Originally created 12/30/98

Playoff attitude comes through in Jax victory



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It was a minor tussle after the whistle had blown, no big deal in most games.

But what seemed like nothing more than a simple wrestling match might have given the Jacksonville Jaguars defense two things it has been lacking all season: a leader and some personality.

It was Jacksonville's Mr. Personality, John Jurkovic, who wrestled Steelers receiver Courtney Hawkins to the ground Monday night and started a scrum during the third quarter of the Jaguars' 21-3 victory.

Jurkovic said Hawkins blocked defensive back Dave Thomas too low, and after the play. That made it time to stand up for a teammate, and inject a little playoff attitude into a unit that has seemed all-too vanilla this season.

"I just went over to him and communicated to him at a very close range -- so that there would be no misunderstanding -- that that would not be acceptable here at Alltel Stadium," Jurkovic said.

Quite a turnaround from a player who described himself in the team media guide not as an enforcer, but as a "blue-collar football player with effervescence."

But somebody had to do it. And since most of the top players on this anonymous defense -- Bryce Paup, Kevin Hardy, Tony Brackens -- aren't known as big attitude guys, it might as well have been Jurko.

"You see something like that, and you tend to have a short fuse," said Jurkovic. "It's against my nature, but we've been hurt all year. We can't lose our guys on what I consider a late shot."

For all the talk of Mark Brunell's ankle injury, it has been the Jacksonville defense that has really had the health problem this season.

Defensive linemen Jeff Lageman, Renaldo Wynn, Don Davey, Seth Payne and Jabbar Threats have all landed on injured reserve.

Safety Donovin Darius has missed the last two weeks and could be gone for Sunday's playoff game against New England with a hip injury. Thomas and safety Chris Hudson have been in and out for the last two years with a variety of ailments.

So bad were things against the Steelers that at one point, safety Blaine McElmurry, linebacker Eddie Mason, defensive lineman Eric Curry and cornerback Kevin Devine -- three free agent pickups and one second-year special teams guy -- spent much of the second half on the field together.

"How about Blaine McElmurry? Can anybody in this room spell the kid's name?" coach Tom Coughlin said of the Dec. 16 pickup off the Tennessee Oilers' practice squad. "The kid played almost the entire game when Chris Hudson got hurt. Is that something? I can't say enough about people who come through in those kind of circumstances."

The Jaguars allowed 139 yards rushing to Jerome Bettis and fell to 22nd in the NFL in rush defense and 25th overall. Those are hardly playoff numbers, but Coughlin was more impressed with some others.

Like 11-5 overall, 7-1 at home, 6-2 in the division and only three points allowed. He also liked the fact that Bettis rushed for only 35 yards in the second half. And that the defense forced three turnovers, including two when Pittsburgh was driving in the second half, trying to get back into the game.

"I almost challenged our defense to get a shutout," Coughlin said.

Maybe he's saving that one for next week. If the playoff attitude keeps spreading, Jurko and the Jaguars feel anything is possible.

"The bottom line is the style of football and the time of year it is," Jurkovic said. "You've got to go out there and get off the football field any way you can. It's survival time right now."