INDIANAPOLIS--The Jaguars are at an early crossroads in their season ,following a 43-14 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football.
"We talk a lot about mental toughness. It'll be extremely difficult," coach Tom Coughlin said of overcoming the defeat, "because we embarrassed ourselves. I told our team it'll be very difficult now because the fingers will start pointing."
Where do we begin?
Quarterback Mark Brunell was sacked five times, once for a safety.
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning was sacked no times and hurried seldom.
The Jaguars' offensive output was nearly doubled by the Colts, as Manning's 440 yards passing is the most in Colts history, which includes Johnny Unitas and Bert Jones.
Eliminate the big play? No way. The Colts took a 7-0 lead on a 76-yard pass from Manning to Marvin Harrison. Also, Terrence Wilkins caught passes for 34 and 27 yards, the latter for a touchdown, on his way to nine catches for 148 yards. Also, Edgerrin James went 60 yards with a pass, and Jerome Pathon caught a 38-yarder.
Finger-pointing is a sport this week in Jacksonville. You can point to both lines, the pass-offense and the pass-defense, the pass-rush and the reluctance to mount a rushing attack. Where was the blitz? Didn't we go through this once before?
"Defensively, we could not stop them; could not get them out. The second half was just a debacle and I take full responsibility for it," Coughlin said of a loss that dropped the Jaguars to 2-2 and in a tie with Cleveland for third place in the AFC Central Division. Just ahead of the Jaguars is Tennessee at 2-1, and Baltimore is in first place at 3-1. Pittsburgh, 0-3, visits Alltel Stadium this Sunday.
The bad news just kept on coming for the Jaguars. Center John Wade, who had been out six weeks with a fractured foot, had to leave Monday's game with what was described as a strained foot. It was immediately feared that Wade had re-fractured the foot.
Also, starting safety Rayna Stewart was carted off the field with a knee injury, defensive end Joel Smeenge re-injured his strained calf muscle, and Brunell limped off the field after being sacked by defensive end Chad Bratzke in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach.
"The second half is when you need to play your best football and we have not done that," Brunell said, referring to the fact the Jaguars have suffered second-half collapses in each of their last three losses, dating back to last January's AFC title game. The Jaguars trailed 21-14 at halftime Monday night. "We need to figure that out," Brunell added.
"Today, we weren't good enough. We got beat by a good football team and it's very disappointing," Brunell said.
Yeah, the Colts are a definite playoff contender, but their defense had been unable to mount a pass-rush in its previous five games. Against the Jaguars, the Colts poured in on Brunell as though he was a scout-team quarterback. Rookie left guard Brad Meester had a particularly tough night against Colts defensive tackle Ellis Johnson.
Defensively, for the second time this season the combination of no pass-rush and poor pass-defense spelled doom. It has become a chicken-or-the-egg issue. Has the Jaguars' coverage failed due to the lack of a pass-rush, or are the Jaguars unable to employ defensive coordinator Dom Capers' blitz schemes because of the inability to cover man-to man?
"We've got to do a better job in coverage," linebacker Kevin Hardy said. "The rush needs to improve, but we need to tighten it up a little bit back there. It's going to be tough to forget about (this loss). In this team's history, we haven't taken many losses like this," he added.
Even Hardy Nickerson, a newcomer to the Jaguars, took exception to the performance. "It was totally embarrassing; the way the whole game went," he said.
The game was billed as a head-to-head dual between the two teams' star offensive trios. On this night, the Colts trio of Manning, Harrison and James claimed victory over the Jaguars' Brunell, Jimmy Smith and Fred Taylor, though Smith turned in another stellar performance. The final numbers are:
Manning, 440 yards and four touchdowns; Brunell, 229 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Harrison, two catches, 103 yards and one touchdown; Smith, nine catches, 132 yards and two touchdowns.
James, 89 yards rushing and one touchdown, and two catches for 65 yards; Taylor 57 yards rushing.
One of the great mysteries is the reluctance to use Taylor more in the second half, especially with the Jaguars unable to stop the Colts offense, and the Jaguars offensive line unable to protect Brunell. Taylor had 10 carries for 56 yards in the first half, but carried only four times for one yard in the second half. Of course, it was Taylor's regular-season debut.
"It's Monday night. It hurts. They scored 43 points and probably could've scored again. It's all bad," Taylor said.
"We just didn't get anything done. As we started to lose momentum, and as the points came on the board and the offense did nothing, the defense gave up the run," Coughlin said.
"If we had been able to give the defense some support, I don't think it would've been as poor a performance by our defense," the coach added.
That was a kind evaluation by a coach who is his own offensive coordinator and was more than willing to take an extra share of the blame.
There's plenty of blame to go around this week, but Coughlin isn't interested in explanations. He knows his team needs on-the-field results.
"We say the right things. It takes more than talk," Coughlin said.