NASHVILLE--Tom Coughlin didn't mince words. There was no hiding his team's ills, which was especially true now that the Jaguars have been exposed on national television in three of their last four games.
"We had problems with kickoff coverage. We had problems with two fumbles. We had trouble stopping the run, without a doubt. They did a good job creating matchups," Coughlin said in offering a staccato version of the facts of his Jaguars' 27-13 defeat at the hands of the Tennessee Titans. It was the Jaguars' fourth loss in a row, dating back to a Monday Night Football loss in Indianapolis, which was followed two weeks later by a Sunday night loss on national television to Baltimore.
The good news for a team that came into the season with a 5-0 MNF record is that they've played on Monday for the final time this season; maybe for a couple of seasons.
At 2-5, the Jaguars can no longer be considered a postseason contender. They are tied with Cleveland for fourth place in the AFC Central Division. Ten teams in the AFC currently have a better record than the Jaguars, and only two in the conference have a worse record.
"Everyone was focused and real excited about being here. We played hard. We lost some physical battles. I still believe we can play better. We're capable of playing better; on offense of playing better. We're just going to keep working at it. I think we have a chance to be better than we are," Coughlin said.
They are the words of a wounded spirit. The Jaguars began the season with talk, obsessive talk of the Super Bowl. Now, seven games into what was considered to be their final chance at the Super Bowl, they are talking of having a chance to be better than 2-5.
Of course, the Titans are all things bad to the Jaguars. Last year, the Titans were the only team to beat the Jaguars, but the Titans did it three times. The final time was in the AFC title game.
Monday night's win by the Titans at Adelphia Coliseum, where the Titans have never lost, marks the Titans' fifth consecutive win over the Jaguars. The two teams will meet again this season on Nov. 16 at Alltel Stadium. For now, the Titans lead the AFC Central Division with a 5-1 record. Baltimore is 5-2, Pittsburgh is 3-3, Cleveland and the Jaguars are each 2-5, and Cincinnati is 0-6.
"We made up our minds we were going to run the ball. We got stopped on third-and-one; we got stopped on fourth and-one. If we score the first time down there … if we score before the end of the first half," Coughlin said, his voice trailing off into what-ifs.
However, all of the possibilities remain just that. The Jaguars continue to fail in the clutch, but, more tellingly, they were clearly outclassed and overmatched by the Titans, one of the NFL's true power teams.
"Tennessee is a very physical team. They're going to put a hat on you," Coughlin said.
Running back Eddie George put his "hat" on the Jaguars for 165 yards rushing and a touchdown, and safety Marcus Robertson put his "hat" on wide receiver Keenan McCardell at a critical point in the game, forcing a fumble at the Titans one yard line with the score 17-3 just before halftime.
"I was trying to go for a touchdown. I'm going to lay it on the line like that all of the time," said McCardell, who stretched out for the goal line but had the ball come loose while he was in the air.
"You can't make those mistakes against the Titans. We did and that's why we lost," quarterback Mark Brunell said.
That's not entirely true. The Titans clearly dominated the action and appeared as though they could do whatever they wanted.
"You have to stop the run. That's all there is to it," Coughlin said.
To that end, the Jaguars used very creative run-defenses that brought safeties Donovin Darius and Mike Logan to the line of scrimmage, so, the Titans passed the ball. In particular, they used screen passes to George and to tight end Frank Wycheck to counter the Jags' special defense.
When the Jaguars settled into a more basic defensive alignment, the Titans handed the ball to George, and his 19 yard touchdown run in the third quarter pushed the Titans' lead to 24-3 and sealed the win.
"We have good players on this football team. We do. We also have some inequities that show up. We need for all of our players to have a say about our consistency. We're not getting that done," Coughlin said.
The only aspect of the Jaguars' performance that could be deemed successful was its running game, which had been nonexistent through the first six games of the season. Fred Taylor broke loose on a 71-yard run in the first quarter, however, the Jaguars had to settle for a field goal. Taylor finished the night with 112 yards rushing.
"You got to hopefully get to 10 wins," McCardell said, referring to what remains of hope to make the playoffs. "We've got to win out. We've got to start thinking about winning out. If you don't think that way, you shouldn't be in this locker room."
Asked if he was kidding himself about hope of making the playoffs, McCardell said: "How can you kid yourself? If you don't believe, you might as well go home."
Nonetheless, the facts are not in the Jaguars' favor. Each week brings another loss, and takes the Jaguars another step closer to elimination from postseason contention.