Your weekly Jaguars history lesson returns for another season. Typically I try to find a game vs the team the Jags play this week, but I swore I wouldn't use the 1996 Playoff game. After looking at every other possible game the Jaguars and Broncos have played, there really weren't any other particularly special games between the two teams. Well, maybe one. The first Jags game I ever missed was the 1995 preseason game vs Denver because my Mom forgot to bring the tickets. Thanks Mom!
Instead, on tap for today is my favorite season opener in franchise history.After the miracle AFC Championship game run in 1996, the Jaguars bandwagon was about as large as it's ever been. Sports Illustrated picked the team to win the AFC in 1997, while other pundits thought the team could win the Super Bowl. However, all of those things came to a halt when Mark Brunell suffered a knee injury during the preseason. Now Jags fans were left wondering how the team would manage without the face of the franchise. On opening day, 3rd year player Rob Johnson started for the Jaguars in Baltimore.
What followed was the most memorable opening day in Jaguar history.
Johnson got the scoring off when he reminded fans of Brunell with a 25 yard scramble for a touchdown to give the Jags a 7-0 lead. Natrone Means then added a 1 yard TD run to make it 14-0 by the time the 1st quarter closed.
However, things quickly turned for the Jaguars in the 2nd quarter. Vinny Testaverde found Jermaine Lewis twice for touchdown strikes of 17 and 42 yards to even the game at 14. Even worse, Johnson took several hits that ultimately lead to a sprained ankle. Coach Tom Coughlin told Johnson his day was done, but Johnson protested vehemently and was let back in.
Luckily, Testaverde was the Jaguar's best friend while he was in Baltimore and helped out the Jaguars yet again. After Johnson injured his ankle, Testaverde threw an interception to Chris Hudson that Hudson returned to the 43. Rob Johnson returned to the game and hit Jimmy Smith for a 20 yard touchdown strike to close out the first quarter.
In the third quarter, things began to grow dark for the Jaguars. The Ravens took a 24-21 lead thanks to a 54 yard touchdown pass from Testaverde to Michael Jackson. Worse yet, Rob Johnson was once again hurt and wouldn't return for sometime.
The Jaguars then had to turn to their 3rd quarterback, Steve Matthews. Matthews, who hadn't thrown a real NFL pass in his career was simply tasked with keeping the Jaguars in the game. He put up a respectable stat line of 3/5 for 23 yards. While not world beating, he at least kept the team from becoming a 3 and out machine.
Into the 4th quarter, the Ravens were looking to deliver a knockout blow. They had driven inside the Jaguars 10 yard line with less than 10 minutes to go. However, the Jags defense dug deep and held to only allowing a field goal.
With the Jaguars down 6, it was Rob Johnson's time to shine. He lead the team down the field and hit Jimmy Smith for the game winning touchdown with less than six minutes left to go.
The game would be the only time Johnson would have any significant action for the Jaguars, but he gave the performance of his life. Johnson finished 20/24 for 294 yards and 2 touchdowns. His injured ankle kept him out of the Week 2 game vs New York and Mark Brunell made his triumphant return in Week 3 vs Pittsburgh. On the strength of that game, as well as his to die for measurables, Johnson was traded to Buffalo following the 97 season.
The Bills gave up a 1st and 4th round picks for Johnson. What became of them? The 4th round pick would become one of the most talked about players in Jacksonville history, Tavian Banks. The 1st? An ok player you may have heard of, Fred Taylor.