DALLAS--Their top pass-rusher is lost for a month, the status of their best pass-blocker and one half of their star pass-catching tandem is uncertain, and the Jaguars will limp into this Sunday's regular-season opener on the "strength" of a preseason that was a bitter disappointment.
How much bad news can you stand?
"We were looking for some momentum coming out of the preseason, and we didn't get it," coach Tom Coughlin said following a 27-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys Thursday night at Texas Stadium. It was a loss that left the Jaguars with a 2-2 preseason mark, but that is not a true indicator of their performance.
Instead of gaining momentum, the Jaguars' situation worsened in Dallas. Defensive end Tony Brackens suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee, joining an injury list of front-line players that leaves the Jaguars at a battered state to open the season on Sunday, Sept. 9, against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"He'll be out … a four-week injury, let's call it," Coughlin said of Brackens' injury.
So, here's the injury situation:
• Star left offensive tackle Tony Boselli did not make the trip to Dallas and his status for the opener is not known. Boselli is recovering from an Aug. 19 injury to his right knee.
• Wide receiver Keenan McCardell is recovering from hernia surgery on Aug. 16, and his availability is in doubt.
• Tight end Kyle Brady is being treated for what is thought to be a staph infection in his lower right leg. His availability is in doubt.
• Cornerback Fernando Bryant and weak side linebacker T.J. Slaughter each missed the game in Dallas with right shoulder separations. Their availability is in doubt.
That's how this season begins, with doubt. The Jaguars are a team seeking a return to the playoffs, but considering all that is wrong with this team at this point in time, the playoffs are not a realistic thought.
"We didn't stop the run at all, and that's not a good way to finish the preseason," Coughlin said. "I'm very disappointed."
The only bright spots in the loss to the Cowboys were a couple of touchdowns quarterback Mark Brunell and the first-team offense produced. The first was a nine-play, 48-yard drive that was aided by a Cowboys encroachment foul on a Mike Hollis field goal attempt. That gave the Jaguars a first down at the Cowboys two-yard line and, on his third bolt into the line, running back Stacey Mack scored to tie the game at 7-7.
Mack provided a 14-7 lead a few minutes later in the first quarter, when he reversed his field and swept left end in a 49-yard touchdown run in which Brunell threw the key block. "I don't know what I was thinking," Brunell said.
Neither Jamie Martin nor Jonathan Quinn was able to engineer anything of significance, after Brunell left the game late in the first quarter. Martin completed eight of 13 passes for 68 yards, and Quinn was a meager five of 11 for 33 yards and an interception.
Their performances clouded their futures, heading into this past Sunday's final roster cuts.
"They both knew what was at stake and both of them were not good," Coughlin said of Martin and Quinn.
So, it comes down to Brunell and Jimmy Smith and Fred Taylor, the Jaguars' trio of offensive stars. Can they carry this team on their shoulders?
"Can (we) do it alone? No," Smith said. "Where's this team? It really doesn't matter now because it's time to play. Obviously, we need improvement."
"It takes all 11 on offense," said Taylor, who only played in one offensive series against the Cowboys, and rushed three times for 10 yards. Taylor rushed 27 times for 64 yards and a 2.4 yards-per-carry average in the preseason. Those are dismal figures, but Taylor enters the regular season healthy, and that was the prime objective.
"I think we can kind of lead the team, but as far as carrying it, that'll be kind of tough," Taylor added.
"We're beat up," Brunell surmised of the Jaguars' woes. "We're going to need some guys to get healthy. It's real now."
Brunell represents the Jaguars' best chance at beating the Steelers. He accepts the pressure, but he knows he needs help from an offensive line that is very unsettled.
"There's no way three guys can carry a team. It's going to take 11 guys," Brunell said. "We have not had a regular-season game, yet. It's not time to panic."
Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.