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Taylor and the Jaguars look to clinch a playoff berth Sunday when they host the Oakland Raiders.
Taylor, who ranks sixth in the NFL in rushing yards (1,091), ninth in yards per game (77.9) and fifth in yards per carry (5.1), had hoped to be named to the AFC Pro Bowl team for the first time in his 10-year career Tuesday. Instead, despite having the best season of his career, he was named a first alternate.
Taylor said he wasn’t going to dwell on it, especially with Jacksonville (10-4) trying to clinch a spot in the playoffs for the second time in three years with a win or tie over the Raiders (4-10), a Tennessee loss or tie against the New York Jets, or a Cleveland loss at Cincinnati.
“We know what’s in front of us,” Taylor told the Jaguars’ official Web site. “That milk is spilled already. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
Jacksonville, which didn’t have any players named to the Pro Bowl squad for the first time since 1995, has won two straight and five of its last six behind strong play from its offense.
The Jaguars have set a franchise record by gaining at least 400 yards in four consecutive games and scoring at least 24 points in eight straight. They rank second in the NFL with 149.6 rushing yards per game behind Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew, who have combined for 1,815 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Taylor scored the eventual game-winning TD in a 29-22 win at Pittsburgh last Sunday. Jacksonville led 22-7 at the end of the third quarter, but the Steelers scored twice in the fourth, tying the game with 5:46 left.
Taylor capped a 73-yard drive with a 12-yard TD run with 1:57 remaining to give Jacksonville the win in a snowy and windy afternoon at Heinz Field.
“This is a message to send to the rest of the league: we’re for real,” said quarterback David Garrard, who threw three touchdowns and one interception. “We’ve always said we can beat anybody. We don’t want to be too bold and too brass, but we want to make sure we still have confidence and swagger going into the playoffs.”
While the rushing game has received most of the attention this season, Garrard has made steady improvements. He’s thrown 16 touchdowns - seven in the last three games - and just two interceptions.
“I don’t think the stats do justice to where we are as an offense and our ability to throw the football,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “The bottom line is I know we’re better at throwing it now than we have been. And what’s most important is we’re going to need to be able to get that done down the stretch here to be the kind of team we need to be, that we want to be.”
While the Raiders have a similarly strong rushing game, ranking fifth in the league with 132.4 yards per game, it hasn’t been able to compensate for a frustrating quarterback situation and now they will be without leading rusher Justin Fargas for the remainder of the season.
An MRI on Monday confirmed that Fargas, who has rushed for a career-high 1,009 yards and four touchdowns, sprained the MCL in his right knee in Sunday’s 21-14 loss to Indianapolis.
The Raiders haven’t decided how Dominic Rhodes or LaMont Jordan will be used in Fargas’ place this week. Rhodes has 65 rushing yards on 19 carries while Jordan has 549 yards and three touchdowns on 144 carries. Jordan began the year as Oakland’s starting running back, but he lost the job to Fargas in November.
“I’d like to have whatever works,” coach Lane Kiffin said. “I don’t think there’s a perfect formula. You can be great if you have a great running back, one great running back. And you can be great if you have two. So it all depends on where you’re at, at that time.”
Kiffin’s team has dropped two straight since winning back-to-back games against Kansas City and Denver. Oakland held the Colts without an offensive touchdown until the fourth quarter last Sunday, but its own offense couldn’t take advantage.
The Raiders have five straight double-digit loss seasons and Kiffin said moral victories, like nearly beating the defending Super Bowl champions, haven’t softened the blow.
“We’re too far along to feel good because we played the world champs down on the 14-yard line to win the game,” Kiffin said. “Who cares? We lost. We got to start winning these games. Some day we’ll be that team that makes the plays and finishes people off like that.”
Josh McCown was 13-of-24 for just 94 yards and one touchdown in his third straight start in place of Daunte Culpepper (quadriceps injury). Rookie JaMarcus Russell made his second appearance of the season and went 2-for-5 for 10 yards, failing to convert a first down on three drives.
Kiffin said earlier in the week he planned on using Russell again Sunday, but later on hinted that the top overall pick in April’s draft might start.
“Exactly how it will play out, I don’t know that,” Kiffin said Thursday. “But both guys will play and hopefully JaMarcus will play for an extended amount of time.”
The Raiders rank 31st in the league in passing yards per game (166.6).
This is the first matchup between these teams since the Jaguars won 13-6 in Oakland on January 2, 2005. This is the Raiders’ first-ever visit to Jacksonville after three straight meetings at Oakland.
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