CINCINNATI—A season expected to be the brightest in franchise history turned as dark and murky as the waters of the Ohio River that flowed past Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, potentially sweeping with them what remained of the Jaguars' postseason hopes.
When John Henderson went into a rage that caused him to be ejected from the game, he was symbolically pouring out the frustrations of a team and its fans. The Jaguars were on their way to becoming the Cincinnati Bengals' first victim of the season. It was too much to endure.
"I'm not in a good mood today," coach Jack Del Rio warned reporters in the postgame press conference. It has become a weekly thing and for the same reasons: bad defense, critical breakdowns and the newest of revelations, lack of line surge.
"Didn't see it," Del Rio said when asked if his offensive line had executed the surge Del Rio said was lacking in the loss to Cleveland the previous week. "Did you see one?"
The stats say there was no surge. For the eighth time in the last 10 games, Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew failed to combine for 100 yards rushing.
There is, however, an ever-emerging bigger problem for this team: It is not stopping the run, a sacrilege according to the team's tradition of stout run-defense under Del Rio.
Bears castoff Cedric Benson, signed recently by the Bengals, rushed for 104 yards. He became the third running back in the last four games to rush for 99 yards or more against the Jaguars.
What has happened to the Jaguars defense? It is the question on everyone's lips.
"It comes down to guys winning individual matchups; basic fundamental football. We have not been a consistent football team and that falls on my shoulders," Del Rio said.
The Jaguars were torched in the first half by a Bengals offense that is at the bottom of the league rankings in nearly every category. Ryan Fitzpatrick, who the Bengals claimed off waivers from the Rams, threw for two touchdowns and was an unstoppable force in the first half.
"A lot of it is looking for our swagger. A lot of it is looking for momentum. It's about getting that groove. The engine isn't running right," linebacker Mike Peterson said.
The Jaguars are rapidly reaching the point of doubt about their personnel. As the team's league rankings decline, especially after allowing 312 yards to the Bengals, the evaluation of talent becomes critical to the future of the team.
It's not as though the Bengals got all of the breaks in this one. Had it not been for a touchdown Montell Owens scored after recovering a Bengals fumble during a kickoff return, this one may not have been as close as the final score would suggest.
The Jaguars found themselves having to max-protect against the Bengals' blitz schemes, limiting the receivers in the routes for quarterback David Garrard to access. At times it seemed that everyone was double-covered. Maybe they were.
Still, Garrard was sacked three times, was forced to scramble away from the rush five times and was knocked down a half-dozen or so times after having thrown a pass. That is the most disheartening fact of this game, just as it was a week ago: The Jaguars are losing the battle up front.
There's no denying it. The surge wasn't there, on either side of the ball.