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Clear victory for Coughlin


He endured a week -- make that 10 months -- of venomous criticism and unyielding pressure. This week, it is Steve Spurrier who will face fan dissent in Washington, where Spurrier's name means very little and where expectations far exceed the 4-5 record with which the Redskins flew back north.

Somehow, Tom Coughlin made it through his week of personal hell without lashing out at those who longed for his demise. He did it by committing himself and his team to a week of intense preparation for a game that was of much greater personal importance than he would admit.

We all knew what it meant. As much as he said it wasn't a personal confrontation between himself and Spurrier, we knew it was. It's what the fans wanted it to be, and had his Jaguars lost today to the Redskins, talk-shows and message boards would've called for Coughlin's ouster even more viciously than they had on that Friday last January when Spurrier announced his resignation as head coach at the University of Florida, and thus officially proclaimed his availability for a head coaching job in the NFL.

"This was our football team against the Washington Redskins. Steve is an awfully good football coach. He's a friend," Coughlin said graciously in ending a week that began with a sharp barb from none other than Spurrier's 81-year-old mother.

Continue the debate, if you must. But there is a message in what happened Sunday, and the message has nothing to do with who is better at clock management or play-calling or who would sell more tickets. What's important to note is that, given a week to prepare for a game of critical importance to both teams and of intense personal pressure, Coughlin's team was clearly better prepared and responded much more dramatically than Spurrier's.

"We hustled all week in practice. He damn near killed us and it paid off," Fred Taylor said.

Yeah, the Jaguars responded to a week of harsh demands from their coach by playing their best football of the season. They fought back from a 7-0 deficit, and after allowing the Redskins a 77-yard touchdown drive to begin the game, the Jaguars dominated the final statistics: more than seven minutes more of time of possession and more than twice as many yards rushing. In the NFL, those are the critical statistics.

Simply put, against a Redskins team that includes such headliners as LaVar Arrington, Bruce Smith, Jessie Armstead, Jeremiah Trotter and Champ Bailey, the Jaguars were clearly more physical and aggressive.

"We went back to our players and told them point-blank what the issues and the problems were. The players accepted it very well," Coughlin said of his delivery to his team when he greeted it on Wednesday for the start of on-the-field preparation. "They worked hard. They were focused."

The issues and problems were that "we weren't making plays. We weren't emotional. We needed people to make plays and inspire their teammates," Coughlin explained.

Today, the Jaguars made plays, played with emotion and inspired each other. Meanwhile, the Redskins appeared to sleep-walk through a game that held more meaning for their coach than his players may have understood. Spurrier was back home. The Redskins never seemed to grasp that issue.

"He was vocal, but it wasn't a negative vocal. It reminded me of practice when I was here before," tight Pete Mitchell said of a coach for whom Mitchell played at Boston College and now in his second stint with the Jaguars. Suffice to say, Mitchell knows Coughlin and Mitchell understood what kind of week it was for his coach.

"With all of the talk going on around here; he's our coach and you want to win for your coach. He didn't show it. He didn't say anything," Mitchell said.

That may be Coughlin's greatest victory. He took no subtle shots at Spurrier or at those Spurrier fans who used Coughlin as a talk-show punching bag. Coughlin held up under his great duress and, as a result, his esteem is intact today.

"He was (in a tough spot)," Bobby Shaw said. "My hat goes off to him for the scrutiny he's taken and the stress he's been under. I think he handled it really well, not showing us."

This will be a much kinder week for Coughlin, maybe.

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