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Jaguars exude confidence, even against unbeaten Patriots

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Prime-time game, national television, against the undefeated New England Patriots.

It's no surprise the Jacksonville Jaguars, the sometimes brash, always confident team from one of the league's smallest markets, a group that plays the no-respect, us-against-the-world card every chance it gets, would welcome the challenge.

They're not afraid to talk about it, either.

"We love it," defensive end Bobby McCray said Wednesday. "This is what we've been waiting for all year. It's a perfect situation, a perfect stage and we're going to see what we can do."

The Jaguars won their first playoff game in eight years last week, blowing an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter and then rallying for a 31-29 victory at Pittsburgh. The Jaguars were favored to win that game.

They're a huge underdog in this one.

For Jacksonville, though, that's exactly where it wants to be heading into Saturday night's AFC divisional playoff game at New England.

"We look forward to the challenge," cornerback Rashean Mathis said. "We respect them a lot, but you give nobody too much respect. If you give anybody too much respect, that means you're laying down to them. We're laying down to no one."

The Jaguars, under former hard-hitting linebacker and fifth-year coach Jack Del Rio, have been one of the league's most physical teams, relying on a strong running game, a stout defense and a wear-you-down mentality.

They also have developed a reputation for playing their best in big games. The problem, though, was they typically couldn't match that intensity against lesser opponents.

Del Rio seemingly got it fixed this season, and Jacksonville advanced to the playoffs for the second time in three years.

Now, after beating the Steelers, the Jags have nothing to lose against the Patriots. Few people outside Jacksonville expect them to keep it close, let alone win.

Inside the locker room, though, the feeling is much different.

"They're beatable," guard Vince Manuwai said. "You've seen the other teams almost beat them. We just can't make the mistakes that other teams did."

A few lockers away, left tackle Khalif Barnes talked about relishing the chance to be part of history.

"It would be nice to be the team that eliminates them," Barnes said. "They're 0-0. They haven't won any games in the postseason yet. Anything that happened in the regular season is over. That really can't help or hurt anything right now."

The Jaguars expect to do even more talking on the field, unfazed by New England's record, quest to make history or that the Patriots have won two in a row against them.

"We feel like we can match up against anybody," said Mathis, sure to be lined up across from Randy Moss on every play. "Whatever type of game you have on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, we feel we can match that."

The Jaguars point to teams that have played New England close in recent weeks -- Philadelphia, Baltimore and the New York Giants -- and believe they can be even better.

"The 16-0 is in the regular season," Mathis said. "We're 1-0 in the playoffs. They've yet to play a playoff game. ... What they've accomplished in the regular season is what they've accomplished in the regular season. The playoffs are a different monster and we all know that."

Maybe the Jaguars are being naive.

Or maybe their confidence could help them stay loose and avoid all the pitfalls that could come with playing on the road for a third straight week. Not to mention the ones that come with facing an unbeaten team that had as many players voted into the Pro Bowl this season (eight) as Jacksonville had in the last eight years.

Some of the Jaguars even made light of their upcoming "mismatch."

"We're just blessed to have another opportunity, to be on the same field as the New England Patriots," running back Maurice Jones-Drew said in a slow, drawn-out, tongue-in-cheek fashion. "Tom Brady is my idol. He's from the Bay Area, dates supermodels. He's everything a kid wants to be."

Defensive end Paul Spicer even jokingly offered to let the Patriots borrow his digital camera if they wanted to take snapshots of Jacksonville's defensive signals.

"We are confident," Spicer said. "It's us against them. They're 16-0, they're wonderful, they're great. But the bottom line is they have to beat us Saturday. Until that happens, we're 1-0 and they're 0-0."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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