Jack Del Rio knew right where to go. The Jaguars head coach cited five failures that spelled defeat for the Jaguars today at Giants Stadium, in a 13-10 loss to the New York Jets that is the latest should've-won defeat for the Jags.
"Three drives inside the 20 and we get three points in the first half," Del Rio said, referring to an offense that committed three deadly sins in the first half: A lost fumble, a missed short field-goal attempt, and an interception on a third-and-two play at the Jets' three-yard line.
The offense was also guilty of another shortcoming, this one with 3:29 to play with the ball at the Jets' 40-yard line and the home team out of times out. All the Jaguars needed was one first down to expire the clock and claim a 10-6 win.
"We expect to be done and we don't get a first down," Del Rio said. Only moments earlier, the Jaguars defense stopped the Jets on four downs.
But the blame for this loss doesn't fall completely on the offense. No, sir, the Jaguars defense gets a major share of the blame for having allowed the Jets a game-winning, 11-play, 94-yard touchdown drive that began with exactly three minutes to play.
The big play of the drive was a 27-yard pass-interference penalty against cornerback Fernando Bryant. Otherwise, the Jets nibbled their way downfield with five check-down passes to running back Curtis Martin. On second-and-goal from the Jaguars' three-yard line, quarterback Chad Pennington lofted the game-winner for wide receiver Santana Moss, who leaped above rookie cornerback Rashean Mathis to make the game-winning grab.
Del Rio was without explanation for his defense's failure to stop the Jets. After all, they had dominated the game, holding Martin to 56 yards rushing and leaving Pennington with an embarrassingly-low passer rating that was salvaged only by his final-drive success.
But the defense wasn't the only area of the game the Jaguars dominated. The Jaguars offensive line punished the Jets' defensive front, which is the NFL's worst against the run. To that end, running back Fred Taylor broke the 100-yard mark for the 26th time in his career. Though he was playing on a sore knee and thigh, Taylor was durable and productive in carrying the ball 32 times for 119 yards.
"It's frustrating. The offensive line was beating them up. To dominate for most of the game; it's frustrating. We have to see how we can stop having breakdowns," offensive tackle Maurice Williams said.
Rookie Byron Leftwich and Pennington were locked in a duel of Marshall quarterbacks, but that storyline never really materialized. The sum of their first-half passer ratings, 79.9, was the equal of a bad day for an average quarterback. And it didn't improve in the second half for Pennington until the final three minutes of the game, while Leftwich was only marginally improved over the first half.
Leftwich finished the game 17 of 33 for 172 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and a 54.1 passer rating. His best sequence of the day was a 13-play, 74-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that appeared as though it would be the game-winner. His 20-yard toss to Jimmy Smith moved the Jags into Jets territory and provided the drive's spark.
In spite of Leftwich's lackluster performance, he would've come away with his third pro win had the Jaguars defense protected the lead. But there's no denying his struggles: Leftwich converted only one of eight third-down pass attempts and was none-for-two in fourth-down tries. Overall, the Jaguars converted four of 14 third-down attempts.
"We just weren't clicking today. We moved the ball. We just didn't score enough points," said Leftwich, who referred to his costly interception as having been a "bad pass." It was a fade-pass for Smith that was thrown too low and too far to the inside.
Former Jaguar Aaron Beasley made the interception. Two series earlier, on the Jaguars' first possession of the game, Beasley forced a Taylor fumble and recovered it at the Jets' 36-yard line. The Jets turned that turnover into a 3-0 lead.
"The only thing is we didn't put points on the board," Smith said of the offense's failing. "We know we're close. We continue to pull away the positives. We don't reflect on the negatives. The thing we have to do is be patient. I'm not patient. I want to win now. That's why I take this so hard.
"We've definitely played better than our record shows. Look at today's game. We wore their defensive line down. We've got a tough schedule. We play a lot of tough teams," Smith added.
"I expect everyone to respond as a professional, with greater resolve and to get this ship steered right. If you don't feel that way, you're not a competitor and you shouldn't be here doing this," tight end Kyle Brady said.
The Jaguars will try again this Sunday night at Alltel Stadium, in a game against Tampa Bay that'll celebrate the Jaguars' 10th anniversary.