It was a reversal of form. Sunday, the Jaguars offense was the problem and the Jaguars defense was the solution.
In a rare occurrence of a team that is minus-five in turnovers winning the game, the Jaguars defense stonewalled the Cleveland Browns offense on four consecutive second-half series to keep the score close and allow the offense to come to life in the final minutes. The result is a 24-20 Jaguars win that has the Jaguars at 6-4 and tied with the Colts for first place in the AFC South.
- Trailing 14-10 midway through the third quarter, David Garrard was intercepted by T.J. Ward and the Browns took possession at their 48-yard line. Four plays later, the Browns punted.
- Five plays later, Garrard's pass for Marcedes Lewis was intercepted by Joe Haden and returned to the Jaguars 19. Three plays later, the Browns had to settle for a field goal by Phil Dawson.
- On the next possession, Garrard fumbled on a quarterback draw and the Browns took possession at their 43. Four plays later, the Browns punted.
- One more time, Ward intercepted Garrard. The Browns took possession at the Jaguars 35. Four plays later, the Jaguars defense forced a 51-yard field goal attempt that was woefully wide to the right and short, and the Jaguars offense followed that miss by marching for the game-winning touchdown.
The Jaguars offense would have to march one more time in the game, following a 57-yard drive by the Browns that produced a go-ahead field goal with 2:46 to play. This time, Maurice Jones-Drew was the star, going 75 yards with a screen pass and then punching it in from a yard out for the game-winning touchdown.
Then, the game was placed into the hands of the defense one more time and safety Sean Considine responded with a game-clinching interception at the goal line. There's no denying that defense saved the day.
"We showed a lot of improvement today. We're headed in the right direction," Considine said.
Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker put together a game plan that held Peyton Hillis to 48 yards on 21 rushing attempts and sacked rookie quarterback Colt McCoy six times. The Jaguars defensive line dominated the action.
"Our guys played well up front. They had their way with us up there last year. We thought if we could make him come inside where the big guys live, we'd be fine," Del Rio said of the game plan to stop Hillis. "I feel like we executed that part of the plan just fine."
McCoy got off to a fast start in the first half, but he was ineffective in the second half until gobbling up some passing yards when the Jaguars were playing prevent-defense in the final minute of the game.
Meanwhile, Jones-Drew turned in one of the great performances in Jaguars history, rushing 24 times for 132 rugged yards. The Browns couldn't tackle him. Jones-Drew also caught three passes for 87 yards. His only bad plays of the game were an interception on a halfback pass and a fumble that was returned 18 yards for a touchdown.
"Coming into the game we talked a lot about our need to be able to run the football and our need to be able to stop the run and we didn't do either one of those very well. They averaged almost 5.4 yards a carry; we averaged 3.3 yards a carry. We got sacked six times," Browns coach Eric Mangini said.
"We knew we had to gang tackle," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "As long as a team can't run the ball, you always have a chance to win."
Knighton and rookie defensive tackle Tyson Alualu dominated the action up front. Knighton contributed four tackles, one sack, a tackle for a loss and a quarterback hurry; Alualu had two tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss, a quarterback hurry and a pass-defensed.
In the final game of last season, the Jaguars were no match for the Browns up front.
"We've been talking about it all week," Jones-Drew said.
On a three-game winning streak and tied for the division lead with six games to play, the Jaguars can start talking about talking about "stacking wins up," in Del Rio's words, because that's what it's going to take to win the division title and/or qualify for the postseason. A year ago, the Jaguars lost five of their last six. They need to reverse that form, too.