ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - Ditch the expansion label. It doesn't fit the Jaguars anymore.
On an overcast but balmy Saturday at Buffalo, the Jaguars were able to shed the expansion label with their best all-round performance in history. They went into Rich Stadium and did what many thought was impossible, beating the Buffalo Bills 30-27 in the AFC wild-card game to advance to next week's divisional playoffs.
The Jaguars (10-7), who rolled up 409 yards of total offense, were able to shake off a slow start and will meet either the Denver Broncos next Saturday or the New England Patriots next Sunday, depending on what happens in today's Pittsburgh-Indianapolis game. If the Steelers win, the Jaguars head to Denver, but if the Colts win, the Jaguars go to New England to meet the Patriots.
Whoever they play next week, the game will be hard-pressed to match the excitement of Saturday's game that was played in front of a non-sellout crowd of 70,213.
This game, which was the first playoff loss by the Bills at Rich Stadium after nine victories, featured a new twist for the Jaguars. They refused to buckle under adversity - something that plagued this team early in the season.
Even after falling behind 7-0 early - with two three-and-outs to open the game - and then again 27-20 in the fourth quarter, the Jaguars were able to make enough plays to quite possibly put an end to the Bills' great playoff run.
Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin saw the outcome a different way, pushing aside talk about an era ending, saying, "It's the beginning of one maybe for us."
"You can label us the new kids on the block," said guard Ben Coleman. "The thing the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to do is get better and better. Our best football is still ahead of us."
Which could be scary for the rest of the AFC because the Jaguars dominated the second half of Saturday's game. The score, in fact, isn't indicative of how much the Jaguars dominated.
Buffalo, after being tied at 17 at the half, had just 86 yards of offense in the second half compared to 209 for the Jaguars. But it wasn't just the numbers. The Jaguars physically handled the Bills on both sides of the ball in the second half.
Buffalo's only second-half touchdown came early in the fourth quarter when Jeff Burris took a deflected Mark Brunell pass and ran 38 yards untouched down the left sideline to give the Bills a 27-20 lead.
After that, it was all Jacksonville. Led by the running of Natrone Means, who finished with a team- and personal-best 175 yards on 31 carries, the Jaguars were able to score 10 points in the last 8:40.
The first score came on a 2-yard pass from Brunell to Jimmy Smith and the winning points came on a 45-yard field goal by Mike Hollis that bounced off the right upright and in.
"We're as cool as alley cats," said wide receiver Keenan McCardell of the team's ability to rally after a slow start. "We stayed composed and knew that we were gonna come back in the ball game."
"We weren't surprised," said tackle Tony Boselli. "You guys (the media), were surprised. Everyone in the nation was surprised. But not us. We said we have the ability. No one gave us credit, except us."
The Jaguars came into the game angry. Although they didn't say it, the Jaguars felt the Bills had made what they felt were derogatory comments about them last week.
"I took it personally and so did some of the other guys," said safety Dana Hall. "They thought they would come out, jump on us early, and we would quit. But they didn't know we'd be around for four quarters."
Early on, it appeared the Bills would be right. They led 7-0 four minutes into the game when Thurman Thomas caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Jim Kelly.
Then the Jaguars got the break to get them going. Kelly tried to hit Thomas with a shovel pass deep in his own end and Clyde Simmons picked it out of the air and raced 20 yards for a tying touchdown with 6:26 left in the game.
Thomas answered that with a 2-yard run to make it 14-7 with 2:26 left in the first quarter. It was the last touchdown the Bills' offense would score.
That also coincided with the Jaguars' offense waking up. That came in part because the Jaguars were finally able to deal with Bills' blitz, a surprise tactic of sorts.
With Means getting it going - he had a 62-yard run to set up a 27-yard field goal by Hollis and a 30-yard touchdown run - the Jaguars went to the locker room tied at 17.
"We were in the game and we knew we hadn't played well," said Coleman. "We knew once we got it cranked up, we could win the thing."
In the second half, they got it cranked up on both sides of the ball. The key was they didn't fold after Burris picked off Brunell for a touchdown. Instead, they marched 65 yards in 10 plays to Smith's tying touchdown.
They then got another key break when Kelly fumbled while scrambling and cornerback Aaron Beasley recovered at the Jaguars' 42. That led to Hollis' 45-yard field goal, with the defense doing the rest.
Kelly suffered a concussion on the fumble play and the Jaguars were able to shut down backup Todd Collins to advance in a playoffs in which many thought they didn't belong.
"You have to earn respect in this league and we did that today in Rich Stadium," said center Dave Widell.
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