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Friday, December 26, 1997

Broncos look to avenge last year's loss to Jags

AP Football Writer
DENVER, Dec. 25 -- With a 6-0 start that made them appear the class of the NFL, the Denver Broncos never expected to be playing a wild-card game.

But at least they won't take Jacksonville for granted when the Jaguars come to Mile High Stadium on Saturday for the game the Broncos didn't expect to play - not after the Jags shocked them 30-27 last season a round later.

That game is certainly motivation for Terrell Davis, who sat out the final regular-season game with a separated shoulder, but expects to play on Sunday.

``I haven't watched tape of that game since then, but it remains vivid in my memory,'' says Davis, who led the AFC in rushing with 1,750 yards. ``I was like in a coma for a week after the game. I didn't want to answer my phone, didn't want to do anything.''

On paper, this matchup between the Broncos (12-4) and Jaguars (11-5) is closer than last season's game.

Then, the Jaguars were a second-year team that finished 9-7 and made it into the playoffs only because Atlanta's Morten Andersen, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, missed a 30-yard field goal at the end of the final regular-season game. Now they're considered one of the more talented young teams in the NFL.

The Broncos went into that game after a 13-3 season and had home field in the AFC.

But they had not played a meaningful game for a month and after jumping to a 12-0 lead, seemed to fall apart, particularly on defense.

``Last year, nobody on that Broncos team - from the owners to the team trainers - thought we could beat them,'' says Jacksonville guard Ben Coleman. ``Now, it's totally different. We didn't know if we could win in Denver, but we thought we could. This year, we know we can.''

The Jaguars-Broncos game is the second of four games in the wild-card round this weekend.

In the first game on Saturday, Minnesota is at the New York Giants. On Sunday, it's Miami at New England and Detroit at Tampa Bay.
Hi. We're doing the one head, two story thing again

Sanders earns top offensive player honors

AP Football Writer

NEW YORK, Dec. 26 -- The best season for one of the greatest running backs in NFL history earned Barry Sanders The Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year award today.

Sanders rushed for 2,053 yards, second only to Eric Dickerson's 2,105 in 1984, and 11 touchdowns. He added 33 receptions for 305 yards and three scores as he led the Detroit Lions to an NFC wild-card playoff berth.

``I am just really lucky that I am the one carrying the ball,'' said Sanders, who also won the award in 1994, when he ran for 1,883 yards, his previous career high. ``I also am so fortunate to stay healthy and do the things that I do. Timing, preparation and talent all has to come together to make this happen.

``But this was a team effort. That is reflected in the statistics. We all pull for each other and that shows every Sunday.''

Sanders romped in balloting by a nationwide panel of 48 sports writers and broadcasters, getting 37½ votes. Terrell Davis of Denver, who led the AFC in rushing with 1,750 yards and scored 15 TDs, was second with 7½ and Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre, with three, came in third.

Davis was the 1996 winner and Favre won the year before.

After getting off to a miserable start, gaining just 53 yards in the first two weeks, Sanders took off. He gained at least 100 yards in every game after that, an NFL record. In the finale, which Detroit needed to win to make the playoffs, Sanders rushed for 184 yards and the winning touchdown against the Jets.

As always, Sanders placed the focus on his teammates.

``This offensive line has so much character. They wanted this so bad,'' he said of joining Dickerson and O.J. Simpson as 2,000-yard runners. ``You could see it not only on the field, but also in the preparation every week. We started out a little slow. We stuck with it and stayed after it.

``Everyone is so unselfish that they give it up for the team, and that is why I am here. Everyone had a hand in this.''

Certainly, Sanders benefits from having such quality receivers as Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton on hand. But his offensive line has no stars - only center Kevin Glover made the Pro Bowl - and every defense concentrates on stopping Sanders first.

In 1997, once he got going, nobody could hold him down.

Eagle boys resume play in Big Lake

PECOS, Dec. 26 -- The weatherman and the schedule maker cooperated this weekend, and conditions are expected to clear up by Monday, when the Pecos Eagles resume their 1997-98 boys basketball schedule.

Both the boys and girls teams were off for Christmas week, so the snow and ice didn't interfere with any game plans. The bad weather is supposed to be well past by Monday, when Pecos' boys travel to the Reagan County Tournament in Big Lake.

Eagles' coach Mike Sadler said earlier this month the Eagles were scheduled to face the Iraan Braves in their first round match. It makes up for a Nov. 25 game at Iraan, which was canceled due to the Braves' involvement in the Class 2A football playoffs.

The tournament runs through Wednesday. The girls, meanwhile, will play in Monahans on Tuesday, then compete in the Fort Stockton Tournament on Jan. 2-3.

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