Coach Tom Coughlin wanted only to focus on the positives from the Jaguars' 13-0 win over the Cincinnati Bengals today. It made for a very tight picture.
So, what were the positives, coach?
"The plus-three (turnover differential), the defensive play, and the special teams play; those are the positives and that's what we're going to dwell on," Coughlin told reporters, following a game that was played in a steady rain that held offense and excitement to a bare minimum.
Their running game was non-existent, their passing attack was held under 200 yards, and in a home-opener that produced the smallest crowd (45,653) in Jaguars history, the only real distinguishing fact of the game was that it marked the first shutout in Jaguars history.
Defense was the star. What about offense? Well, what does it tell you that the only touchdown of the game was the result of a replay review that overturned an incompleted-pass ruling?
All those things considered, the Jaguars celebrated the re-birth of their defense, which posted five sacks, two interceptions and a fumble recovery (special teams accounted for the other fumble recovery). The win left the Jaguars at 2-1 and helped ease the sting of a fourth-quarter collapse in Baltimore the previous week.
"I was going to force the issue with Cincinnati's offense," Coughlin said in explaining his reluctance to open up his offense, especially after the Jaguars had taken a 10-0 lead the Bengals gave no reason to believe was ever in jeopardy.
The Jaguars defense was in complete control of the game, from beginning to end, against a Bengals offense that was overmatched on the line and overwhelmed by inexperience.
Defensive tackle Gary Walker turned in one of the best performances of his career with five tackles, two sacks and a pass-defensed. Walker terrorized the interior of the Bengals offensive line, and was far and away the Jaguars' most consistent pass-rusher.
"I mentioned it before the game that we hadn't had a shutout around here," Walker said. "We said it would be a great way for our defense to bounce back."
Asked if it was the best performance of his career, Walker said: "No, and it's not as good a game as I'm going to play, either."
Walker had been hampered since early in the preseason by a groin pull. "I told coach (John) Pease this was the first day I stretched and didn't have any pain," Walker said.
The five-sack performance silenced critics of the Jaguars' lack of a pass-rush the previous week in Baltimore, and the performance of the pass-defense did the same in acquitting itself of its bad outing against the Ravens.
"It was sweet redemption," said cornerback Aaron Beasley, who killed a late-game Bengals drive with an interception. "If we get pressure, the secondary can cover a lot better, and we got a lot better pressure today."
Beasley and cornerback Fernando Bryant each had a pass-defensed, strong safety Donovin Darius had two passes-defensed, and middle linebacker Hardy Nickerson intercepted a pass and defensed three others. Nickerson, Tony Brackens and Joel Smeenge accounted for the Jaguars' other sacks.
"We don't go by wins or losses. We want to play to a certain standard, and last week we didn't play to that standard. There was a little pressure, but it was pressure from within. I call it accountability," Darius said of the defense's performance.
Yes, the defense was outstanding, and so was special teams. However, the offense was not, and at particular issue is a running game that shows no improvement.
"We had a lot of things planned today. If it was a seven-man front, we were going to run, and we did. You come in and say you're going to run it, and you don't run it and it bothers me," Coughlin said, referring to the Jaguars' 84 net yards rushing. Twenty-five of those yards belonged to quarterback Mark Brunell, and another 20 was produced by rookie R. Jay Soward on an end-around play.
"They know you're going to throw it if you have difficulty running it. That certainly has been the case. Hopefully, we can get to the point where we have success on the ground," said Brunell, who threw for only 176 yards.
It helped the Jaguars that Bengals rookie kicker Neil Rackers missed on field goal attempts of 44 and 47 yards, but the Bengals' deepest penetration of the game was only to the Jacksonville 26-yard line. Only two other times were the Bengals on the Jaguars side of the 50-yard line.
Meanwhile, the Jaguars made five trips into the red zone and came away with only two field goals. Reserve kicker Steve Lindsey missed on a 33-yard field goal attempt in one trip into the red zone, the Jaguars were stopped on fourth-and-one at the Bengals two-yard line in a second red-zone failure, and a Brunell pass for Soward was tipped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted on a third wasted trip into the red zone.
The Jaguars played without star running back Fred Taylor, again. Taylor may make his regular season debut in Indianapolis on Monday Night Football on Sept. 25.
Also inactive was kicker Mike Hollis, whose season is in jeopardy as a result of back pain that may require a second surgery. Hollis kicked in practice Friday, but pain down his leg returned while in meetings Saturday night. Lindsey took his place and his field goal marked the first time in Jaguars history that someone other than Hollis booted a three-pointer.
Coughlin said the weather wasn't as much a factor as he was told it might be. The initial forecast was for high winds and driving rain. That did not occur, though the rain was steady. It held down scoring and, obviously, the attendance.