All of a sudden, they were a different team. Their field goal kicker was four-for-four. Their defense was dominant. Their offense was efficient and methodical.
A week of their most intense practices of the season transformed the Jaguars into winners for the first time in over a month, and it happened against no less an opponent than Steve Spurrier and the Washington Redskins, 26-7.
"This was a big win for coach. He had a lot of pressure because of the Spurrier talk and I'm sure he's relieved," quarterback Mark Brunell said.
Relief? To say the least.
The win kept the Jaguars within a game of the two AFC South leaders, Tennessee and Indianapolis, who scored wins that pushed their records to 5-4. At 4-5 and having ended a four-game losing streak, the Jaguars began the second half of the season by staying alive in the division title chase … and a whole lot more.
"We're 4-5. I'm disappointed it isn't better. At least we maintained some relative position in our division," coach Tom Coughlin said following the win.
But 4:23 into the game, after the Redskins had marched 77 yards in nine plays to take a 7-0 lead, the screws had only been tightened on Coughlin and his team. It looked bad for the Jaguars, especially after the Redskins quickly drove from their 19-yard line to the Jaguars 35 in the Redskins' second possession.
That's when, all of a sudden, the change began. Cornerback Jason Craft intercepted a Shane Matthews pass in the end zone, marking the Jaguars' first interception since Sept. 29.
Change was everywhere, most noticeably in Spurrier's play-calling. After consecutive wins behind a power running game, the Redskins turned hard to a passing attack that lacked big-play potential and only served to signal the Redskins' demise.
Following five consecutive running plays to begin their second drive, Matthews threw the first of 15 passes in the Redskins' next 16 plays. Spurrier's "Fun 'n Gun" offense was back, but there was no fun in the result. Fifty-one passes produced just one score.
"I guess I was dumb enough to think we could throw it up and down the field," Spurrier said in his postgame interview. "We ran a little bit here and there. We had a little success early and I got away from it. I called a lousy game, as it turns out."
"That's Spurrier. I was a little (surprised) because of the way they had won the last two weeks," Bryant said.
"Everybody has ego. Everybody was talking about Spurrier being the coach here. Of course, you took that personal," Bryant added, addressing the pressure Coughlin faced during the week leading up to the game.
"This meant something to (Coughlin). It went on forever that (Spurrier) should've been the coach here. I'm sure it messed with his pride," Bryant added.
The Redskins' record fell to 4-5 with a loss that seriously jeopardizes whatever chance Spurrier's team has of being a playoff contender in the final month of the season. In a city famous for its "Hogs" offensive line and the Redskins' punishing running game of past glories, Spurrier is likely to come under harsh criticism in Washington for his pass-happy ways.
"It was really a tough week. It was really emotional," Jaguars wide receiver Bobby Shaw said.
Shaw caught three passes, the most important of which was a short toss Shaw turned into a 48-yard gain at a critical juncture of the third quarter, with the Jaguars clinging to a 16-7 lead. On the next play, Fred Taylor raced up the middle 12 yards for a touchdown that, for all practical purposes, began the Jaguars' celebration.
Taylor was held to 17 yards rushing in the first half, but exploded for 65 yards in the second half and Stacey Mack added 50 hard-charging yards. The Taylor-Mack combination allowed the Jaguars to seize control of the line of scrimmage.
"It says we were tired of losing and we wanted to do something about it," defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said. Stroud was stout despite playing on a week-old sprained knee.
Brunell was a workmanlike 19 of 29 for 194 yards and an 84.6 passer rating. Jimmy Smith caught five passes for 68 yards and Taylor led the Jaguars with seven catches. It marked the best combined performance by the Jaguars "Big Three" in several weeks, at a time when Coughlin had demanded improved performances from his three stars.
The Jaguars' first touchdown, a two-yard run by Mack, capped a 21-yard drive that was gift-wrapped by former Jaguars punter Bryan Barker's shanked, 12-yard boot.
Embattled kicker Tim Seder came through with field goals of 27, 43, 27 and 42 yards, and punter Chris Hanson killed the ball inside the Redskins 20-yard line four times, as the Jaguars clearly won the battle of field position.
What was expected to be a crowd whose favoritism would be split between the Jaguars and Redskins, was overwhelmingly pro-Jaguars. In fact, the overflow crowd Spurrier was expected to produce didn't materialize, as empty seats were very prominent among an official attendance of 66,665. It was a slightly larger crowd than the 65,005 that attended the Eagles game.
"They were outstanding," Coughlin said of the fans. "We could be excited because of the way they supported us."