NASHVILLE--The 2001 season is beginning to look familiar. Didn't the Jaguars do this last season?
For the second consecutive year the Jaguars are in the throes of a five-game losing streak, but this year's 2-5 start is more difficult to rationalize than last year's 2-6. Last year, we considered the Jaguars' unexplained fall a fluke. This year, it's a trend.
"It's more discouraging than last year," wide receiver Jimmy Smith said following the Jaguars' 28-24 loss to the Tennessee Titans Sunday at Adelphia Coliseum.
"We were in a little bit of a funk but we came out of it,' Smith said of last year's skid. "Whether we'll come out of it, I don't know. I thought we would after the way we played last week in Baltimore," he added.
The Jaguars offense is out of its doldrums, but the defense collapsed at crunch time for the third consecutive game: It allowed Buffalo to drive for the game-winning field goal, Baltimore to rally from a 17-6 deficit to score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, and the Titans to overcome a 17-7 halftime disadvantage, then to overcome a 24-21 Jaguars lead with only three minutes remaining in the game.
"Our inability to get the ball back in the second half was the difference in the ballgame. Our inability to stop the Titans in the second half is the reason we got beat," coach Tom Coughlin said.
Here are the second-half facts:
• The Titans ran 40 plays to the Jaguars' 22, and held the ball for twice as much possession time as the Jaguars.
• Tennessee converted six of seven third-down attempts.
Titans quarterback Steve McNair was at his best in the second half, especially in the game-winning touchdown drive, when he completed six of eight pass attempts and marched the Titans 59 yards in 10 plays. McNair scored on a quarterback sneak from the one-yard line, but Jaguars middle linebacker claims McNair fumbled and the Jaguars recovered.
"It was a fumble and we recovered it, but there's no use crying over spilled milk. We shouldn't have been in that situation," Nickerson said.
"We knew the ball was out. The side official came and gave him a touchdown. The referee said it was a very bad picture and couldn't distinguish," Coughlin said of McNair's touchdown plunge, which was reviewed to determine whether he fumbled and if the ball had in fact crossed the goal line.
Replay upheld the "touchdown" ruling. It marked the second consecutive week the Jaguars lost on a touchdown that was reviewed.
Prior to that drive, Mark Brunell and the Jaguars' passing offense was its vintage self in driving 84 yards in eight plays for a touchdown that staked the visitors to a three-point lead.
Brunell turned in his second consecutive quality performance. He threw for 261 yards and a touchdown, scrambled twice for 21 yards, and managed to walk away in one piece despite being sacked five times.
For the second consecutive week, Brunell was at the helm of a no-huddle attack. This week, it kick-started the Jaguars to a 10-point halftime lead. The Jaguars continued to employ the no-huddle offense until their 84-yard drive in the fourth quarter.
"Heartbreak the last two weeks," Keenan McCardell said. "Everybody in the huddle knew we were going to score. That's one thing we have on offense; we have a lot of confidence."
That confidence can't exist in the defense's huddle. Late-game collapses were the trademark of last year's defense, and that theme is repeating itself this year.
"To surrender at the end, again, I don't know what to say," linebacker Kevin Hardy said.
The Jaguars had no choice but to soften their defensive strategy in the Titans' game-winning drive. McNair scrambled 10 times to lead the Titans with 74 yards rushing -- including two touchdown runs -- and the Jaguars' inability to contain McNair left them skittish at the prospect of chasing him out of the pocket with a pass-rush that couldn't get "home."
"We didn't bring pressure, but even when we brought pressure we didn't get there. We wanted to play coverage. We wanted to keep him bottled up and we broke down in coverage," Hardy added.
Strong safety Donovin Darius, who was making his first return to action since suffering a hip fracture in the season-opener, said the Jaguars' defensive strategy was a two-deep zone. "Keep everything underneath; they hit holes in the defense," Darius said.
The Titans kept tight end Frank Wycheck and running back Eddie George at the line of scrimmage to pass-protect in case the Jaguars blitzed, but when the Jaguars sagged into coverage, George and Wycheck drifted out into the soft spots in the zone.
"You gotta give some credit to the other guy, too," Coughlin said.
"I have no idea why we can't finish things. That's the major issue with this football team," Coughlin added.
The Jaguars played without star running back Fred Taylor for the fifth consecutive week. The combination of Elvis Joseph, Frank Moreau and Stacey Mack combined for a mere 45 yards rushing, and gave the Titans no reason to do anything other than play pass.
Meanwhile, George was in the starting lineup despite having suffered knee, thigh and ankle injuries in the Titans' loss in Pittsburgh the previous Monday. George rushed for a respectable 70 yards on 22 carries and caught six passes for 45 yards in what was a courageous example of team spirit.