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Jags Struggle By Browns

An injury to Mark Brunell could have spelled doom for Jacksonville. Instead, Jay Fiedler looked more like Brunell than Brunell himself.

Fiedler led the sputtering Jaguars to 17 points in the final 1 1/2 quarters Sunday, completing 12 of 14 passes for 113 yards and scrambling three times for 27 yards in a 24-7 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

As the Jaguars left the field, fans serenaded the fourth-year veteran from Dartmouth with chants of "Fiedler, Fiedler, Fiedler ..."

Within minutes, coach Tom Coughlin was answering questions about who the starter would be once Jacksonville returns from a bye week, assuming Brunell recovers from the bruised ribs that sidelined him.

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Game Summary

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  • "Our situation will not change," Coughlin said. "Hopefully, Mark will be able to rest this week and he'll be ready to go."

    Most of the team seemed to agree with Coughlin's position.

    "Mark is our starting quarterback," said running back Tavian Banks. "It's just one game. It's only the Cleveland Browns."

    But before Fiedler entered, it seemed almost any team besides the expansion Browns might have beaten the Jaguars as they continued to struggle on offense in the absence of former coordinator Chris Palmer, who left to coach Cleveland (0-6).

    Brunell went 12-for-19 for 109 yards and led the Jaguars to just a pair of field goals by Mike Hollis on yet two more half-empty trips inside the 20.

    The game didn't change until late in the third quarter. Jacksonville trailed 7-6 when linebacker Bryan Schwartz forced a fumble that was recovered by Kevin Hardy at the Cleveland 25.

    Three plays later, Fiedler lobbed a pass to the corner of the end zone to Kyle Brady, who extended for a nice catch in double coverage and a 7-yard touchdown the first TD pass of Fiedler's career. A 2-point conversion made it 14-7.

    "Any time a starting quarterback gets hurt and comes out, everyone else picks his game up a little bit," Fiedler said. "They helped me out a great deal. The line was protecting very well."

    After Jacksonville forced a punt, Fiedler directed the best drive of the day, a 70-yard march that included completions to three different receivers and ended with a 2-yard touchdown run by James Stewart for a 21-7 lead.

    Brunell appeared to injure his ribs early in the third quarter when he threw a long pass down the sideline that Jimmy Smith just missed.

    Coughlin said he didn't know how long the injury would keep his struggling star quarterback on the bench.

    For at least one week, the Jaguars could afford to be without him.

    When Fiedler entered, the Jaguars' defense perked up, as well, coming up with four sacks and shutting down a Cleveland offense that effectively churned out small chunks of yardage throughout the first half.

    Tim Couch completed his first 12 passes and finished 18-for-23 for 161 yards, staying poised in the pocket when the Jacksonville pass rush developed.

    But for the third straight week, the Browns struggled in the second half, finishing with just 82 yards and never mounting a serious scoring threat.

    "It's hard to say why we keep having these letdowns," Couch said. "We're playing hard both halves. I think Jacksonville put more pressure on us in the second half. Their crowd really got into the game after the fumble and that helped them."

    Before that, Couch hit Terry Kirby for a 9-yard touchdown that gave the Browns a 7-3 lead and brought boos from a crowd that expected more from the AFC Central champions.

    The embarrassment extended beyond just football.

    Late in the first half, Jaguars offensive line coach Mike Maser ran well onto the field to protest a hit on Brunell, who was shoved to the ground by Browns linebacker Jamir Miller. Maser was hit for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, moving the Jaguars out of scoring range.

    In the fourth quarter, Jaguars linebacker Brant Boyer got involved in a shoving match with teammate Gary Walker as the defense was coming off the field.

    "You've seen families fight before," Walker said. "This is a team. Not everything is always perfect. Things happen."

    NOTES: Jaguars right tackle Leon Searcy left in the second quarter with an injured right knee. He did not return.

  • With his final extra point of the game, Hollis hit the 500-point mark for his career.
  • The Jaguars improved to 3-0 against the Browns, adding this to two victories in 1995 when Jacksonville was the expansion team.
  • Terry Kirby finished with 71 yards rushing for the Browns, matching the team high he first reached two weeks ago against New England.

    ©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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