Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Win Would Help Relieve Holiday Stress; Jags, Falcons Fight to Keep Focus, Finish Frustrating Year on Positive Note

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Win Would Help Relieve Holiday Stress; Jags, Falcons Fight to Keep Focus, Finish Frustrating Year on Positive Note

Article excerpt

Byline: VITO STELLINO, The Times-Union

ATLANTA -- This is the time of year when NFL players have to play the role of Scrooge.

They have to treat the holiday season as a distraction and keep their focus on blocking and tackling.

That's the task the Jaguars and the Atlanta Falcons face today when they both wind up frustrating seasons in a game with nothing at stake except draft position and building for the future.

"It's hard because everybody's mind is half on football and half on the holidays," Jaguars receiver Jimmy Smith said. "Like myself, I've got family in town and I'm thinking about what they're doing at home while I'm at work. We've got to concentrate even harder with it being the last week [of the season]."

Wade Phillips, Atlanta's interim coach, faces a similar problem.

"With the holidays and all those things, that's a concern for us. And when you're not in the playoff hunt, there are certain things you have to tell them. It's motivation," said Phillips, who got the head coaching job for the last three games after Dan Reeves was fired.

When the season started, both the Falcons and Jaguars had high hopes. The Falcons thought they were going to make a Super Bowl run with Michael Vick, but that goal was dashed when Vick broke a leg in the preseason.

The Jaguars were starting a new era with coach Jack Del Rio, who thought they could be a playoff contender with the addition of some high-priced free agents, including Hugh Douglas. Instead, they started 1-7 and now have to win their finale just to match the 6-10 mark of the last two seasons.

They're also looking for their first road win of the season after losing their season finale on the road in each of the last three years.

Besides overcoming the distraction of the holidays, the Jaguars also have to put last week's exciting 20-19 victory against New Orleans behind them -- even though the controversy over the game lasted all week.

Del Rio walked out of his Monday news conference after four minutes, apparently upset after reading his quotes second-guessing the playcalling of offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

On Wednesday, Del Rio took a shot at Saints coach Jim Haslett, saying Haslett should be more concerned about his run defense than the officials' calls.

Del Rio later apologized and Haslett declined to comment on Del Rio's remarks. But Haslett did confirm to the New Orleans Times-Picayune Friday that the league informed the Saints that referee Gerry Austin made a mistake in overturning a pass interference call on Fernando Bryant in the end zone just before the two-minute warning.

Today the Jaguars have to find a way to stop Vick, who's 2-1 as a starter. That record includes a 20-14 overtime victory against Del Rio's former team, Carolina, when Vick rushed for 141 yards.

Last year, when Del Rio was the Panthers' defensive coordinator, Atlanta beat Carolina twice by a combined score of 71-0. …

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