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Jaguars relinquish division lead dramatically


BALTIMORE--For the first time since Sept. 26, 1999, the Jaguars do not hold at least a share of the lead in the AFC Central Division. Sole possession of the division lead belongs to the Baltimore Ravens, thanks to a dramatic, 39-36 win over the Jaguars.

"In most situations, that's a victory. You have to give credit to Tony Banks and his offense," quarterback Mark Brunell said of the Ravens' game-winning, seven-play, 75-yard drive inside the two-minute warning. It followed a four-play, 61-yard effort by Brunell, who capped the series with a 40-yard completion that tipped off Keenan McCardell's hands and into the mitts of Jimmy Smith.

It appeared the Jaguars had done it again; rallied to hang another heartbreaking defeat on the Ravens. The Jaguars were just 1:42 away from having scored a major win on the road, and of taking sole possession of first place in the division. With the Bengals just ahead and Fred Taylor a week closer to being back in the lineup, all was right with the Jaguars' world.

Banks changed that, dramatically, by completing four passes and moving the Ravens into the end zone in less than a minute. His final toss covered 29 yards to tight end Shannon Sharpe, who had beaten strong safety Donovin Darius over the middle.

It left the Jaguars devastated. They were not accustomed to losing in this fashion. Immediately, there were worries. At 1-1, it is the first time the Jaguars have been at .500 since they were 7-7 in 1996.

"Hopefully, this loss this early in the season serves a purpose," linebacker Lonnie Marts said.

He did not offer a purpose, and there would seem to be none. The Jaguars squandered both a 23-7 halftime lead and a four-point cushion with 1:42 to play, and coach Tom Coughlin did his best to temper his disgust immediately following the game.

"The history of this series has been (games) right to the wire, and this was no different. I'm very disappointed in our second-half defense, and we didn't do much offensively. We gave the ball to the Ravens twice in point-blank range," Coughlin said, referring to fumbles deep in Jaguars territory by running backs Chris Howard and Stacey Mack.

It was a game loaded with unique twists. Such as:

o The 40-yard touchdown pass that gave the Jags a 36-32 lead was the result of Smith not hearing Brunell's audible. "I ran the wrong route. We needed a score, so I took him deep," said Smith, who caught McCardell's deflection at the 10-yard line, then stepped easily out of Duane Stark's grasp.

o Prior to that, the Jags cut Baltimore's lead to 32-29 on a Mike Hollis field goal that capped a 51-yard drive. The key play in the drive was a third-and-one, 33-yard pass from Brunell to Smith, who got press coverage and adjusted his route to go deep.

o Tipped passes were also caught by Ravens safety Kim Herring and Jaguars safety Rayna Stewart.

Somewhat lost in the excitement was Smith's performance: 15 pass receptions for 291 yards and three touchdowns. Smith humiliated Ravens cornerbacks Starks and Chris McAlister, easily establishing records for the most receiving yards by a Jaguar and the most by a Ravens opponent.

However, Smith's performance was tainted by defeat, just as McCardell's 16-catch day in St. Louis was in 1996. "We're in a bad situation at running back and we've got to throw the ball to move it," Smith said.

The Jaguars played without starting running back Fred Taylor, again. This time, they were not able to overcome the effects of his absence. The Jaguars ran the ball only 21 times for just 46 yards, and Howard's and Mack's fumbles each resulted in quick touchdowns by the Ravens.

"It definitely hurt us," Smith said of Taylor's absence.

"Our defense will be back to the drawing board," Coughlin said of an outfit that surrendered 331 net yards, including 237 yards in the second half. The Jaguars cornerbacks were burned on the outside by a lackluster Ravens receiving corps that lost Qadry Ismail to a knee injury in the first quarter.

"We lost because here and there some people didn't do what they were supposed to do," linebacker Lonnie Marts said. "Once they started getting behind the coverage, we started playing zone."

The Jaguars played a very soft zone in the Ravens' game winning touchdown drive. "We let the tight end go down the middle and there's no excuse for that," Coughlin said of the 29 yard game-winner to Sharpe.

Meanwhile, the proud Ravens defense was in a state of shock at what Brunell and company did. With a one-dimensional attack, the Jaguars moved the ball at will. Had the Ravens left more time on the clock, it's likely the Jaguars would've moved down the field one more time.

The Ravens apparently knew they had a match-up problem with their cornerbacks against Smith and McCardell. In the first half, the Ravens blitzed seldom, apparently afraid to leave McAlister and Starks in single coverage with Smith and McCardell.

"We felt we would be able to throw the football today," Brunell said.

"It was working. We scored a lot of points today," offensive tackle Zach Wiegert said of the game plan.

However, the combined 90 passes made for one of the longest regulation games in NFL history, three hours and 39 minutes, and on a brutally hot and humid day at PSINet Stadium.

"They were just as tired as we were," Wiegert said, however, the Jaguars defense appeared to be absolutely spent during the Ravens' game-winning drive.

"This team will bounce back," Brunell promised.

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