CINCINNATI--Most teams refer to it as their "victory" formation. What must the Cincinnati Bengals call it?
Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna ended Sunday's game by taking a knee to run out the clock on a 29-15 Jaguars victory. It was, yet, another bizarre twist in a season that has seen the Bengals reach the depths of their franchise's history. They are 1-13. And the Jaguars thought they had problems.
The sad state of the Bengals didn't stop the Jaguars from celebrating the win, which left coach Tom Coughlin's team at 6-8 and still capable of avoiding a third consecutive losing season. Oh, by the way, the Jaguars were officially eliminated from playoffs contention, but that was mere formality, and they weren't about to let it rain on their parade.
"We can beat Tennessee. We can beat Indianapolis. It would definitely be a good building block for next season," defensive tackle Marcus Stroud said of the prospect of finishing the season with a three-game winning streak and an 8-8 record.
Though the Jaguars will be playing for little more than pride in the final two weeks of the season, that's not to say they can't have a major impact on the AFC playoffs picture. What the Jaguars do against Tennessee this Sunday at Alltel Stadium and against the Colts at Indianapolis on the final day of the season may determine who wins the AFC South Division title. It's down to the Titans and the Colts.
"I was happy we could put last week behind us … and get a win against a team that didn't fare well in the win-loss column but had put up a lot of numbers," Coughlin said following the win at Paul Brown Stadium, where the attendance figure was spared embarrassment only by creative counting; (42,092) eyeballs, not heads.
Mark Brunell directed the Jaguars on a precision, 11-play, 68-yard touchdown drive to begin the game, pushed the lead to 14-3 with a nine-yard touchdown pass to tight end Pete Mitchell that capped a 62-yard march, then Coughlin expressed his faith in his offense with two fourth-down "go for it" decisions that sparked a second-half rally.
Trailing 15-14 in the third quarter, the Bengals committed the kind of mistake that has routinely snatched defeat from the jaws of victory this season. On a fourth-and-six Jaguars punt, the Bengals were flagged for having 12 men on the field. Coughlin countered by having Stacey Mack run off left tackle on fourth-and-one, and Mack gained eight yards to the Bengals 30-yard line.
Four plays later, on a fourth-and-six at the Bengals 26, Coughlin made a decision some would say was courageous, but others might say was careless. Coughlin nixed a field goal attempt and had Brunell throw an all-or-nothing pass for Jimmy Smith, who was locked in single coverage against cornerback Jeff Burris. Smith beat Burris and Brunell put the ball on the money, and following a Fred Taylor two-point-conversion run, the Jaguars held a 22-15 lead.
The Bengals had gone from having the lead and the ball to trailing by seven points. That's what the "12 men" penalty meant to Cincinnati.
Brunell clinched the win in the fourth quarter with another 62-yard touchdown drive that was capped by Mack's three-yard touchdown run.
It marked Brunell's first three-touchdown-passes game since the Jaguars' 2001 season-opener against Pittsburgh.
"He was very efficient, very cool, very collected," Coughlin said of Brunell's performance, which included 223 yards. He hasn't thrown an interception since the loss in Dallas four games ago.
"Numbers would indicate I had a better game," he said. Against Cleveland the previous Sunday, Brunell suffered one of the most unproductive afternoons of his career.
"It's frustrating we're out of the playoffs and have to fight for pride," Smith said.
"I don't think it's good enough," Brunell said of the Jaguars' 6-8 record in what most believe should be considered a rebuilding season. "It depends on how we finish. I think 8-8 would be good, but I'd be very disappointed in 6-8 and 7-9."