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Fourth quarter should open our eyes


No one bothered to talk about the scheme. There was no finger-pointing, only resignation. This is what it is. This is what the 2001 edition of the Jaguars do.

They are 3-8 because they commit penalties and turnovers, and they continue to lose because they can't stop their opponents from marching long distances for the game-winning points with the game on the line. The Jaguars' 28-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers Monday night marked the sixth time this season the defense has allowed the opponent to mount a game-winning scoring drive in the final minutes of the game.

We have no choice but to accept that fact about this team. It is a problem that surfaced nearly two years ago, then slowly increased in repetition until it has become a weekly disease. Very simply, with the game on the line the Jaguars are unable to stop their opponents.

What we learned Monday night is that neither defensive coordinator Gary Moeller nor his defensive scheme is or has been the problem. The Packers repeatedly burned the Jaguars' man-to-man coverage, leaving one press box pundit to quip, "Bring back the soft zone."

Moeller will not, should not be skewered this week, as he was a week ago by no less a betrayer than the players he coaches. This week, with the game on the line, Moeller came with a four-man rush and aggressive man-to-man coverage, and as the Jaguars' down linemen charged toward Packers quarterback Brett Favre, Favre dumped a soft screen pass to running back Ahman Green. Forty-two yards later, Green was out of bounds at the Jaguars' four-yard line and the Packers were left with a choice of winning by a touchdown or a field goal. Favre chose the former.

Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin told reporters "the story of the game were the penalties and turnovers," but later in his postgame address he took a bigger-picture look at the problem. "When I look at the finished product, I see a lot of these young faces popping up. The players have stayed focused and that's all you can ask for. It seems like at the end of the game we find a way to lose," Coughlin said.

It would serve us all well to take a bigger-picture look at these Jaguars. You can whine and cry about bad officiating and a play here or a play there that might've been the difference, but the simple fact of the matter is that this team has been over-matched and under-manned. How do we know that? Well, we can apply this simple logic:

• If fourth-quarter performance is the truest measure of a professional football team, then the Jaguars have given us every indication to believe they have a serious talent deficiency. Through 11 games, they have been outscored 63-33 in the fourth quarter.

That's this team's epitaph: "It couldn't win the fourth quarter."

They've won the third quarter, 77-45, and the second quarter, 67-59, but in the quarter that counts the most, they've been almost doubled up.

Why? No heart?

No way! That's not it.

The answer is much simpler. Look at the lineup that faced the Packers and consider an offense whose running backs all entered the NFL as undrafted free agents. How about a defense with a starting linebacker the Jaguars had signed off the "street" less than a week before the game? The Jaguars' right offensive tackle is a rookie who endured his first bad game, and the left tackle is a right tackle playing out of position.

With five games to play, this is acceptance time for all of us. These players and coaches have given us everything they have to have remained competitive in every game. But, this team just doesn't have what it takes to win. It can't be colored any other way.

"There is no margin for error for us. We have to play a near-perfect game to win," Coughlin confessed. It was his way of admitting his team lacks the overall roster strength to compete with teams the caliber of Green Bay, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, the Jaguars' last three conquerors. Yet, those teams each had to make plays with the game on the line in the fourth quarter to wrest victory away from the Jaguars.

That, in itself, says something about this Jaguars team we should acknowledge: It plays hard. We acknowledge that by first accepting: It has major weaknesses.

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