JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Two friends reached milestones Sunday night. Only one felt like celebrating.
Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell both passed the 700-reception mark, but Smith also made a diving catch for the winning touchdown to lift Jacksonville to a 17-10 victory over Tampa Bay that sent the defending champs reeling toward playoff elimination.
"I couldn't have dreamed this any better," Smith said.
Smith's 48-yard touchdown catch from Byron Leftwich with 10 minutes left was the decisive play in the victory over the Bucs (5-7), who fell three games behind NFC South leader Carolina, and three behind Seattle and Dallas for the last wild-card spot.
"Everybody's going to be talking about the playoffs," Bucs defensive lineman Anthony McFarland said. "We can't even think about the playoffs. We've got to try to win one in a row."
The winning catch was only one of the night's nice moments for Smith, who caught a season-high 10 passes for 136 yards to lead the struggling Jaguars (3-9). In the first quarter, he caught three passes to become the 16th player in NFL history to reach 700.
McCardell applauded from the sideline and, a few minutes later, he caught the second of his eight passes to join Smith at 700.
"I just said, 'Congratulations,"' McCardell said. "We knew it was going to happen sometime during the game. We were just out there trying to help our teams get a win."
Tampa Bay needed it worse, but didn't really play with any sense of urgency. The Bucs were outgained 359-221 by one of the league's worst teams. Besides a good performance by McCardell, none of the defending Super Bowl champs put in anything resembling a memorable performance.
In fact, the game was something of a slog, which made Smith's catch stand out even more.
Isolated outside against Bucs cornerback Tim Wansley, Smith was beginning to separate on the right sideline when Wansley started limping with a pulled hamstring. Smith moved under Leftwich's high throw and dived to catch the ball for the 54th touchdown of his career.
"I'd have pulled up too if I didn't want to be in the highlight," said Smith, both arms caked in mud and grass stains.
Tampa got the ball twice after that, but never got into scoring territory. The last drive ended when defensive tackle John Henderson batted down two straight passes by Brad Johnson at the line.
Jacksonville wrapped up the game with 2:45 left, when Jack Del Rio chose to go for it on fourth-and-inches from the Bucs 40. Fred Taylor split through the line for 3 yards, then the Jaguars ran out the clock.
"I loved that" call, Leftwich said. "Plays like that bring teams together. A play like that could be the turning point of your season."
Taylor finished with 118 yards and went over the 1,000-yard mark for the fourth time in his six-year career. The Bucs fell to 0-5 this season, 1-14 over the last five, when allowing a 100-yard rusher.
"To close out the way we did against the defending champs, who are desperate to stay in the playoff hunt, is impressive," Del Rio said.
In fact, it might be the highlight of the season for the Jaguars.
They got the win on the 10th anniversary of the NFL's surprise decision to award Jacksonville its 30th franchise. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was in town; all night, the team's "greatest moments" were played on the scoreboard.
There were no highlights from this difficult season, although Sunday was certainly a welcome relief. The Jaguars are now just one win from matching their total from their 1995 expansion year.
Leftwich, the rookie Del Rio considered benching earlier in the week, finished 20-for-34 for 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns, the first to Kyle Brady in the second quarter.
"He responded like a pro," Del Rio said. "Byron went a long way toward showing that the coach made a pretty good decision."
While Leftwich played well, Johnson went 21-for-38 for 156 yards for the Bucs.
The Bucs need to win out just to finish above .500, but even that might not keep them from joining last year's Patriots as the second straight Super Bowl winner to fail to make the playoffs the next year.
"We won't quit," McCardell said. "(Coach) Jon (Gruden) won't let us, and a lot of guys in this locker room won't let us. There are too many great players on this team to mail it in."
- The Jaguars got the ball to either Taylor or Smith on each of their first 22 offensive plays.
- Referee Tony Corrente used replay to overturn two calls in the final four minutes. The first nullified a lost fumble by Michael Pittman. The second overturned a juggling interception by Ronde Barber.
- New Jaguars receiver Kevin Johnson caught a pass in his 75th straight game.
- Two of the most inaccurate kickers in the league, Seth Marler and Martin Gramatica, combined to miss three of five attempts. Marler missed from 46 and 41, while Gramatica missed from 45.
The Associated Press News Service
Copyright 2003, The Associated Press, All Rights Reserved