DALLAS--Immediately, the Jaguars' thoughts turned to their miracle season of 1996, when the Jaguars won seven games in a row and advanced to the AFC title game. They want to believe they can do it again.
"We were 3-6 in that bye week, too," offensive tackle Tony Boselli said following the Jaguars' 23-17, overtime win over the Dallas Cowboys Sunday.
Now, wait a minute, was Boselli suggesting the Jaguars are capable of getting on that kind of a winning streak, against teams such as Tennessee, and in places such as Three Rivers and Giants Stadium?
Boselli and his teammates could be forgiven. Who doesn't like a happy feeling? Hope?
"To just not have to deal with the negativity for two weeks is great," coach Tom Coughlin said following the win at Texas Stadium. "We're going to get some guys back, now," Coughlin added, offering his own version of hope for better days ahead.
All of this joy was the result of a win against an over-the hill, 3-5 Dallas team that lost its starting quarterback immediately after he led them on a 10-play, 64-yard touchdown drive in their first offensive possession. Troy Aikman re-injured his chronically-aching back on his fourth play of the game, when defensive end Tony Brackens banged into Aikman as he delivered a pass downfield.
Veteran Randall Cunningham offered competent relief, but he couldn't pick up the slack created by the loss of Aikman, who was four of five for 43 yards and a touchdown in that opening drive, and may have been headed for a hot afternoon against the Jaguars.
The Jaguars rallied, behind a stable and resourceful Mark Brunell, and a game plan that continues to expand the role of tight end Kyle Brady, especially since star wide receiver Jimmy Smith is out of action with a combination knee and hamstring injury.
Brunell threw the game-winner on the seventh play of overtime. He found speedy reserve wide receiver Alvis Whitted alone along the right sideline, and Whitted turned the short pass into a game-winning sprint down the sideline.
"It was almost unbelievable that a short pass, a simple pass, went on to score," Brunell said of the 37-yard play. "It's the biggest game in his career. It's good to smile again," Brunell added.
"Thank God we won the (coin) toss," Coughlin said of the overtime period flip. It was fortunate the Jaguars got the call, because their defense had just allowed the Cowboys a game tying, six-play, 71-yard touchdown drive. Both defenses appeared to be fatigued.
The Jaguars ended their five-game losing streak for a lot of reasons, such as:
• Coughlin's "coach's challenge" of a Cowboys touchdown was upheld when review showed Emmitt Smith's right elbow to have touched the ground at the three-quarters-yard line. The Jaguars stopped Smith on the next two plays, and the Cowboys kicked a field goal that cut the Jaguars' third-quarter lead to 17-10.
• Smith rushed for 102 yards, but his fourth-quarter fumble at the Jaguars 25-yard line killed a drive that promised to produce points.
• The Jaguars were efficient in everything they did, and especially at attacking the Cowboys' soft defense. Against the Cowboys' two-deep-safeties scheme, the Jaguars attacked the middle of the field with Brady, who set career highs for catches (10) and yards receiving (138).
"We knew they played a lot of cover-two and their safeties stay wide, and that's as wide as I've ever seen," Brady said of the scheme.
Brady caught a three-yard touchdown pass that staked the Jags to a 10-7 lead late in the second quarter, and after Cunningham fumbled and Brackens recovered at the Cowboys 11-yard line, Brunell tossed a three-yard touchdown pass to Whitted.
The Jaguars controlled the tempo of the game, but were unable to put the game out of reach. Mike Hollis had a 49-yard field goal attempt blocked, his first miss after 13 consecutive field goals to start this season.
"We just needed a little extra today," said Brunell, who scrambled five times for 41 yards and seemed to do so with more resolve than he has in at least a couple of seasons. Of course, Brunell has been sacked 38 times this season and is on pace to set an NFL sacked record. He was not sacked by the Cowboys, who are especially weak on their defensive line.
"Everything was going our way. We got the bounces," wide receiver Keenan McCardell said.
"We'll see if we can make that run like we did in '96. There's no rush. Let's take it one game at a time," McCardell added hopefully.
He could be forgiven.