He was the Mark Brunell of old, hooking up with his favorite target and throwing touchdown passes, and even running four times for 19 yards. But one play spoiled it all.
"I never saw him. It's very frustrating because we lost by three and we gave them seven right there," Brunell said of an interception he threw that was returned 40 yards for a touchdown by Colts linebacker Marcus Washington.
That play occurred with 33 seconds to play in the first half and staked Indianapolis to a 14-7 lead. It was one of two Jaguars turnovers that provided turning points in the Colts' 28-25 win at Alltel Stadium today.
Brunell was attempting to dump the ball to running back Fred Taylor over the middle on a third-and-five play from the Jaguars 38-yard line. The Colts were rushing three and covering with eight, and Washington was that eighth defender who sat in the underneath-coverage area reading Brunell's eyes.
"You have the number two offense in the league and you give them one touchdown off an interception and set them up for another one in point-blank range on a muffed punt," coach Tom Coughlin said. "They get 14 points off that and it's real easy to analyze it and understand how the game was lost."
Damon Gibson was the "goat" on the muffed punt. He twice failed to pick up the ball as it lie at his feet. The Colts' Clifton Crosby recovered at the Jaguars' 20-yard line and three plays later quarterback Peyton Manning completed a 12-yard touchdown pass to Qadry Ismail for a 21-17 advantage that erased the Jaguars' only lead of the game.
Prior to that turn of events, the Jaguars had taken the lead following two Colts turnovers.
The first was the result of a fumble by running back Edgerrin James at the Colts 22-yard line; cornerback Fernando Bryant returned the fumble to the Colts 13 and four plays later rookie kicker Hayden Epstein booted a 27-yard field goal.
Then, replay review failed to provide evidence that tight end Marcus Pollard had not committed a fumble at the Colts 25-yard line. Tony Brackens recovered and replay said play on. Four plays later, Brunell tossed an 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Patrick Johnson and the Jaguars had the lead.
You might say the difference in the game was that the Colts scored touchdowns off the Jaguars' two mistakes, while the Jaguars came away from the Colts' two mistakes with just 10 points.
But Coughlin chose to see it only from his perspective. Had Brunell not thrown that interception or if Gibson had not fumbled that punt the Jaguars would travel to Kansas City next weekend with a 1-0 mark.
"It's a game in which I feel very good in a lot of ways. The effort was outstanding; they played from the heart. But it's very disappointing not to get what we came for. There were a lot of positives," Coughlin said, singling out his offense and 17-play and 15-play touchdown drives in the second quarter.
"There were so many good things, but the scoreboard was not good. We lost a football game based on the critical errors of turnovers; turnovers turning into points," he added.
Indy pushed the lead to 28-17 following an 11-play, 48-yard touchdown drive that ended in a three-yard touchdown pass from Manning to star wide receiver Marvin Harrison.
It should also be the Jaguars' lament that the defense failed to provide any kind of significant stop at a critical time of the game. Manning completed 19 of 31 passes for 211 yards, three touchdowns and a 113.8 passer rating.
Brunell brought the Jaguars back and the game was on the line with 5:25 to play and the Jaguars facing a fourth-and-one at the Colts 12-yard line. That's when Brunell and wide receiver Bobby Shaw hooked up on one of the most impressive plays of the game, Shaw making an acrobatic catch in a crowd along the sideline to produce a first down at the Colts nine-yard line. Taylor then went three and six yards and, following a two-point conversion pass to Jimmy Smith, the Jaguars were within a field goal of tying.
But, again, the defense failed to stop the Colts, who moved from their 26 to the Jaguars 38-yard line and, in the process, killed enough time to make a Jaguars rally nearly impossible.
"I thought you guys saw a difference out there today," Taylor said of the offense's performance compared to a touchdownless preseason showing. "We're going to start putting up more points and win some games."
Taylor carried 24 times in the oppressive heat and humidity. He gained 83 yards rushing in what was his first regular-season action since suffering a season-ending groin injury in week two of last season.
James was in his first action since he suffered a season-ending knee injury at midseason a year ago. James appeared tentative but carried 26 times for 99 yards rushing.
Brunell's numbers were: 22 completions in 36 pass attempts for 228 yards, two touchdowns and an 86.3 passer rating that would've been considerably higher had he not thrown that one costly interception. His first touchdown pass was a thing of beauty; a "laser" to tight end Pete Mitchell that split two converging Colts defenders.
"If it wasn't for the turnovers, it would've been a different game," wide receiver Jimmy Smith said.
Smith was in his first action since ending his summer-long contract holdout nine days previous to Sunday's game. His presence against the Colts was credited for the greatly improved performance by the Jaguars offense. To a man, his teammates agreed.
And everyone agreed the game was decided by turnovers and the points they produced. In that sense, you might say the Jaguars lost 14-10.