Aaron Beasley stood in front of his locker in the Indianapolis RCA Dome, answering all of the reporters' questions on what was one of the worst nights of his life. Three plays into the game, he had been beaten by Marvin Harrison for a 76-yard touchdown. Beasley could only imagine the witty remarks that were pouring out of Dennis Miller's mouth.
This is not as we expected it would be. Beasley's star had risen sharply last season, and with the addition of first-round pick Fernando Bryant, the Jaguars boasted one of the best-young cornerback tandems in the league. It had become a source of pride for both, but especially for Beasley.
In training camp this summer, Beasley was ever smiling and full of energy. He talked of himself and Bryant with enthusiasm.
"I'm not being cocky, but we do it all. We're going to come up and make tackles, too," Beasley added.
Now, he found himself having to summon his humility. September wasn't nearly as kind a month this year as it was in 1999, when Beasley was the defensive player of the month.
"I've been criticized in the past. The main thing is to go play. I build off it. I just have to rebound and come back. I have to build off the negative," Beasley told reporters.
Last season was Beasley's proving ground. This year is testing his toughness and dedication. It often happens that way following fame and a fate-new contract.
"I know I played bad. There's nothing I can do about it, but the things I did were correctable. I don't worry about criticism. My thing is to get back on my technique and on my game."
When he is on his game, he is one half of a cornerback tandem capable of shutting down the league's best receivers. Ask the San Francisco 49ers. Last season, all season, he was on his game, and the Jaguars were transformed from a team accused of playing soft in pass coverage, into an attack unit.
"It's great to play corner for coach Capers," Beasley said.
Dom Capers took over a defense that was in the bottom third of the league rankings and turned it into a group that was on pace late last season to set an NFL record for fewest points allowed; a defense that was being compared to the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers. However, the pass-rush hasn't been the same this season, and Beasley and Bryant have suffered the most, though this hasn't exactly been a painless experience for Capers, either.
"Everyone takes the blame," Beasley said of the loss in Indianapolis, refusing to point his finger at a pass-rush that had been shutout. "I put a lot of blame on myself. I didn't play well. I have to make plays when I'm supposed to make plays," he added.
Beasley gives Capers credit for having made the difference in the Jaguars defense last season, but the addition of Bryant put that defense over the top. Now, it is the return to form of Beasley that is the necessary ingredient. The Jaguars need the player who intercepted six passes and returned two of them for touchdowns. Beasley and Bryant need the chemistry they had last season, when they were the best new cornerback tandem in the league.
"You have to cover each other's back. Everything has to work as a unit. We don't even have to say anything to each other. I can anticipate what 'Beas' is going to do. I know he's going to take the inside and underneath routes, because I have a little more speed," Bryant said of the relationship he and Beasley developed.
If we didn't appreciate the worth of a solid pair of cornerbacks last season, we certainly know their value now. From third in the league against the pass last season, the Jaguars had fallen to 27th this year, following Peyton Manning's 440-yard night on Sept. 25.
"I think it's worth a lot," Bryant said of the value of strong cornerback play. "You have a foundation. Any defense has to be built around cornerback. The league has changed. It's a throwing game. You win nowadays with the pass."
The Jaguars want to return to the days of last season, when they won against the pass.