EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ—The Jaguars' playoff hopes would seem to have been reduced to a singular pursuit: Win the division title or else.
That's the fallout from Sunday's action, which includes the Jaguars' 24-20 loss to the New York Giants and wins by the Steelers and Ravens that would seem to have sent a message to those in the AFC South and West that the conference's two wild-card teams are likely to come out of the East and North.
At 6-5, the Jaguars have a strong idea what they need to do to make it into the postseason: Win, baby, and one of those wins must be in Indianapolis on Dec. 19, which would give the Jags the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Yeah, losing to the Giants was a bitter pill for the Jaguars, but it wasn't one of those lopsided jobs that punctuated the early season and left the Jaguars embarrassed and ridiculed. After this loss, they could stand tall with pride for they took one of the league's power teams to the wire and made them go the length of the field with the game on the line, on their turf, no less.
Sure, the loss hurt, but when the Jaguars take a hard look at the effects of this loss on their playoff hopes, they will come to find that it's not the kill shot they might've first thought. Either way, the Jaguars would've had to win in Indianapolis, and the wild card was a wild hope anyhow.
All of that wasn't what was bothering coach Jack Del Rio as he fought back the emotions that accompany a crushing late-season defeat. In addressing the media after the game, Del Rio was calm and cooperative, even though he was seething inside. He was seething about a pass-interference penalty on Kassim Osgood that opened the door for the Giants' game-winning drive.
David Garrard swung a pass out in the flat for wide receiver Mike Thomas, who dashed down the left sideline for 22 yards and a first down at midfield. Back at the line of scrimmage, however, a yellow penalty flag lie on the ground and instantly everyone in New Meadowlands Stadium, including Del Rio, knew the penalty was against the Jaguars.
"That should not have been a call. The guy was pressed. He maintained his block. We'll ask for clarification," Del Rio said.
His point is that because Osgood was confronted by press coverage at the line of scrimmage, he should've been exempt from the penalty. Sometime this week, the league might notify Del Rio that he's right and the call shouldn't have been made. Then the pain will start all over again.
Welcome to crunch time in the NFL. It almost always includes an official's call that changes the game.
"We got a little taste of defeat. We'll take our lumps," Del Rio said.
Actually, the Jaguars got a big taste of defeat. To a man, they took this one hard. It was written all over their faces. This was their toughest loss of the season, by far.
"We should be mad at each other. We shot ourselves in the foot. We have to finish," wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker said.
Sims-Walker was involved in one of those game-changing plays when, on the first play of the second half, a pass glanced off his hands and into the hands of Giants defensive back Terrell Thomas. The Jags defense held the Giants to a field goal but it was a play that changed the game's momentum.
"It was an easy slant and I should've put the ball in front of him and let him run," Garrard said in taking the blame for the interception.
After two weeks of making the big plays at crunch time, the Jags came up short this time. The Osgood penalty caused the Jags to punt, which initiated the Giants' game-winning drive. This week, dame fortune did not sit on the Jaguars' sideline.
"They stepped up their game in the second half," Garrard said.
"We just fell flat in the second half. When you play a team that's been to the Super Bowl and has a lot of veterans, you can't expect to just squeeze one out," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said, comparing this game to the win the Jaguars squeezed out the previous week against Cleveland.
"We're still in the hunt. We have to get a winning streak started again," Knighton added.
Feeling bad isn't all that bad. It's better than getting blown out and feeling nothing.