The air was thick with tension. These were two teams and two coaches whose seasons would turn on this play, the final play in a game not worthy of this final-seconds drama.
Houston coach Dom Capers instructed his quarterback, David Carr, to go for it. Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio welcomed the decision. Two seconds later, one would be filled with joy, the other with despair. You know the rest.
Maybe this is the Jaguars' season for learning the agony of defeat. Maybe this is their payback for Morten Andersen's miss in 1996. Maybe these are the defeats that will mature this team into the winner Del Rio says it will become.
"My message to the team was simple: I have a plan and we will win here. Hang together and keep fighting. Stick with me; I have a plan," Del Rio told reporters following the Jaguars' heartbreaking, 24-20 defeat to the Texans today.
Carr scored on a one-yard plunge as time expired. Capers could've ordered a field goal that would've sent the game into overtime, but he chose the gutsy route. It was a call that could cost a coach his job, or bring his team together. In their immediate post-play celebration, the Texans looked like the latter, despite an afternoon of playing giveaway to a Jaguars team that was lifeless until Stacey Mack's second-quarter fumble.
Mack's mistake began a Jaguars rally from a 14-3 deficit. It culminated in a 20-17 lead, which appeared as though it would hold up when Mack threw a ridiculous halfback-option pass into double coverage with 4:35 to play and the Texans at the Jaguars 21-yard line. Everyone wondered what Texans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was thinking.
Then, the Jaguars committed a similar mistake. Instead of going into full-protection mode, rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich was armed with a second-and-seven, pass-or-run play that backfired when Leftwich fumbled and the Texans recovered at the Jaguars' 41-yard line. Ten plays later, Carr leaped over the line.
"It was a critical turnover, one he'll probably never make again in his career," Del Rio said of Leftwich's error, which was not tucking the ball close to his body as he scrambled for what would've been a first down.
The result of all of this is the Texans begin their bye week with the comfort of a 2-2 record and a week of introspection that might reveal where they are and where they're going. Had they lost, that soul-searching would've been very painful. Of course, this is a very painful week for the 0-4 Jaguars, who can only wonder when they'll notch the first win in their new era.
"The effort is outstanding," Del Rio said. "It continues to be the kind of effort we need, but there's no gratification for the effort."
Del Rio believed, to the end, his team would realize that gratification in Houston. "I was happy they went for it. I thought it gave us the opportunity to win right there," Del Rio said of Capers' final-play decision to not play for the tie.
Had the Jaguars won, they would've done so in Leftwich's first starting assignment, and that would've certainly energized the team and its fans. But the fact of the matter is Leftwich wouldn't have been the reason for winning, and blaming him for the loss is unfair.
His statistics -- 17 of 36 for 231 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and a 42.7 passer rating -- did not tell the story of his performance. He played with a poise and understanding far superior to his numbers. At the same time, had newly-acquired wide receiver Troy Edwards not made a sensational, one-hand grab, which he turned into an 84-yard touchdown that is the longest play from scrimmage in Jaguars history, Leftwich's day would've been a statistical nightmare. Three of his eight previous passes had been intercepted.
Del Rio would not announce who his starting quarterback will be against the Chargers this Sunday. He said he would address that issue later this week.
The Texans started the game with a bang. They moved 69 yards in 11 plays in their first possession, with Mack scoring on a five-yard run up the middle.
Leftwich countered by moving the Jaguars impressively to an 11-play, 51-yard field-goal drive, but the Texans stormed back with an eight-play, 53-yard touchdown drive that culminated in a 24-yard touchdown pass from Carr to wide receiver Jabar Gaffney. The 14-3 lead marked the first time in the Texans' two-year history they had scored in each of their first two possessions.
But when Mack fumbled near midfield in the second quarter, the Jaguars seized the opportunity to get back into the game. Leftwich moved his team 48 yards in seven plays -- the big plays being a 28-yard pass-interference penalty and a 16-yard pass to Edwards -- and Fred Taylor scored from a yard out.
Houston stretched its lead to 17-10 early in the third, but Edwards tied the game with his home-run catch and Seth Marler gave the Jaguars a 20-17 lead with a 20-yard field goal near the end of the third quarter.
The Jaguars had the look of a team about to win its first game, then it all came crashing down, which is a fitting way to describe the first month of this season. The month began with a heartbreaking loss in Carolina, and September ended for the Jaguars today with their defense standing on the field as Carr's one-yard touchdown was reviewed by the officials.
When the day ended, the Jaguars stood with the New York Jets and the San Diego Chargers as the league's only 0-4 teams.