It was not all that long ago that the Jacksonville Jaguars were one of the main rivals of the Cincinnati Bengals.
When the Jaguars joined the NFL in 1995, they were placed in the AFC Central Division with Cincinnati, the Cleveland Browns, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Houston Oilers. In 1996, the Browns moved to Baltimore and were renamed the Baltimore Ravens. The Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997 (and became the Titans in 1999), and added a sixth team when the Cleveland Browns were reactivated in 1999.
The AFC Central Division featured these six teams for the 1999, 2000 and 2001 seasons before the NFL realigned in 2002, at which time the AFC North, which included Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, was born. The Jaguars and Titans moved to the AFC South.
From 1995 through 2001, Cincinnati and Jacksonville played each other a total of 14 times as members of the same division. During that time, the Jaguars exercised almost complete dominance over the Bengals. After dropping the first three games in the series, Jacksonville came back to win nine of the next 11 games the teams played.
After realignment, Jacksonville continued to be a thorn in the Bengals’ side with consecutive victories in 2002 and 2005. Cincinnati turned the tide in 2008 and have won four straight since then.
And it was that 2008 game that proved to be one of the most telling games the teams have played. Jacksonville was coming off a 2007 season in which it posted a regular-season record of 11-5, and held off the Steelers in an AFC Wildcard Game before losing to the Patriots. The Jaguars had started the season slowly and, after a loss to the Browns the previous week, came into Paul Brown Stadium with a record of 3-4.
Cincinnati, on the other hand, had lost its first eight games of the season, and was fresh off of a 35-6 dismantling at the hands of the Oilers. This was a far cry for a team that had won the AFC North title in 2005 with a record of 11-5. The Bengals had followed that up with records of 8-8 and 7-9, and were off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. One more loss would have left them at 0-9 for only the second time in team history. Something needed to change in a hurry.
And that something came courtesy of the Jaguars.
Bengals’ quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick threw two touchdown passes to Chad Ocho CInco and Cincinnati stopped a late two-point conversion effort by the Jaguars to hand on for a 21-19 victory. Cedric Benson contributed 104 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Cincinnati charged out to a quick 21-3 lead before Jacksonville made things interesting with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns.
The Bengals would play to a 13-13 tie against Philadelphia the following week in a game Cincinnati had every opportunity to win, before three straight losses appeared to cancel out any progress the team seemed to be making. Then the Bengals rallied for wins in the final three games of the season, setting the stage for a 2009 campaign that saw them win the AFC North with a record of 10-6. Of course, Cincinnati lost its wildcard matchup to the Jets by a score of 24-14, after beating the same team less than a week before by a 37-0 count.
But it was the victory against the Jaguars that started the Bengals moving in the right direction, and served as the momentum that saw Cincinnati put together winning seasons nearly every year since, with the exception 2010 and 2016.
Move the clock ahead to 2017, and now it is the Cincinnati Bengals who go into Jacksonville Municipal Stadium Sunday with a record of 3-4 hoping to continue their efforts to turn their season around and get back into the playoff race.
Jacksonville, unlike those 2008 Bengals, stands at 4-3 and in a tie for first place in a watered-down AFC South Division. The Jaguars have yet to string back-to-back wins together so far this year and are coming off a bye after beating Indianapolis – a team the Bengals beat 24-23 last week – in Week 7 by a count of 27-0.
Cincinnati can only hope that this game will once again be a turning point in its quest to re-establish itself as one of the class acts in the AFC.