2006 RANKINGS: Jaguars: offense 10th (2nd rush, 26th pass); defense 2nd (3rd rush, 11th pass). Chiefs: offense 16th (8th rush, 21st pass); defense 15th (18th rush, 14th pass)
PREDICTION: Chiefs, 20-13
KEYS TO THE GAME: The loser is done for the season. Even the winner
needs significant help to reach the postseason. The offense that best
takes advantage of its strong ground game is most likely to hold onto its
slim playoff aspirations.
It will be interesting to see how Chiefs RB
Larry Johnson fares against the league's No. 3-ranked run defense
anchored by the interior duo of DTs John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. The
Chiefs could help Johnson by presenting the threat of the pass, but QB
Trent Green continues to look a bit off with his timing since returning
from a concussion.
The Jaguars are also heavily reliant upon their ground
game, and expect to have RB Fred Taylor back in the lineup for a 1-2
punch with rookie Maurice Jones-Drew. The difference could be the play of
QB David Garrard, who has more big-play ability at his fingertips than
Green, but he's also far more prone to game-changing turnovers.
FAST FACTS: Jaguars: Are 22-5 (.815) under coach Jack Del Rio when
scoring first. Garrard has a 91.3 passer rating in his past six road
starts. Chiefs: Johnson already has a single-season Chiefs record 383
carries, breaking Christian Okoye's record of 370. Johnson's 44 career
rushing touchdowns is tied with Marcus Allen for second-most in
franchise history behind Priest Holmes' 76.
--RB Fred Taylor practiced for the second consecutive day Thursday
and says he'll be ready to play against the Chiefs. He's probable with a
hamstring injury that limited him to two carries the past 2 1/2 games.
--RB Maurice Jones-Drew, who's probable with a knee injury, practiced
Thursday and should be ready to play. He needs 105 yards to reach 1,000
--CB Ahmad Carroll was put on the injury list as probable with an
undisclosed illness. He didn't practice Thursday.
--CB Rashean Mathis was taken off the injury list after he recovered
from an undisclosed illness. He practiced Thursday.
--DT Marcus Stroud, who's probable with an ankle injury, didn't
practice Thursday, but he's been taking a day off every week.
--G Will Shields might well be playing the final game of his
prospective Hall of Fame career Sunday, though he certainly isn't saying that.
After starting a club-record 223 consecutive games since his rookie
season in 1993, the 35-year-old Shields shed no light on his plans
Thursday. "I'm just preparing to play Jacksonville. Whatever happens after
that remains to be seen."
--TE Tony Gonzalez, whose contract is up after this season, also
might be playing his final game as a Chief. Though Chiefs president Carl
Peterson has indicated that he will not let Gonzalez go, he'll either
have to ante up big or consider using the franchise-player protection he
doesn't want to invoke to keep Gonzalez, who has said repeatedly that
contending for a championship is the most important thing to him at this
point of his career.
--TE Jason Dunn, a key component of Kansas City's blocking unit, did
not work Thursday while nursing a sore back. The Chiefs continue to
list him as probable.
--RB Michael Bennett, the backup to Larry Johnson, remains
questionable for Sunday with an ankle injury. Bennett also
missed last week's win in Oakland and had no carries the previous week
in San Diego, meaning Johnson had to do almost all the running work
himself. Third-team RB Dee Brown has had five carries in the two games in
which Bennett did not play.
--T Kyle Turley, who is battling a shoulder injury, has been ruled
out of Sunday's regular-season finale and may have played his last game
as a Chief. Turley has not played in eight of 15 games this year in his attempted comeback from a back injury that kept him out of football for two years.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Fred Taylor is right back to where he was last season.
He wants a new contract.
Last year, the Jaguars wouldn't give him one when he had two years
left on his old deal. Now he has one year left, and he thinks he's
earned an extension.
Taylor, who is under contract for the 2007 season at a $2.55 million
base salary, said Thursday he wants a contract extension in the $5
Although $5 million is the average salary for the 10 highest-paid
running backs, the Jaguars haven't indicated if they plan to negotiate
His injury history may make them leery of making a big
investment in him.
Taylor, 30, feels his comeback from knee and ankle injuries that
limited him to 11 games last year to becoming a Pro Bowl alternate this
year should earn him a new deal.
But Taylor was limited to two carries the last 2 1/2 games with a
hamstring injury, although he said it wasn't a major injury and added
that he's set to play against the Chiefs.
"My thing is to finish strong so there won't be any question marks
out there," he said.
Noting the Jaguars have given new deals to other players with a year
left on their contracts, he said, "Why not me? I think I'm a high
enough caliber player so I should be treated the same way."
Taylor said he wouldn't be happy if the Jaguars want him to play out
the final season of his contract.
As a last resort if he doesn't get a new deal, he said, "I'd ask to
be traded or something. I don't think I want to try and play that out."
If Chiefs running back Larry Johnson gets 28 carries in Sunday's
regular-season finale against Jacksonville, a figure he's equaled or
bettered on seven occasions already this season, he would pass the NFL
single-season record for rushing attempts.
Atlanta's Jamal Anderson set the mark of 410 in 1998.
It is, Johnson says, a record an NFL back hardly cherishes. It
means, among other things, that he's been pounded a lot, which can translate
into a diminished career in terms of longevity.
It remains to be seen whether Johnson, the Chiefs' offensive
workhorse of the past 1 1/2 seasons, can stand the test of time, but the early
returns are positive.
Since replacing Priest Holmes and becoming Kansas
City's starter on Nov. 6, 2005, Johnson has carried 27 or more times in
15 of his 24 starts. He insists that he still feels good after 383
rushes (for 1,651 yards) this year.
"That's because you dish out the punishment, you don't take it," he
said. "I'm not a small back, so I don't get guys like Shawne Merriman
trying to tee off on me on every snap. Being the size that I am
(6-foot-1, 230 pounds), a lot of times you get tacklers that shy away from you
because they know it will hurt them more than it hurts me."
Beyond that, Johnson has yet to take years of pounding. He wasn't a
full-time starter at Penn State until his senior year. He spent the
first 2 1/2 seasons of his four-year NFL career as a little-used backup
to Priest Holmes.
"When you're a kid, 19 or 20 years old, you want it all," he said.
"Looking back on it now, you kind of appreciate the fact that you're
coming in to the league a lot fresher than most backs. Most backs right
out of college already have three or four nagging injuries. I was blessed
to come out of college and into the NFL with a clean slate."
How long he can continue to take that kind of pounding remains to be
seen, but coach Herm Edwards notes that Johnson already has earned the
badge of courage that nearly 400 carries has earned him.
"You have to be available as a running back every game," Edwards
said. "It's quite a task in this league, especially when you're carrying
the ball as much as he's carrying it. When you're a very good runner,
people key on you every week. To carry the ball that many times shows his
mental toughness and his resilience coming back when he's nicked."
Game Snapshot: Chiefs/Jaguars
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