Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Any Mark Is Better Than Alternative

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Any Mark Is Better Than Alternative

Article excerpt

Jimmy Smith was perplexed and looked at the interviewer like he'd just been asked the dumbest question since somebody at the Super Bowl inquired of Doug Williams: "So, how long have you been a black quarterback?"

Smith did a double-take and shot a "Geez, are you a bonehead?" glance at the interrogator when he was asked if quarterback Mark Brunell would have to be sharper next week if the Jaguars expect to beat the Jets on the road.

"Sharper?" Smith fired back. "How much sharper can he be than he was today?"

Just another example of how perception takes precedent over reality. To Smith, fellow wideout Keenan McCardell and the rest of the Jaguars offense, quarterback Mark Brunell was nearly flawless in his return to the starting lineup yesterday. From listening to them, you'd have thought Brunell completed every pass and made every read. You'd have thought he loaded the entire team on on his gimpy left ankle and willed them to yesterday's 25-10 playoff victory over the Connecticut Patriots.

In reality, Brunell was the difference, but not because of how he played in the game, but simply because he played in the game. Moral of the story: Mark Brunell at his statistical worst is better than no Mark Brunell at all.

"Just seeing No. 8 trotting out into the huddle gives this offense confidence," McCardell said. "It makes you think everything is going to be all right."

In other words, this was Jacksonville's version of Willis Reed limping onto the court for the New York Knicks, making a couple of baskets and giving his team the lift it needed to beat the Lakers. It didn't really matter that Brunell completed only 14-of-34 passes (his worst completion percentage since he became the Jaguars starting quarterback) for a pedestrian 161 yards and one TD. It didn't matter that the Jaguars' offense shook and sputtered like a '72 Pinto for much of the game.

All that mattered was this: Daddy was home.

"Mark's the man who puts food on my table," offensive tackle Leon Searcy said. "He's the breadwinner. Without him, the family's not complete."

Actually, without Brunell, the family had become dysfunctional. The Nelsons and the Cleavers had become the Bundys and the Bunkers.

The receivers -- McCardell and Smith -- were so exasperated with rookie quarterback Jonathan Quinn that they couldn't contain their frustration. Three weeks ago against the Oilers, McCardell became so disgusted with the offense that he exploded on the sideline and receivers coach Pete Carmichael ended up throwing his headset at McCardell. And then a week later, in the disastrous 50-10 loss to the Vikings, when only four passes were thrown in the direction of the starting wideouts, there was a feeling of complete offensive hopelessness.

"Yeah, we were frustrated," McCardell admitted. …

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