Somehow, some way, the opportunity was there.
The Jaguars, after allowing a halftime lead to become a big fourth-quarter deficit, fought, rallied and grinded their way into a chance to tie on Sunday afternoon, but quarterback Chad Henne was intercepted deep in New York Jets territory on their final drive. The result?
A 17-10 loss to the Jets in front of 67,027 at EverBank Field.
"We fought to the end, and that's the way we're going to do it until the end of the 2012 season," Head Coach Mike Mularkey said after the Jaguars (2-11) lost their second consecutive game, their ninth in the last 10.
"We won't get any less than that."
The difference Sunday for the Jaguars? Mularkey said that was simple:
A third quarter that began with the Jaguars leading 3-0 and ended with the Jets in firm control, leading 10-3 and controlling the game's momentum.
The Jets (6-7), who stayed alive in the AFC wild-card chase with the victory, had 99 yards in the quarter to six for the Jaguars. They also had seven first downs to none for the Jaguars, who went three-and-out on all four third-quarter series.
"That was a tale of one quarter there that changed the momentum of the game," Mularkey said.
Running back Shonn Greene gave the Jets a 7-3 lead with a 1-yard run with 9:11 remaining in the third quarter, a run that capped a nine-play, 57-yard drive. Two series later, Nick Folk's 44-yard field goal made it 10-3, Jets.
New York, which rushed for 166 yards in the game – 116 in the third quarter – pushed the lead to 17-3 with a four-yard run by backup running back Bilal Powell. That capped a seven-play, 46-yard drive that began in the third quarter and ended with 12:20 remaining.
"They started to run the football and we weren't effective offensively," Mularkey said. "That put our defense on a short field. They did a good job adjusting. We had a hard time stopping them. We really didn't put our defense in a good position to be successful."
Powell finished with 78 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, and Greene finished with 77 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
"You've got to give them credit," Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "They were the more physical group. That was what decided the game."
The Jaguars played with six players having been ruled out Friday. Among those players: wide receiver Cecil Shorts, the team's leading receiver with seven touchdown receptions, and three-time Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Jaguars also were without cornerback Aaron Ross, defensive end George Selvie, backup running back Rashad Jennings and guard Mike Brewster.
"I'm not going to use that as an excuse," Mularkey said of the injuries.
Montell Owens, a two-time Pro Bowl selection as a special teams player who ran effectively in the first half of his first NFL start at running back, missed the start of the third quarter with cramps. After rushing for 38 yards on eight first-half carries, he finished with 91 yards on 14 carries, and his 32-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter pulled the Jaguars to within seven.
That run capped an 11-play, 86-yard drive, making it 17-10 with 7:06 remaining, and when the Jaguars forced a second consecutive Jets punt just after the two-minute warning, they had a chance to tie.
Henne, making his third start for the Jaguars, completed 21 of 43 passes for 185 yards and two interceptions throwing to a receiving corps depleted. On the final series, he led the Jaguars into Jets territory, twice converting fourth downs.
But on 2nd-and-10 from the Jets 28 with :22 remaining, Henne – under pressure from a Jets defense that sacked him three times and forced a first-half interception – threw high in the direction of rookie Kevin Elliott, making his first career NFL start.
Elliott ran toward the sideline and the ball went toward the goal line. Jets cornerback Ellis Lankster intercepted to secure the victory.
"To be honest, I was just trying to throw it out of bounds," Henne said. "I had a free runner at me. I was trying to throw it as far out of bounds as I could. It didn't end up that way."
Tim Tebow, the Jets' backup quarterback who played at Nease High School bear Jacksonville, was made a captain for the game. He did not play.