CINCINNATI--They were two teams in hard decline. One had lost eight of their last nine games; the other hadn't won since Oct. 28.
Critics will say the Jaguars' 14-10 win over the Bengals Sunday doesn't count for much, but the Jaguars accepted the win with open arms. They had become starved for victory.
"It was nice to win. It wasn't always pretty, but I'm not going to reflect on the bad," coach Tom Coughlin said.
The bad? Yeah, Mark Brunell was sacked a team-record eight times. That's real bad. But let's take a look at what was good about the win.
• At 4-8 with four games to play, the Jaguars kept alive their hopes of avoiding a losing season. It's a longshot, but it at least gives the team motivation heading into this Sunday's game in Cleveland.
• The Jaguars won time of possession for only the third time this season.
• Best of all, with the game on the line, the Jaguars defense did not collapse.
"I'm thinking here we go again. I'm thinking if we don't get this game there's a strong chance we may go 3-13 and nobody wants to be 3-13," wide receiver Jimmy Smith said of his thoughts as the Bengals had the ball at the Jaguars' 36-yard line with 3:30 to play.
The Jaguars defense didn't collapse this time, and that really didn't come as any surprise to the 44,920 in attendance at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals had done next to nothing offensively. Star running back Corey Dillon was held to 62 yards rushing and quarterback Jon Kitna was booed lustily by the home crowd.
"I'm proud of the way those guys battled. A lot of guys played a lot of spots," coach Tom Coughlin said.
The Jaguars were buoyed by the performance of backup players who were pressed into action by an ever-increasing Jaguars injury list. And, of course, they were inspired by their quarterback, Mark Brunell, who appeared as though he would miss the remainder of the game after suffering a cut left index finger when he got it caught in cornerback Mark Roman's facemask. Brunell missed only one play.
"Mark Brunell came back because of determination and he won't let down his teammates. I don't know how he gripped the ball. He had cuts all over the finger and it was swollen," Coughlin said.
"They played from the heart. They were determined not to let this one get away," he said generally of his team.
Sunday capped a difficult week for Coughlin. He was linked by media rumors to the vacant Notre Dame head coaching job and Coughlin found himself having to dance around questions about his interest in the job. Then, Sunday morning, reports were that Georgia Tech coach George O'Leary had agreed to accept the Notre Dame job. Those close to Coughlin, including a few players who observed his mood at team breakfast in Cincinnati, wondered what their coach's reaction was to the O'Leary news.
On the sideline, Coughlin was full of spunk and energy. He disputed officials calls, which was par for the course, and he offered encouragement to punter Chris Hanson after Hanson had booted a short punt, and that was not par for the course. Coughlin was extremely upbeat and enthusiastic. Hmmm.
"We made it an objective this week to not be a typical team coming off a Monday night game," Coughlin said.
The Jaguars' energy was impressive, and the combination of Brunell to Smith fed that energy early on as Smith caught a 17-yard touchdown pass that staked the Jaguars to a 7-0 lead.
Cincinnati rallied for a 38-yard touchdown drive after having intercepted a Brunell pass in the second quarter, and the Bengals took a 10-7 lead in the third quarter. That's when Keenan McCardell entered the picture.
On a third-and-19 play from the Cincinnati 47-yard line following consecutive sacks of Brunell, McCardell got open for a 29-yard reception to the Bengals' nine-yard line. Then, on third-and-three from the Cincinnati 11, Brunell found McCardell for the game-winner.
"Keenan and Jimmy came to play today. We just need (the offensive line to stop the pass-rush) a little bit and I'll get the ball to them," Brunell said.
"Nobody's quitting and we showed that today. The way it's been going, we've been giving it away. It just wasn't going to happen today," he added.
Cincinnati took possession at its 46-yard line with 7:34 to play but managed to gain only one first down and turned the ball over on downs when Kitna threw four consecutive incompletions.
Brunell and company expired what remained of the clock, with running back Stacey Mack gaining seven yards on third-and-two at the Cincinnati 43.
It marked the Jaguars' second win over the Bengals in a month.
"We have something to be excited about and to build on," Coughlin said.