Tom Coughlin stood proudly and firmly in front of reporters during his postgame press conference, on a day that began with ESPN reporting Coughlin would be fired the following day.
These were the toughest of times for the only head coach the Jaguars have ever known. Coughlin did his best to steer clear of the swirling rumors, but they were on everyone's mind.
"He said, 'You're a helluva coach,'" Coughlin said of the obviously heartfelt remarks Colts coach Tony Dungy made to Coughlin as the two shook hands following the Colts' 20-13 win. "I said, 'Good luck in the playoffs,'" Coughlin added.
A few minutes later, Coughlin addressed his team. He told them he was proud of them.
The final installment of the most pained season in the Jaguars' eight-year history resembled nine other losses this season; well, actually eight others, if you exclude the loss to Tennessee a week earlier. That game marked the only double-digit loss the Jaguars suffered this season, in which five games were lost by a total of 10 points.
On most Sundays this season the Jaguars seemed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and they did it again, for the final time this season, in the RCA Dome. It left the Jaguars with a 6-10 record and a rather embarrassing 1-5 AFC South Division mark.
"The difference between winning and losing in this league is so minute. We found another way to lose, which is so unfortunate. I'm not proud of the way the game ended," Coughlin said.
This one ended with two penalties serving as the catalyst to the Colts' comeback.
The first of those penalties was a roughing-the-punter violation against Elvis Joseph. It was the big play in a 16-play, 68-yard field goal drive by the Colts that tied the game at 13-13 with 5:46 to play.
After a Jaguars' three-and-out possession, the Colts regained possession at the Jaguars 47-yard line and quickly moved to the Jags 24. On third-and-one, James Mungro was stopped short of a first down, which should've forced a 41-yard field goal attempt by the Colts' Mike Vanderjagt. However, Jaguars rookie defensive tackle John Henderson was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that moved the ball to the Jags 12. Three plays later, on third-and-nine, quarterback Peyton Manning completed the game-winner to tight end Marcus Pollard.
"We had them stopped," Coughlin said. "We made those foolish penalties."
Rookie quarterback David Garrard was in his first pro start, and against no less a foe than Manning. And Garrard was judged to have played admirably.
"The young quarterback played pretty well. He did some good things," Coughlin said of Garrard, who completed 13 of 26 passes for 135 yards and a 65.4 passer rating. He was not intercepted, though the Colts dropped at least two passes that should've been "picked."
"He taught me to be poised," Garrard said of his year of instruction from Coughlin. "All of the yelling he's done at me has helped me stay under control."
"The same old, same old," running back Fred Taylor said. "We played our butts off and we got the short end of the stick. We seem to be good at finding that short stick."
Taylor rushed for 73 yards, which left him at 1,314 yards rushing for the season. After having missed 14 games last season with a career-threatening groin injury, Taylor played in all 16 games this year and is clearly one of the league's comeback stories.
"Our players really wanted to win. We put everything we had into this season. I'm proud of the effort; I'm not proud of the result," Coughlin said.
"It was tough hearing coach Coughlin might be gone. We still went out there and fought for him. Some teams, when their coach is leaving, they give up. We continued to fight," cornerback Jason Craft said.
Several personnel changes are expected to be made during the offseason. Starting cornerback Fernando Bryant is waiting for the Jaguars to initiate contract talks. "That's really up to them. It doesn't look good. I guess in the next week a lot of things will be decided," Bryant said.
Wide receiver Bobby Shaw signed a gutsy one-year deal with the Jaguars last spring. He believed a year in an offense with Mark Brunell at quarterback would deliver results that would produce a more lucrative contract. But that won't be the case, as Shaw never became the kind of go-to receiver he replaced (Keenan McCardell).
"It's tough when you come to a team with high expectations and you never get a feeling they have any confidence in you. I saw this as a young team and being able to be an important cog in it. That's what I came from. It's hard to do that when you're fighting just to get a shot," Shaw said.
Coughlin acknowledged the likelihood of personnel changes. "We need more players. Obviously, that would help," he said.