Jags Show Saints No Mercy


The Jacksonville Jaguars went retro Sunday night, back to the good old days of 1996-97.

Throwing it around and having fun again, Mark Brunell and Jimmy Smith played their best games of the season Sunday, lifting the Jaguars to a 41-23 victory over the New Orleans Saints.

Brunell threw for 351 yards and two touchdowns as the Jaguars (9-1) won for the seventh straight time. Smith caught nine passes for a career-high 220 yards.

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Game Summary

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  • Smith's total was 88 more yards than Jacksonville gained last week in a 6-3 victory over Baltimore, a performance that led coach Tom Coughlin to challenge the offense to redeem itself.

    "These are a little more fun," Coughlin said. "We challenged them. We talked about how poor a performance it was the week before. We just factually put it together for them and told them there was too much talent here to gain 132 yards."

    The Jaguars gained a season-high 494 yards against the Saints (2-8) and proved for the first time this year they could move well without Fred Taylor, who missed his fourth game of the season due to a hamstring injury.

    On a down note, the defense looked like its old self as well, at least in the first half. Billy Joe Tolliver helped the Saints to a 17-17 tie at halftime and New Orleans recorded the first three rushing touchdowns against the Jaguars this season.

    The second came on a 19-yard run by Ricky Williams, marking the first touchdown of his career. He used a block from Willie Roaf to scoot around left end and tie the game at 14 early in the second quarter.

    After the score, te player Mike Ditka sacrificed his entire draft for laid on his back and flopped his hands to his side, briefly savoring a moment the coach expects to repeat itself often.

    Williams finished with 94 yards on 19 carries and scored again on a 1-yard run once the game was out of reach.

    The rookie's performance wasn't enough to raise Ditka's spirits. He thought things were turning around after a 24-6 victory over the 49ers last week, but found out differently against a team of much higher caliber.

    "It just takes the air out of the balloon," Ditka said. "We could have scored 41, they could have scored 61. It was just not a good effort. There was no organization with what we were doing on defense. The tackling wasn't good. They pounded us, just mercilessly."

    The Jaguars took control of a tie game quickly in the third quarter, when Brunell hit Smith for a 57-yard pass down the right sideline. James Stewart scored from four yards out on the next play for a 24-17 lead.

    On Jacksonville's next drive, Smith made a highlight-reel catch, bobbling the ball, then batting it up with his right hand, before catching it and diving into the end zone for a 46-yard touchdown.

    "This was the best game I've had at any level," Smith said. "I just do what I have to do out there. The ball goes in the air, I have to catch it."

    Billy Joe Hobert, who replaced Tolliver after he left with suspected torn ligaments in his left knee, answered by moving the Saints within field goal range, but Doug Brien missed a 39-yard field goal and the game was essentially over.

    Tolliver finished 10-for-14 for 159 yards. Hobert went 8-for-13 for 92 yards in relief. The Saints gained 339 yards, chipping away at the statistics of the league's top-ranked defense.

    Stewart finished with 87 yards rushing and two touchdowns for Jacksonville, answering for an awful game against the Ravens in which he ran 18 times for 25 yards.

    Still, most of the postgame excitement revolved around the Jaguars best passing performance of the season.

    "We talked about opening up our passing game all week," Brunell said. "We thought we could take advantage of some things New Orleans did on defense. We haven't been throwing the ball very well lately, so we needed to re-establish our passing game, which we did."

    Reggie Barlow put the Jaguars on the board first, returning a punt 74 yards for a 7-0 lead.

    Ditka had a relatively calm night on the sideline, erupting only during a fourth-quarter sequence in which the Saints threw an interception, then allowed Jacksonville to convert a third down by having too many men othe field. The result was a touchdown on a 1-yard run by Stewart for a 41-17 lead.

    After the game, the coach seemed more resigned than angry.

    "It was pretty convincing," he said. "I've been around a long time and I haven't seen a defense play much worse than that. You can't get in a shootout with a team like that. That's murder."

    Notes

  • Saints safety Willie Clay intercepted a pass in the end zone in the second quarter, marking Brunell's first interception in 148 attempts.
  • Saints cornerback Sammy Knight was ejected in the fourth quarter after arguing with officials, who called him for spearing Brunell. Knight appeared to bump the official after the flag was thrown.
  • The 494 yards were the most for the Jaguars since they gained 519 on Sept. 20, 1998, against Baltimore.
  • Stewart has a career-high nine touchdowns this season.
  • Smith came 12 yards short of Keenan McCardell's team record for receiving yards, set Oct. 20, 1996, against St. Louis.

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