Their effort was worthy of praise, but coach Tom Coughlin was clearly a shaken man when he met with reporters following Sunday night's 15-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Coughlin was shaken to the roots of his philosophy of error-free football by the most careless performance in his team's history.
"It's a shame our football team had to lose that game. I was very proud of the way we played," Coughlin said, capping a week in which he had been criticized for not being supportive of his players.
On this night, that left the Jaguars 2-4 and all but ended their hopes of a championship season, Coughlin supported his players' effort, but could not rationalize a performance that included eight fumbles, two interceptions, several dropped passes and an almost fatalistic affinity for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
"We came to the game very emotional; confident of our ability to win. Our defense was superb. The turnovers? I've never seen anything like that. We have quarterback-center exchange every day" in practice, Coughlin said.
Three times, starting center Jeff Smith was unable to get the ball into quarterback Mark Brunell's hands in the first half. Quentin Neujahr replaced Smith in the second half and, on the second play, Brunell botched Neujahr's snap.
"It was pathetic. There's no other way to put it. I've lost some games in my time, but I've never lost one like that," Coughlin said.
The Jaguars' fall from the elite of the league was complete. A national television audience witnessed it. Now, they are just another team pursuing .500 and respectability. No one thought it would come to this; not this year, anyhow.
"I've played in games like that, and every time you do, you lose," offensive tackle Tony Boselli said.
Boselli was speaking through a "fog" that was the result of being kicked in the head along the Ravens sideline late in the first half, after Smith rolled a snap along the ground and Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis recovered the fumble and returned it to midfield. Boselli dived into the pile. He was knocked cold, though he returned to play the second half.
"This team's heart has been questioned, but we fought. We proved to people it's going to be a street-fight," Boselli said.
Offensive tackle Zach Wiegert proved as much in the fourth quarter, when he and Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware were ejected for fighting. Wiegert rocked Boulware with an uppercut, then pounced on top of Boulware. Wiegert won the fight, but lost the war. It was symbolic.
"I don't regret hitting him when he hit me first. I think if you watch the tape you'll see he threw the first punch. I feel bad about not being there at the end of the game. I looked down the field at the ball and he punched me in the face. I don't think any of the guys would want me to take that," Wiegert said.
Their fans had accused the Jaguars of playing without emotion. On this night, they played as though they were crazed. It did no good.
"Everybody played their heart out. We're just off offensively," Wiegert said.
The Jaguars defense held the Ravens to 193 total net yards and five field goals. Offensively, the Jaguars piled up 348 yards, converted 53 percent of their third-down tries, and more than doubled the Ravens in first downs (22-10), but two trips into the Ravens red zone in the first half resulted in a missed field goal attempt and a lost fumble.
Their offensive woes reached the point for the second consecutive week that starting quarterback Mark Brunell was removed from the game in the fourth quarter and, for the second consecutive week, Jamie Martin guided the Jaguars to their only touchdown.
"We weren't moving the ball. When the interception was thrown, I thought it was time to make a move," Coughlin said in explaining his decision to replace Brunell with Martin.
At the time, the Jaguars trailed 15-3. It could've been closer; should've been closer.
Early in the third quarter, defensive end Tony Brackens intercepted a Tony Banks pass at the Ravens two-yard line and appeared to reach the ball over the goal line on a play in which the Ravens were flagged for holding. Brackens, however, fumbled the ball as he reached for the goal line, and the Ravens recovered. The officials ruled the ball had not crossed the plane of the goal line. The Jaguars challenged the call, but replay supported the call, largely because no side angle was available.
"We were convinced Tony Brackens had scored. (Referee Ron Winter) felt like there wasn't enough evidence," Coughlin explained. "We thought (Brackens) broke the plane."
At the time, The Ravens led 9-3.
The Jaguars were replay losers for a second time when, after Mike Logan appeared to have recovered a fumble by rookie wide receiver Travis Taylor, replay ruled incomplete pass. It appeared to be the correct decision.
"I just feel bad," wide receiver Jimmy Smith said. "I've never been in a situation like this, losing games with a team like this.
"We know it's not the Baltimore Ravens, it's not the Pittsburgh Steelers, it's us," Smith said.
On this particular night, the Jaguars had every right to claim victory over themselves. Their blunders reached the point that they even failed to a Ravens kickoff, letting it roll free and into the Ravens' hands.
Time and again the Jaguars defense refused to cave in. Though the Ravens had offensive series that began at the Jaguars 34, 33, 24, 42 and three-yard lines, the Jaguars defense refused to allow the Ravens into the end zone.
"I think we played damn good. Our thing was to execute and to fight. The (previous) couple of weeks, we didn't fight," linebacker Kevin Hardy said.
How much fight do they have left for a season that seems to have run out of promise?