Riding high from their proximity to the Super Bowl in the previous season, the Jaguars had high hopes for 1997.
The offseason was fairly quite, and for the most part, the 1997 roster was very similar to the 1996 roster. Rising stars like Jimmy Smith, Keenan McCardell, Tony Boselli, Mark Brunell and Tony Brackens returned.
The Jaguars' high hopes suffered a setback in a preaseason game against the New York Giants. As Giants' linebacker Jesse Armstead brought down Pro Bowl quarterback Mark Brunell, the QB's knee took an unnatural twist.
At first, it appeared Brunell's ACL was torn, which would've sidelined him for most, if not all, of the 1997 season.
Fortunately, it wasn't as bad as it looked. Brunell's PCL was only partially torn, and his ACL was only streched.
Still, the Jaguars would be without him for the first two games of the season. Would they be able to win, or would their star quarterback's absense put the club in too large of a hole?
Enter Rob Johnson. Johnson was drafted in the 4th round by the Jaguars, and prior to week one in 1997, had never started a game. Could the Jaguars beat the Baltimore Ravens with Johnson at the helm?
Johnson answered with a magnificent game that would change the course of the franchise forever. More on that later.
The Jaguars' backup QB led the team to a victory over the Ravens, completing 20 of 24 passes for nearly 300 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson also rushed for 31 yards and a touchdowns in the 28-27 victory.
Unfortunately, Johnson was injured during the game, and would soon be ruled out for week two. Despite playing with a 3rd string quarterback (Steve Matthews), the Jaguars steamrolled the New York Giants 40 to 13 on their way to a 2-0 record.
And then the club's week three bye came, giving Brunell enough time to recover just in time for the team's first primetime game.
Brunell returned for the Monday Night matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, picking up where he left off. Brunell threw for more than 300 yards on the way to a Jaguars victory, and the Jaguars rolled on in their quest for the playoffs.
While the 1997 season wasn't all positive, it was largely a success. The Jaguars finished second in the AFC Central with an 11-5 record (losing a tiebreaker to the Steelers) and made the playoffs for the second-straight year.
Wildcard Weekend saw the Jaguars return to Mile High Stadium in Denver, the home of their stunning upset the previous season.
Unfortunately, the Jaguars couldn't reclaim the magic of the previous season. The Broncos ran for more than 300 yards en route to a 42-17 victory that sent the Jaguars home from the playoffs earlier than the team had hoped for.
Here are some notable statistics from the 1997 season:
Quarterback Mark Brunell completed 60.7 percent of his passes for 3,281 yards, 18 touchdowns versus only 7 interceptions.
Running back Natrone Means could not build on his string of success at the end of 1996. Means finished with only 823 yards, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry.
Wide receivers Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell continued their ascent. Smith finished with 82 receptions for 1,324 yards. McCardell finished with 85 receptions for 1164 yards.
And Rob Johnson? At the end of the season, the Jaguars were able to take advantage of his excellent showing against the Ravens. They traded him to the Bufallo Bills for first and third-round selections. The first-round pick was used on Fred Taylor -- a Jaguars' great that needs no introduction.