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On This Date in Sports January 4, 1997: Jagwads Buck Broncos

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The Jacksonville Jaguars reach the AFC Championship Game in their second season, stunning the Denver Broncos 30-27 in the Divisional Playoffs at Mile High Stadium. The Broncos had the best record in the AFC and were favorites to reach the Super Bowl. Woody Paige, a columnist, derided the team and the city of Jacksonville before the game, providing bulletin board material. After Denver jumped out to a 12-0 lead in the first quarter, the Jaguars scored the next 23 points as Natrone Means rushed for 140 yards. The Jaguars would lose to the New England Patriots 20-6 a week later, ending their Cinderella run. 

Coached by Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars started the 1996 season with a 24-9 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the reigning AFC Champions. However, Jacksonville dropped their next three games before beating the Panthers 24-14 in the first regular-season meeting between the two newest teams. The Jaguars were 3-6 heading into a bye week through nine games. After the bye, Jacksonville split games against the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers before going into Baltimore and ending November with a 28-25 win in overtime. That win helped spark a five-game winning streak to get the Jaguars into the playoff picture. The Jaguars got good fortune as they beat the Atlanta Falcons 19-17 on a missed field goal by Morten Andersen. After finishing 9-7, the Jaguars stunned the Buffalo Bills 30-27 in what would be the final game for quarterback Jim Kelly and coach Marv Leavy. 

The Denver Broncos got off to a flying start in 1996, winning 12 of their first 13 games for Mike Shanahan. The Broncos, who had not been to the playoffs since 1993, were revitalized by Terrell Davis, who had a breakout season rushing for 1,538 yards. The Broncos would lose two of their final three games but still were the best team in the AFC at 13-3. After the Jaguars upended the Bills, the Broncos were installed as a 13-point favorite in the Divisional Round against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars were not respected by the National Media and downright derided by the Denver Press. Woody Paige of the Denver Post wrote a scathing article. In the article, he took shots at the City of Jacksonville and pondered if the Jaguars were a real team, calling them the "Jagwads." 

When the game began, it appeared as if the Broncos blowout would happen, as they jumped out to a 12-0 lead. The Broncos got the first score when Vaughn Hebron scored from the one. It capped a quick drive that began with a 47-yard run by Terrell Davis. The PAT failed; later, Shannon Sharpe caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from John Elway, as a Broncos two-pointy attempt went awry.  

Denver dominated the first quarter, but the Jaguars landed an important counterpunch as Mike Hollis hit a 46-yard field goal on the first drive of the second quarter. After the Broncos failed to add to their lead, the Jaguars showed they were in the game by driving 80 yards for a touchdown, as Natrone Means had a crucial 29-yard reception and scored a touchdown from the eight. With under a minute, Mark Brunell connected with Jimmy Smith on a 44-yard pass to set up Hollis for a 42-yard field goal that Jacksonville a 13-12 at the half.

In the third quarter, the Jaguars continued their momentum, stopping the Broncos and scoring the first time they got the ball as Keenan McCardell reeled in a 31-yard touchdown pass from Mark Brunell. As the crowd at Mile High Stadium watched in silence, the Jaguars continued to add to their lead with a 22-yard field goal by Hollis, as the Broncos offense was bogged down in the third quarter, managing 37 yards on 14 plays.

Down 23-12, the Broncos finally got back in the end zone in the fourth quarter, as Terrell Davis scored from the two and had a successful two-point attempt to make it a three-point game. The Jaguars were able to answer going down the field to answer with a touchdown of their own, as Brunell had a key 29-yard run and completed the drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith. With two minutes left, the Broncos scored as Ed McCaffery caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Elway. However, the Jaguars recovered the on-side kick to win the game 30-27.

It would be the final game where the Broncos wore their classic "Orange Crush" uniforms. They would avenge their loss, beating the Jaguars 42-17 in the Wild Card Round in 1997. The Broncos would use that win as the catalyst to two straight Lombardi Trophies.