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A day of more questions


The good news is that defensive end Tony Brackens' knee seems to have come away from last night's game without swelling. The bad news is that questions about Mark Brunell's mysterious preseason slump remain unanswered.

"He came out well. He made progress. I fully expect (Brackens) to be ready to go" in the regular-season opener, coach Tom Coughlin said.

Normally, those remarks would've been cause for continued questioning about Brackens' condition following his first preseason action of the summer. But these are not normal times. All concerns are for Brunell and his 54.1 preseason passer rating, which bottomed out in Thursday night's 28-25 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Today, about 12 hours after the conclusion of last night's game, coach Tom Coughlin was still at a loss to explain Brunell's funk. How do you explain the fact that one of the game's best quarterbacks produced only three points in four preseason games?

Was he taking his eyes off his receivers to look at the pass-rush?

"I thought there was some evidence of that on one occasion," Coughlin said, "but I looked at the tape this morning and he actually hung in there pretty well."

All Coughlin could offer is the obvious: "We're not playing well at that spot and we need to get better," he said.

Much better.

Brunell is having to hold up under fan and media criticism today. "He's like a rock at that. He doesn't alibi anything," Coughlin said in praising his starting quarterback's strength of character.

"I think it's more the entire offense struggling than it is Mark. If I catch the first ball of the game, that drive could've been different and the whole first half could've been different," tight end Pete Mitchell said.

Mitchell was one of Brunell's favorite targets through the first four seasons of the Jaguars' existence. Then, Brunell was a swashbuckling quarterback with great scrambling and improvisational skills. These days, those skills have been eroded by physical abuse; such as 112 sacks in the last two years. But Brunell's arm is still strong.

"He's got all of the physical skills except being able to run like he used to run. Nobody throws the deep ball as well as Mark does. The only guy I see who throws the ball as well as Mark is Favre," Mitchell added.

So, what's the problem?

Brunell seemed to point the finger in last night's postgame press conference at the absence of star wide receiver Jimmy Smith, who remains a holdout. Coughlin jumped on that response today.

"That's something Mark doesn't have any control over and I don't either. Let's get Mark better. Let's get his timing back. Let's get him on rhythm," Coughlin said.

Of course, that begs of another question: How?

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