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Jags momentum halted


Jack Del Rio acknowledged the circumstances. The Jaguars were coming off a bye week. They were riding a high. They were facing a team playing without six significant starters.

"We had an advantage going in," Del Rio said following a shocking, 24-21 loss to the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday.

The Jaguars found themselves in an uphill struggle before the game was three minutes old. Chris Hanson's first punt was blocked and returned for a touchdown.

Then, just when it appeared the Jaguars had righted themselves with Fred Taylor's 71-yard touchdown run, the Rams struck back immediately with an 83-yard touchdown pass to regain the lead.

The early action was an indication of what the day would be. The Jaguars were never able to seize control of the game, even though they intercepted Jamie Martin three times, rushed for 221 yards and threw for 206. It wasn't to be the Jaguars' day and that was never clearer than on the first play of the fourth quarter.

They had the lead, 21-17, and the ball at their 42-yard line when Byron Leftwich found wide receiver Ernest Wilford over the middle at the Rams 33-yard line. Wilford had the ball in both hands and for the fraction of time he was in control of it there were thoughts of the Jaguars finally reaching the 30-point mark; of winning this one going away and making a statement on offense. Then, the ball left Wilford's grasp and found its way into the hands of Rams safety Mike Furrey.

Four plays later, Martin was throwing a screen pass to running back Steven Jackson, who squared his shoulders and powered his way down the sideline for a 19-yard touchdown that would be the eventual game-winner.

The Jaguars tried to fight back. They got to the Rams 26 with 9:30 to play, but kicker Josh Scobee missed for the second time.

One more time the Jaguars would have the ball and they moved it into Rams territory before Leftwich threw incomplete on four straight downs, the last three times for rookie wide receiver Matt Jones.

"You get what you earn in this league. Joe Vitt did a great job with his team, getting them to play good enough to win," Del Rio said of his coaching counterpart, the Rams' interim head coach.

The loss dropped the Jaguars to 4-3 and halted the momentum they had gained in consecutive wins over Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. The Jaguars fell three games behind the Colts in the AFC South race and would seem, now, to be chasing a wild-card playoff berth.

Sunday's game included several intriguing plays, including a fourth-and-one call at the Rams 25-yard line late in the first quarter, with the Rams holding a 14-7 lead. The Jaguars had driven methodically downfield from their 20-yard line. On third-and-one, Greg Jones was stopped for no gain.

Del Rio decided against a field goal attempt which, considering what Scobee would do on the day, may have been clairvoyant. Del Rio did not, however, have Jones test the middle again. Instead, Leftwich threw incomplete for Jimmy Smith in the end zone.

"We took a shot there. It was a calculated risk. It was called," Del Rio said.

The Jaguars lost Reggie Williams to a head injury early in the game. Williams returned to the action briefly in the second half but was ineffective and retired to the bench. Williams was replaced in the lineup by Wilford, who turned in the best performance by a Jaguars receiver this year and, by far, the best of his two-year career. Wilford caught six passes for 145 yards and a touchdown. Had he not lost control of that one pass at the start of the fourth quarter, he would've been the game's hero.

"You gotta be able to score points early and often against an offense like that. Two big wins and a bye; there are no easy games in the NFL. You gotta be able to match points with those guys," Smith said.

Jones caught a touchdown pass, his second in two games, but Jones continued his penchant for attempting one-handed catches, and that will almost certainly be one of the focuses of Del Rio's film study.

"If there's an opportunity to get the other hand out to use it, we'd prefer that. The tape will clear that up," Del Rio said.

"They made more plays than us," said Leftwich, who completed 18 of 31 passes for 213 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and an 87.2 passer rating.

"I thought it was OK," Del Rio said of Leftwich's performance. "There were probably more plays out there to be made."

The Jaguars run-defense was mowed down by Jackson, who gained 179 yards on 25 rushing attempts, a 7.2 yards-per-carry average.

"Missed tackles, that's what happened to us. You're going to look at it and be disgusted for a week. We know we're a lot better than that. Having them run all over the field shouldn't happen to this defense," defensive end Reggie Hayward said.

"We didn't play Jaguars football," cornerback Rashean Mathis said. "We have to win two of three phases (offense, defense and special teams) and today we didn't do that."

"Everything they gave us we were well-prepared for," linebacker Mike Peterson said.

They weren't, however, prepared to lose.

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