomas among others left over from the teams that reached four straight Super Bowls to start the 1990s.

What the Bills need to avoid as much as anything is turnovers. They are a minus-10 in the past four games and did not have any takeaways during a three-game losing streak before beating Kansas City.