CINCINNATI—The Jaguars planned to be leading the league in wins midway through the season but, instead, they're leading the league in narrow defeats. Sunday, they suffered a 21-19 loss to the previously winless Cincinnati Bengals, leaving the Jaguars at 3-5 at the midway point in the season and the only team in the NFL to have had every one of its games decided by seven or fewer points.
This one came down to a two-point conversion attempt; one try to send the game into overtime, and quarterback David Garrard faced a decision. Go to Matt Jones on the left, or to Jerry Porter on the right?
"I was kind of hoping that ball would go to Matt Jones right there. David had his choice; didn't get what we wanted there," coach Jack Del Rio said.
Jones was split left and was to run a slant. Porter was on the right and was also to run a slant. Pick your slant, right? Garrard picked Porter.
"They were inside on Matt. The route we had for that wasn't good. When you have Jerry on the other side … I should've put the ball more on his body," Garrard said.
Garrard's throw led Porter into a fast-closing defender and an unavoidable collision. The ball got lost somewhere between the two, falling incomplete and leaving the Bengals to claim their first win of the season after eight consecutive losses.
"They had everybody up but they didn't blitz everybody. I'm going to live with my decision. If we complete it for two points, nobody is asking me anything," Garrard said.
Garrard suffered his worst performance in more than a month, throwing his first interception in 167 passes. Garrard also threw for 229 yards, but for no touchdowns and a 66.7 passer rating.
The Bengals featured a brisk pass-rush on Garrard, sacking him three times, flushing him from the pocket five times and knocking him down several times. On one occasion, Garrard got up from the ground slowly after taking a shot to the ribs.
"We were trying to pick up a lot of their blitzes. You have to have extra guys to pick that up," Garrard said of the Jaguars' scheme to max-protect and limit the number of receivers in the routes. "It kept us off balance. I have to do a better job of picking it up and getting rid of the ball faster."
The Jaguars defense has to do a better job of starting faster. Rams castoff quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick drove the Bengals to touchdowns on drives of 84 and 88 yards the first two times the Bengals had the ball, leaving the Jaguars to trail 14-3 at halftime of a game the Bengals were dominating.
It wasn't until Jaguars special teams made a big play that the Jaguars got the Bengals' attention. After a field goal cut the Bengals' lead to 21-6 early in the fourth quarter, the Bengals fumbled the ensuing kickoff following a crushing hit by Chad Nkang. Montell Owens scooped up the fumble and ran 18 yards for the score. All of a sudden, the game was on.
In a drive that began with 5:56 to play, Garrard drove his offense 73 yards in 11 plays, Maurice Jones-Drew scoring from a yard out with 1:17 left on the clock. Following the failed two-point try, the Jaguars attempted an onside kick the Bengals recovered.
"The only thing we can do now is stick together and fight through this thing," Del Rio said. "What we've earned to this point is 3-5. The execution is what it boils down to. It's not a matter of a guy wanting to."
Defensive tackle John Henderson and Bengals guard Andrew Whitworth were ejected from the game in the third quarter, after the two exchanged punches following a pass-blocking duel. Henderson drew two fouls on the play and Whitworth one for retaliating. That lone penalty nullified a long pass completion by the Bengals.
"I saw two guys lose their cool. You need to be able to keep your composure," Del Rio said.
What's wrong with this team? It's the question every reporter is asking.
"It's a tough question. I don't know," tackle Khalif Barnes said.
Barnes was replaced by Dennis Norman for one series early in the game, in what was a coach's decision. Barnes returned to the game for the next series.
"The game starts up front and you have to control the line of scrimmage," wide receiver Matt Jones said.