Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jags Traveling Same Path as Panthers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jags Traveling Same Path as Panthers

Article excerpt

Byline: Gene Frenette, Times-Union sports writer

When the Jaguars look at the Philadelphia Eagles' opponent in today's NFC Championship game, just one win removed from a Super Bowl, they should be asking themselves: Why can't that be us next year?

Seriously, the Jaguars in their present state are no different than the Carolina Panthers were last year at this time. Jacksonville has now had a full season to get acclimated under a defensive-minded head coach (Jack Del Rio) and a new personnel chief in James Harris. That's the same situation Carolina faced last January after it had one year under former New York Giants defensive coordinator John Fox and general manager Marty Hurney, who was promoted to that post in February 2002.

Under a new era, the Panthers won four of their last five games in 2002 to finish 7-9. Carolina's players and coaches have emphasized how their improved performance in that second half provided a springboard for an 11-5 record in 2003, which began with a 24-23 comeback victory against the Jaguars.

Isn't that exactly what we heard coming out of Alltel Stadium when the 5-11 Jaguars closed this season with three wins in their last five games? With Del Rio's system in place, the Jaguars expect significant improvement. How much better, record-wise, remains to be seen, but as the Panthers have proven, the Jaguars ought to think big.

Statistically, these teams were almost mirror images of each other in a year when their won-loss records were reversed. The Panthers were eighth in total defense, 16th in total offense and had a turnover ratio of minus-5, compared to sixth (defense), 12th (offense) and minus-4 (turnovers) for the Jaguars. At quarterback, undrafted Jake Delhomme, a fifth-year pro who began his Cinderella story by rallying Carolina from a 17-0 deficit against the Jaguars, had only a slightly better touchdown-interception ratio than Byron Leftwich. …

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