The Jaguars named experienced coach Tom Coughlin to lead them, and he chose as their starting Quarterback the young and relatively unknown Mark Burnell, who was a backup to the in form Brett Farve at Green Bay, and free agent Wide Receiver Jimmy Smith. Many questioned their inexperience, and they were initially right, as they finished 4-12 in their first season, but their fortune would soon chance.
Jaguars' Miracle Season
In their second season in 1996, the Jags had greatly improved, finishing 9-7, just one game of leaders Pittsburgh, and won a wildcard berth in the playoffs. The shocks continued in the playoffs, as they narrowly defeated the very playoff experienced Buffalo Bills with a late touchdown pass. And so they moved on to face the top seed, John Elway’s Denver Broncos in Colorado, which had become a fortress in recent years. However, in what has become known as the ‘Ambush at Mile High’, the Jaguars bullied the Broncos side and again won a narrow victory, in one of the greatest games ever played, and is famous for the immortal words, ‘Do you believe in miracles?’
In the two championship games, the Jaguars had reached the big game in the AFC, and their fellow expansion team Carolina had made it in the NFC. However, their dream was shattered by the New England Patriots, but Burnell and Smith had gone from nobodies to heroes in just one season, and the fans stuck with the side and them.
The Jaguars continued to improve, reaching the playoffs the next three seasons, as division leaders in 1998, and then at the peak of their form, they finished the top ranked side in the NFL in 1999 at 14-2. However, this time as the favourites against the Tennessee Titans, they again missed out on the Super Bowl as they were crushed in the AFC Championship game.
Jaguars' Decline and Colts Dominance
As they entered the new millennium, the honeymoon period came to an end for the Jaguars, as their records fell for the next four seasons, resulting in Coughlin and Burnell moving on in 2002 and 2003 respectively. Coughlin was replaced by former Linebacker Jack Del Rio, and he began to rebuild the team with four straight winning seasons, including two wildcard berths, on both occasions losing out to the New England Patriots.
Possibly the Jags biggest obstacle was that of their division rivals, the Indianapolis Colts, who in the 2000’s became the dominant team in the AFC South Division, with the introduction of Peyton Manning and his furious Offence, and so their record and play suffer, and they fail to make the playoffs. The Jaguars continue to be an average team, and as Manning and the Colts continue to dominate, the chances of the playoffs don’t look good for the Florida franchise.